Living and traveling in the coffeelands can be a bittersweet experience. Sweet, of course, because you are in constant contact with stunning landscapes and the amazing people responsible for our coffee. Bitter, however, because the best fruits of their labor tend to be exported and roasted in (what seems like) a galaxy far, far away.
Sure, I know there is good coffee in the coffeelands. I have been to corporate cafes in capital cities like Nairobi Java House in Kenya and Café Barista in Guatemala, both of which serve a perfectly decent cup of coffee. I have also been to dozens of other indie coffeeshops across the coffeelands, and have been pleasantly suprised by steady improvements in the quality of the coffee and the talent of the growing tribe of professional baristas “at origin.” But still, those mind-bending coffees are hard to come by.
There are a few stars in the coffeelands firmament that I know of that burn brighter than most: Cafe Palo Alto in Cali and Ben’s Coffee in San Salvador.
The first is better known, among other reasons, for its celebrity co-owner Geoff Watts. Oh, right, that and its ability to source and roast with more than a little skill some fine, fine coffees from some pretty amazing places within Colombia.
Benoit Gravel is the French-Canadian quality fiend behind the Ben’s Coffee brand, and he is working tirelessly to create a market for distinctive coffees in San Salvador, of all places, even if it means working the tables in his own cafes coaching customers on the finer points of cup quality. Which he does often. We met late one night when I went in for an espresso around 10 pm. He was not pleased with the first effort. Over the next two hours, we talked coffee quality as he pulled half a dozen shots in the process of recalibrating his grinder. It is clear that he is on a mission. He sources the coffee himself (including some Cup of Excellence coffees) roasts it, trains his baristas how to brew it, works the tables…you get the idea.
On a personal level, I am grateful for these quality-obsessed roasters, who take a bit of the pressure off planning travels in the coffeelands. More later on what these roasters might mean for smallholder farmer livelihoods and the U.S. market…
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