The smoke billowed out from the deep, cast iron skillet, the wood fire blackened the bottom of the pan as the heat blackened the crackling coffee beans.
A long life of hard work and worry marked the face of Senora Pastora who had graciously allowed me to “help” her out.
Her age was indeterminable but her command of the process was not.
“Don’t let them sit. Keep stirring” she commanded and I obeyed.
To protest was futile. Rural Nicaragua in 1987 was a place filled with complex and bloody politics, poverty, passion and a coffee culture that comes from living and working in a place whose primary source of income was that little red berry grown in high mountain plantations (fincas), harvested by families of workers and processed into a cash crop on patios in the hot sun.
Yes, the politics of taste came together in every cup of coffee.
Rising at dawn meant a tractor wagon ride shared with old men, women and children up the dusty road to the finca, high up on the mountain range that cradled my village.
We were to spend the day picking coffee berries so the crop could be sold on the world market.
The back-breaking toil was punctuated only by a brief tortilla lunch and frequent rifle shots – a sniper was being chased across the mountainside below.
Working beside me was a young mother, the weight of her pick dragging the basket down from around her waist, her children and their half-full baskets at her side and her AK47 slung over her shoulder.
At the end of the day I managed to laugh when weigh-out netted me enough cash to repay the cost of my cold tortilla lunch. I was there to ‘help’.
Another day and another truck ride up another mountain to another coffee finca was shared with a bare-foot volunteer healthcare worker, working his way around the region, inoculating young children against the crippling disease of polio.
Throughout the day he served the long line of amazingly patient children who waited under the shed roof, while the de-pulped beans dried in the burning sun on the patio.
Coffee has changed my life.
Every coffee is specialty coffee.
Each bean tells a story.
I select my beans on the basis of potential flavour and following a set of criteria that includes tasting justice and health for those who grow it, pick it, move it, roast it, and serve it around the world.
Every time I roast a bean I take a brief look over my shoulder to see the grin on the face of Pastora, still shaking her head at the miracle of a young gringo helping a geriatric Latina campesina in her open-air kitchen.
Every time I put a cup of the beautiful brew to my lips I can taste the struggle of communities of people to find justice and meaning in a world where decisions made half-way around the world can change your life forever.
Here’s to you.
Kevin Flaherty lived and worked in the jungle of Nicaragua in the late eighties - finding himself and the meaning of the World around him... where the real story of innocent folks trying to earn their next meals by picking a cash crop that was pre-sold on the international market because they had no choice. And getting shot for it..... became his World.
Every Bean has a story - Win OTTO - Entry #4