Monday, August 11, 2014

Steeped in Friendships

Twice a day, Costa Ricans sit down around a kitchen table with family and friends for coffee. And they talk.

We had the opportunity to do this last night in Monteverde. A friend of Bill and Lynore, Ken, invited us to his home to taste several different types of coffee with his family.

For two hours, Ken walked us through the process of preparing a great cup of coffee. Using various beans and techniques, we learned about the science and local history of coffee. The type of grind, the weight and ratio of bean to water, the amount of time that water touches the bean all matters.

Ken's passion for coffee was the theme of the evening, but his honoring of relationships impressed me more. 

His life is steeped in coffee, friendships, and helping the coffee farmers. Traditionally, the business model of coffee only returned 2% of the profits back to the farmers. Corporations and middle men chewed up the profit and discarded the farmer. We see this in America--the disappearing act of local farms across our nation is due in large part because local, organic farmers can no longer afford to stay in business. It costs too much to compete with chemicals, GMOs, and farms resembling turn-of-the -century factories.

The night made sense to me when I heard Ken's story. For the record, Ken answered our questions. We were, like I remember my ancestors doing in the 70s, sitting around a kitchen table and just talking.

The coffee he prepared was great; it made me want to know more about it and him. And while the coffee was great, the story behind it elevated the experience of drinking it. The story heightened the experience.

For years, he had several business irons in the fire, but a tangible success touched his life when he reached out to help others. 

Bill shared an anecdote that years ago Ken took an empty building--floundering unused for a long time-- in Monteverde and made a deal with the owner (I hope I have the facts right). Ken proposed that he use the space free of charge and open a coffee shop. Once profits started he agreed to start cutting the building's owner in. He agreed to give it a shot. So, Ken opened and promptly placed a sign in the window: Free Coffee.

And he left it there. And people came and drank the coffee which was so good they asked where they could get it. And Ken started to sell it. It took off. Locals bought it and shipped it all over the world to family and friends.

This is the kind of stuff business legends are made of. I kept thinking about models of success. People who demonstrated creativity and perseverance even when failure was just as close as success...maybe even closer some days. His example is in the fact that while we all experience the fear of failure, some do not let it paralyze them.

Recently, he's excited others to grow his ideas and, like all innovators, smashed an existing business model. Ken is getting 50%--75% of the profits back into the hands of local farmers while producing an artisanal quality coffee.

We earned so much last night--about coffee, about friendship, about welcoming everyone's story into your life. 

The only way I could honor what Ken shared with us last night was to write it all down--to bring you closer to the kitchen table we sat together at and talked.

Like the way our grandparents used to in America.

And for that, I have our friends, Bill and Lynore, to thank. So much if our trip has been about the natural beauty of the world, but a majority has been about friendship.

And honoring the people who enter our lives.

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