Dylan Thome & Youssef Macari in Mérida-Yucatan, México, May 2023
In November 2019, just a month after opening the doors of Coffea School's first location in Miami Gardens, we received a call from a person in Mexico, who was looking for information about Specialty Coffee Association courses.
The conversation lasted about an hour and a half and I could clearly understand that the story she was telling me was a story of family love and sacrifice.
Mónica Erosa is the mother of Youssef Macari. She is a widow and mother of two children, Youss and Sofía, she has dedicated her life to caring and educating them but above all supporting them, in her hometown in Mérida Yucatán, Mexico.
From an early age Youssef was diagnosed with Autism. According to what Mónica told me, it was necessary to wait a few years to be able to determine what was the spectrum of autism that Youssef had, especially when he was diagnosed at such an early age. Youss's autism made Mónica realize the many barriers that would be created not only for her but for her children, in a society marked by social status.
I must confess that when Mónica called me, I knew very little about Autism. In all my years as an educator, both in law and in coffee and tea, I have never had an autistic person in my classroom. Or at least that I was aware of.
María Esther explaining roast profiles
Going back to the call, that day I asked Mónica to give me some context on what she was looking for and what she needed. I also asked her to tell me a little about her family. I was able to find out that she was a widow, her husband was Mexican/Lebanese and had passed away years before from a serious illness. Mónica comes from a family of landowners and her expected role in Mérida society was to marry someone of the same status as hers and stay in her house being a "good wife".
With Youssef being autistic many challenges emerged in the "planned and ordered" life that the Macari-Erosa family was supposed to have. But knowing nothing of autism, or psychology, or neuroscience, Mónica and her husband Rafael were determined to help Youssef be as realistically functional as possible.
Since she was little, Mónica loved chocolate. This started in her mother's house when her nana used to cook with chocolate and she ended up licking the whisks and paddles. For her, this process of cooking with her nana became a moment of peace and harmony.
On the other hand, Youssef's grandmother used to give him chocolate and coffee since he was little. So at some point Mónica -as a determined woman that she is- thought of associating preparing brownies (chocolate) as therapy for Youssef. After some inconvenience (the noise annoys Youssef and makes him nervous) he was able to associate and identify the chocolate flavor with the noise of the mixer and consequently stop bothering him. Every day, at the same time, mother and son would go into the kitchen to make brownies.
Monica Erosa -and her brownies- in their first visit to Coffea School
The death of the family figure was a severe blow to Youssef's family stability and autism. For all this and summarizing years of uncertainty, at the insistence of Youss and Sofía, they decided to open a small business in the city of Mérida, called Browniques. And this is where we appear.
Returning to the call in 2019, Mónica told me that Youssef wanted to become a Q-Arabica Grader. For this they had traveled to Colombia to take an introductory course.
Youssef wanted to learn about specialty coffee and Mónica was willing to come to Miami so that he could follow his passion and understand a little more about the business that as a family they wanted to develop, basically offering the best specialty coffee with the best Mexican chocolate brownies. At the same time these skills would help Youssef to achieve his certification as a Q-Arabica Grader. At least that was the main intention. If it was achieved, everyone would be happy. But if not, Monica wanted to show Youssef that what counts is always that you give your best effort.
At Coffea, from day one, Youssef was just another student. He was never treated differently from the rest of the classmates in his class, his acting and interaction with everyone was always outstanding, respectful and consistent with the course. Youssef is an affectionate young man, and empathic when having conversations related to the subject of coffee, his business and his life in Mérida-Mexico.
I was nervous at first but I must admit that, honestly, after a few hours with him in class, I completely forgot that he was autistic. Youssef made it really easy for me. I always made him see that in our classroom he was respected and understood, all his questions were valid and it didn't matter if he needed to ask them more than once to understand a specific topic. Patience was a tool that I discovered helped Youssef in his interaction with his colleagues and with us.
In the span of three years, Youssef took with us various modules of the SCA Coffee Skills, at Foundation and Intermediate levels. Brewing, Roasting, Sensory, Barista, and Green Coffee successfully passing all their respective exams.
In the meantime, he traveled to Peru and the United States to obtain the certification of Q-Arabica Grader, failing in both attempts.
Youssef in the first class ever at Coffea School in Miami Gardens
In September 2022, Monica, Sofia, and Youssef came to Miami so that Youss could have intense training with Dylan and I on triangulations and Roasting Defects, two of the assignments he was having difficulty with for his Q-Grader exam.
Something that could help Youssef was the use of headphones when he was cupping. The sound that is produced during cupping disturbs him when he is in the company of others due to the noise of the process. After three intense days of cupping, the Macari-Erosa family left to Seattle for the retakes that Youssef needed to pass. Following our recommendations Mónica asked the Q-Grader instructor if Youssef could use headphones during the test. The Instructor immediately agreed. This time the attempt was absolutely successful.
I believe -although I can't be 100% sure- that Youssef is the first Autistic Q-Arabica Grader. Of course this is something that only CQI can reliably determine. It is a great achievement. We are super proud of him, of his perseverance, his dedication and his never losing focus on wanting to achieve his goal. It is a great example not only for us as coaches and as business owners, but for many other aspects of our lives. Youssef is functional and understands the business not only from a coffee quality standpoint, but also from a numbers standpoint.
In November 2022, when Coffea opened its new headquarters, the first two students we received were Mónica and Sofía who decided to take the Barista Skills Foundation Course to help Youssef with the new Coffee Shop/Roastery that they were about to open. We see this as a complete cycle, Youss started with us at our first class at the original Coffea School location, later his mother and sister would be in the first class at our new location.
In May 2023 we visited Mérida to provide consulting services to the brand new Niques with its new roastery and cafeteria service, use of Cropster and roasting profiles. Niques is still in its soft opening. It is a beautiful, warm place, every detail well thought out, and above all familiar. Everything is made in house, by the hands of Sofía who is in charge of the entire food and drink menu, she creates her own syrups and is continually experimenting with new flavors and experiences. Nena and Monica (who has her private space for all the Brownies) accompany and support them, Youssef roasts and helps with the training of the Baristas.
There is a lot to advance, and the road is just beginning, but without a doubt it is a team that cares about the quality in each cup and in each product they serve. Youssef and Sofía have a long way to go to improve every day. We know that the skills, the earnestness, the desire, and commitment are all present.
A Mango refreshing beverage created by Sofía
Mónica Erosa in the new roaster machine
Browniques uses San Remo Espresso Machines and Mahlkonig Grinders
I wanted to talk about Youssef and Sofía in this post, what they have achieved and how promising the future looks for them, but I cannot stop thinking, as a mother, about the wonderful power that is LOVE for our children. How the feeling of love leads us to achieve what some even tell us we will never achieve, to overcome obstacles and transform them into opportunities. It drives us to move when we can't anymore, when we lack the strength. The story in this post is not about coffee and achievement through certifications. It's about Mónica and her life force, her strength and her tenacity.
For me it is about the power of the human will, the one that makes us invincible!
Nena deserves special mention, Mónica's faithful companion for many years, the nanny of Youssef and Sofia, General Manager of Browniques, who is always there for them and with them. Nena's ceviche has no comparison!
Thank you Monica, Sofia, Youssef and Nena for reminding us the power of resilience and the beauty of always believing in what we wish, and especially how strong we are when we work together! 💖
Thank you for reading me and please always remember....
"Because behind each cup of coffee there is much more than roasted beans."
María Esther Thome-López