They say that everything happens for a purpose, and one of my joys as I grow older is seeing how different parts of my life prepare me for later ones. For instance, if you had told me when I was a child that I would one day work with coffee production and love it, I would have likely laughed in your face. Not because I didn’t know what coffee was, but because I didn’t like it.
Mind you, I knew about coffee. I actually knew a fair amount for a young Pennsylvanian. That’s because, although I was born in Pennsylvania, I grew up in Guatemala as the child of missionary parents. Coffee is one of Guatemala’s chief cash crops, and we lived in the central highlands of Guatemala, where much of the country’s coffee is grown, so I was very familiar with coffee.
Every Sunday’s hike that took us to whichever church we were visiting that week led us through winding footpaths traversing many Guatemalan families’ hillside crops of corn, beans, and coffee. Once in a while I’d pop a particularly red coffee berry in my mouth, enjoy its tangy fruit, then spit out the seed. (Yes, I spit out the “important” bit: the seed, the part that is dried, roasted, and ground for coffee!)
After church, we’d be invited into a Guatemalan family’s home for hot caldo (chicken, tomato, and onion soup) and fresh corn tortillas and (you guessed it) coffee. The families who hosted us served their coffee with a lot of sugar in it, so it was palatable, even to this child who didn’t like coffee. Everyone drank coffee. I recall even seeing coffee in baby bottles!
For three years of my family’s decade in Guatemala, I attended a boarding school for English-speaking kids, in the western part of the country. This region, it turns out, is also an important coffee growing region. (I don’t remember seeing as much coffee there, but I was in school and we just didn’t have coffee plants on the school grounds.) I did not drink coffee while I was at school, but the coffee of that region is the organically grown, fairly traded coffee that Wanderlust Coffees now roasts! Small world.
For much of my life, that one decade of my childhood was the extent of my coffee consumption. I loved the smell of coffee, but the taste? Blech. Most coffee I was served after we returned to Pennsylvania tasted bitter and burnt. The only way I could drink it was with sugar and cream. So I rarely drank any coffee at all.
I was in my forties when I finally tasted air-roasted coffee, and that is when I learned to drink coffee. For me, at least, the roasting method makes all the difference. I not only drink coffee, now: I drink it black! The “fluid bed” roasting method (an air roasting process, called “fluid” because the beans are constantly in motion on a bed of hot air) keeps the beans aloft, not continually rubbing into each other or against the side of the roaster. (When beans are drum roasted, the more common way to roast coffee beans, their constant contact with the hot sheet metal of the drum can burn the beans, giving the coffee a bitter, burnt taste.)
I now love coffee. I love it so much that I have helped to start Wanderlust Coffees, and I greatly enjoy my work with helping to produce it. I love getting the packages ready, smelling the coffee as it roasts (and hearing it crack - sort of like the sound of popcorn popping), sealing the bags and then preparing them for pickup/mailing. I love hearing from our customers that they’re enjoying the coffee, and that it is delicious. All around, it’s a great gig.
I confess that I am a demanding worker, however. Every day that I am in the roastery, I require a freshly roasted coffee bean to savor while I work. Take a wild guess which country’s beans I always request?!?
Kristina, hiking in the western highlands of Guatemala (near where Wanderlust Coffees' Guatemalan coffee grows) with her dad, mid-1970s.