A couple of weeks ago Harris (Wholesale Manager & Educator) joined Xavier (Co-founder & Green Buyer) for an origin trip down to Colombia! While there, the two spent time with several of our producing partners. Harris had a special encounter with Nelson Chaves though– one of our favorite producers for his amazing coffees and his affinity for his Chicago Bears hat. To celebrate their connection, Harris wrote the following op-ed outlining the visit. Enjoy!
Beginning in Bogota, we flew to Pasto. From there, we drove a few hours up the mountains and to the base of their property [Finca La Esperanza]. But after a while, it was too steep for cars. So we parked, got out and hiked the rest of the way. Welcoming us near the top was a friendly greeting from Nelson. His smile was a comforting sign because, while we’re in our 4th year of partnering with Nelson, we’re continually trying to gain trust and deepen our relationship with him. He continued by introducing us to his whole family for the first time, who all help with the coffee production. We shared a meal with them catching up on life and business. This openness and hospitality signified to us that Nelson is not just okay with us visiting but also excited by our relationship. After supper, Nelson took us further up his farm to see all of his coffee for this year. He showed us all of the aspects of the farm: processing, drying, etc.
After we came back down the mountain, we pulled out a bag of Nelson’s own coffee, which we had roasted in Chicago and brought back to him. At first, we didn’t think much of it. We just wanted to offer him a bag as a kind of thank you. He held the bag with such weight though. And he told us that he had never seen a bag of his own coffee. He admired his name on the bag for a few minutes then went right inside and put it on his shelf with all the trophies and ribbons he’s earned through his life. This was the moment. It was such a special opportunity to further our relationship with Nelson. And it only got better.
One of the people in our group brought stuff to brew coffee and we thought it would be extra meaningful to have a cup of Nelson’s coffee with him. We asked if we could brew some, and Nelson looked at us and said that he had never tasted his coffee! Y’all, this is a 5th generation coffee farmer who had never tasted the coffee he had spent most of his life preparing! Moments like these truly highlight the differences between the lives of coffee producers relative to the lives we live as coffee consumers. So often we drink fantastic coffee, like Nelson’s carefully, and think very little about it. It’s a hard reality to face, but this is the very reason we choose to travel and build relationships with kind, hard-working people like Nelson and his father. This context made sharing the fruit of his hard work with him, his wife and father (Bernardo [a fellow producer and newer Metric partner]) all the more special. It also made me really nervous... maybe he wouldn’t like what we had done with all of his work?
Nelson held the cup tight and slowly sipped. With a straight face, he thought about it for about 10 seconds. And all of a sudden the biggest smile grew on his face; I’m talking ear-to-ear. He started laughing with joy and said it was the best cup of coffee he had in his whole life. He said it was the first cup of coffee that he hasn’t had to put sugar in because the flavor was so good.
At Metric, we believe that our coffees are not our own. And in my position working with accounts and the community, it’s my personal focus to talk about the coffee not being ours. It’s a focus to highlight and share the stories of people like Nelson and Bernardo (and all the producers we work with). That's why we put the names of the producers on most of our single-origin bag; it’s their coffee. We want to work with them and to know them personally so we can better roast and serve their coffee: so that when you buy a bag of Colombia Nelson Chaves, you know where it’s from, the work being done and the story behind it.
This story was just one afternoon on a trip with many stories and one of the hundreds that we get to experience each year. These people, their stories, their beautiful coffees, and the hard work they put into producing them is something we long to share and support. Ultimately, our hope is to bring more awareness to the present state in the coffee industry and do our work on making positive changes– no matter the size. Whether it’s continuing to pay and push ourselves to pay higher premiums for producers’ work and to continue sharing stories, we want to serve you these coffees, so that each time you take a sip of coffee, you’re reminded of all the passion behind that coffee. There's a person, a family, and beautiful humans behind and in each cup of coffee, you drink... For a lack of better words, they're made by humans.