There is a before and an after a journey to the origin, my colleagues said. "When you've visited coffee farms and met the people who work and live there, nothing remains the same. You gain a completely different perspective on what we're doing." Sure, I thought, not taking them entirely seriously. Now I know what they meant. And I know they were right. My life AFTER has been ongoing for nearly three months now.
TOGETHER WITH THE TWO COFFEE ROASTMASTERS
Joel and Filip from Sweden, along with our colleague Ville from Finland, I embarked on the long journey to Brazil at the end of May. We stumbled out of the airport, still half-asleep, and straight into a taxi that took us to FAF's headquarters in Sao Paulo. There, we were welcomed with open arms, served a cup of magically delicious coffee, and shared common memories as we looked at pictures and old J&N bags filled with FAF's coffee. The moment I walked through the door of this incredibly stylish and personally decorated former factory space, I felt that this was real, that they wanted something more from their coffee. It shouldn't just be good, it should also do good - long after we, the current generation, have picked our last coffee cherries.
UP IN THE MOUNTAINS
we set off with our fantastic guide Gabi behind the wheel. The further we drove, the more distant the city became, and the more the mountains and greenery towered ahead. After a few hours in the four-wheel-drive vehicle, which we later understood was a necessity, we reached FAF's farm - Fazenda Ambiental Fortaleza. Describe it in one word? Wow. Old charming stone houses, vegetation and trees, birdsong, drying coffee cherries, horses, and friendly people working in various ways on the farm.
That afternoon marked the first time in my life that I tasted coffee cherries, plucked directly from the tree. Sweet, delicious, and surreal.
There were four of us, Gabbi made five, and three more wanted to show us around. To fit, we simply sat on the truck bed and bounced along. And it felt entirely fitting in that environment; if there's ever a time to sit on a truck bed, it's on winding, bumpy roads surrounded by banana trees, coffee bushes, tall grass, flowers we're used to buying individually in flower shops, cows, eucalyptus, and miles of velvety green hills. When the day was over, a day that felt as long as eternity, I had to pinch myself before crawling into the beautifully colonial-style decorated room, saying goodnight to the gecko lizard on the wall, and switching off the light.
CELSO AND GERTRUDE AT SÍTIO BOA VISTA FARM
on the Serra dos Ciganos mountain in Caconde welcomed us at our first stop on our day tour to various coffee farmers. With big smiles, freshly pressed shirts, and a spread of treats, they welcomed us to their home and their coffee, but what struck us most at that moment was the view and the location. Indescribably beautiful. They proudly showed us bags of Johan & Nyström coffee beans, bags as old as their now grown-up son Denner, who was about to take over the farm with his newly formed family. Soon, we were more captivated by the warmth and hospitality the family showed than the endless view of vegetation and mountains.
WHEN THE LADYBUGS DISAPPEAR
it's time to realize the seriousness - it means that the earth and what lives on and from it are not well in that particular spot. Valdir and Daniela, a bit further from Celso and Gertrude, took this seriously and can now - thanks to an organic and sustainable way of running their operation - see ladybugs flying again. They convert pig waste into methane gas, solar panels provide the energy they need, and a water filtration system allows them to use water efficiently. The farm can truly boast its name Joaninha, which means ladybug in Portuguese.
COFFEE PLANTATIONS ARE OFTEN A FAMILY VENTURE
that spreads at the same pace as the family does - Gertrud and Valdir are siblings, and their brother Ivan, along with his wife Rose, runs the third farm we visited. Unlike the other two farms, they also purchase coffee cherries from around 20 smaller farmers, which they then handle and deliver to FAF. This method of gathering and coordinating makes it possible for everyone, regardless of size, to grow good coffee and receive fair payment for it.
As excited as we were to meet them, their daughter Maria seemed just as excited to have us there - she played and laughed with Joel from the moment we arrived until we waved goodbye. Even when we sat in their kitchen enjoying a snack (I've never met such generous people; everyone opened their homes and offered coffee and homemade treats).
WITH A VIEW THAT TOOK OUR BREATH AWAY
we spent the early evening at FAF's "center of excellence" in the Mogiana region, where João Hamilton and Juliana are responsible for the Serra dos Ciganos washing station. Their warm welcome and facility tour were no surprise; we had been spoiled with so much kindness and generosity all day. However, what we didn't know was that the families we had visited during the day had gathered there along with other coffee growers. We were welcomed with... well, I would call it a J&N artwork made of coffee cherries, treats, and cheerful people of all ages, from a few months old to proud grandparents. Even though we weren't the main reason for this celebration (our visit coincided with the completion and inauguration of the new cupping building at a magical viewpoint), I felt immense gratitude and humility toward their efforts and enthusiasm. So much love! And to top it off, seeing my colleagues, the roastmasters, cupping coffee here, of the highest quality, in Brazil, surrounded by these true coffee professionals and with a view you can only dream of - it was beautiful. Very beautiful. To say the least. And, of course, siblings Gertrud, Valdir, and Ivan were eager to know whose coffee their new Swedish friends thought was the best!
EVEN THE FINAL DAYS
were filled with the warmth of the people and coffee inspiration. At Vitor Nicolau, Samuel, and Matheus' Fazenda da Tulha, we also learned that the dogs can happily run alongside the pickup for long stretches uphill in the heat without getting tired or getting caught under the wheels... And at Roberto's Morro Azul, we saw and experienced sugarcane; it's incredibly delicious to chew on! We stood at a safe distance as Roberto cut down the stalks for us, while he casually mentioned that rattlesnakes like to hang out there. He also enthusiastically showed us his distillery (a parallel operation to coffee farming) and offered us a glass of his own Cachaca, which also made for a perfect souvenir.
On the way back to Sao Paulo, we stopped at Rafael and Jessica's place in the Sertaozinho region, in the Minas Gerais district, where they lived on their beautiful coffee farm with their three children. Despite, or thanks to, language barriers and cultural differences, it turned into an afternoon full of laughter. No, they didn't know who Arja Saijonmaa was, and no, they didn't like snus!
Later that evening, after bidding farewell and THANKS! to our tour guide, interpreter, and new friend Gabi, the four of us colleagues sat in a restaurant in Sao Paulo, trying to digest and understand everything we had experienced. A few short days had given us so much in terms of experiences, learning, impressions, meetings, and laughter.
And we all agreed that the entire journey was infused with love, dedication, generosity, and a belief that great coffee is possible. And important.
BELONGING TO THE AFTER GANG
means to me significant feelings of humility, gratitude, admiration, and insight. All the people we met, all those from whom we buy coffee, do more than just produce coffee - they are fighting for Mother Earth's recovery. They work diligently to combat climate crises and a damaged, depleted planet. They strive to realize a dream of leaving the planet in better condition than when they received it. Their tool to do this is coffee, and the least I can do to contribute to improvement is to spread the word and knowledge that good coffee, at the right price, helps to save the world.
Lisa Blomberg, Head of Marketing at Johan & Nyström