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The world in your mug

I met JP in Bloemfontein where he was a Barista at Royal Roastery and what sparked our conversation was his very permanent Aeropress tattoo on the back of his arm. He left bloem to work and play in the US and has now returned where he works at Pause coffee fighting the good fight in the George/ Wilderness region.

JP studied creative writing at the University of the Free State and it shows, enjoy!

A typical morning for some, myself included, may be basking in the early morning rays and sipping on a freshly brewed cup of coffee. Not like those instant coffee ads, more like specialty grade quality coffee.

(read this part slowly) – Natural coffee flavors washing over your palate as you take in the light breeze with a few deep breaths before the busy day kicks-off. It’s the pause before you engage. Time stands still.

Coffee has changed the way we operate and go about our daily lives, a ritual transformed by demand and modernism that has become part of our lifestyles. From mornings, afternoons, evenings, after work, quick catch up with an old friend, business meetings or for some quality “you” time, coffee has truly become part of our culture in so many ways. It’s almost as if more and more coffee bars and coffee roasteries have become second nature when development or gentrification of neighborhoods take place. Friendships are confirmed when you enter a kitchen and see an Aeropress or Fellow Stagg pour over kettle smiling back at you, letting you know that you find yourself in good company.

In a recent South African Coffee Magazine, I flipped through the first couple of pages to read about the interesting coffee project that is currently taking place in Gorongoza, Mozambique. After decades of civil unrest, the healing process has started to take shape, as they build towards the development and growth of both the nation and its beautiful people. The article talks about the re-stabilization of the natural area and the surrounding mountains that have been reforested through the help of local community members and international input. The most important part for me while reading this is taking a look at the people who are ‘hands on deck’ when it comes to uplifting and rebuilding a previously torn nation.

Something that stands out in this article is the upliftment and economic growth that has taken shape in the Gorongoza region through the growth of coffee. Coffee has been the healing power for this region of Mozambique and has helped the people of the community to come together and work alongside one another to create a prosperous future.

‘What sparked a conversation was his very permanent Aeropress tattoo on the back of his arm’

This had me thinking about the culture that goes into our coffee. When I started out in the coffee industry I always explained to people that “Coffee contains the flavors of the world”, and although it does, I never thought that it actually also contains cultures of the world. From the mountains of Gorongoza, the wide open fields of Kenya, the lush and sea breeze regions of Panama, Amazonian landscapes of Brazil to the far corners of Indonesia, Vietnam and of course Papa New Guinea to name a few. An abundance of countries, growing regions, people, workers, farmers, trees, cherries and of course coffee – from all over the world, right here, in your cup of coffee! It’s amazing to think that from places you’ve never even heard of comes some of the worlds most amazing coffees!

Recently I came across a coffee which was extremely intense in fruity flavors, on both espresso and Aeropress. The coffee was bursting with exotic aromas, from tantalizing cinnamon, and to dried peaches, this coffee was something I have never experienced before. When reading the description of the coffee, and seeing that I was far out of way with what I tasted (it happens), I saw the coffee is from the beautiful region of Gitega in Burundi. A country which carries its own heavy history of distortion and civil unrest, but through the difficulty, this amazing cup of coffee still ended up in my hands! Now looking at the geography, and policies concerning traveling to a country like Burundi from South Africa is easier than one might think. But that’s just the thing if it’s so easy to go and visit, why haven’t I gone yet? Easier said than done, I recall.

Looking past my urge to travel, and thinking of the culture and work that went into producing this amazing coffee is astonishing. Although Gitega is a central growing region of Burundi, I’m thinking of the farm owner, their employees, the people who picked this coffee when it was still sitting snug inside the coffee cherry. The beautiful hands that picked the coffee and working the coffee on the drying beds. The muscle and force that went into scraping and scooping the coffee onto piles, then into bags and from there on it gets handled at least another 4 to 6 times before I could actually drink it. The hands of the people, the hands that brought me this coffee has a whole different culture to it. The fruit of their labor and the coffee of their culture. A strong indication that the coffee you’re drinking, can in some way resemble the culture that gave you that cup of coffee.

Every time I drink a coffee from an exotic place I haven’t had before, and might I say, there are loads, I try and not be too critical over certain ‘nitty-gritty’ technicalities and faults that can influence the coffee to lose some of its statuses. I focus on the flavors and the light aroma of craftsmanship, from the grower, the picker, the processor, the handlers, the roaster, the brewer.

Every step of your cup of coffee has a story behind it, a story bursting with flavors of the world. Coffee is no longer just a caffeinated beverage, but it has rather become a thing of growth and connection. Something which draws us to each other and draws us outside our own confined little spaces. Wherever you may be sitting and drinking coffee, ignore the noise of your own daily life, and listen to the sounds of the coffee. Listen to how the women of Malawi sing, as they carry a 60-kilogram bag of green coffee beans on their heads. How the Guatemalan men share stories and delegate each other as they’re busy washing the coffee. How a young woman picking coffee cherries in India is trying her best to support her child. Or the excitement of the people of Bolivia, as they greet the season rain when it comes pouring over the yearly crop.

Whichever coffee you may be drinking in whichever way or wherever your coffee is from, it has culture, it has a sound, a distinctive taste and a history. This culture includes, religion, belief, faith, hope, love and above all prosperity. It carries the waves of emotions as it has changed from a silent commodity to something that now speaks louder than ever before, it has a voice. Coffee has given a voice to the cultures that were hidden behind a curtain, to shine a spotlight of interest and support upon those who deserve it. Coffee has made it possible that we can taste the flavors of the world. Coffee has made us travel, without even leaving our own city!

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