At the end of August 2022, Nicole Rosaly, Ashley Robles and Xavier Matos travelled from Puerto Rico to Coffea School in Miami to attend the Sensory Skills Foundation Course of the Specialty Coffee Association's Coffee Skill Program. All three have various levels of experience in the Puerto Rican Specialty Coffee community, as baristas, however, formal sensory training was something that none of them had had access to until then.
Back home, with that in mind, Nicole and Xavier, came up with the idea to organize an event that would bring this level of education to the island and make it accessible for Baristas, coffee producers, roasters, and business owners alike. They called it "Proyecto Origen" and presented the idea to our founder Maria Esther Thome-Lopez.
Giving classes at Origin is not new for María Esther, who was a pioneer of SCAE and SCAA training in Latin America. Since 2011, she has been traveling to teach about specialty coffee around the world, including Ethiopia, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Peru, Argentina, and her native Venezuela. Classes on a coffee farm are different and special, and we at Coffea School feel passionate about bringing the power of education to origin, so we signed on for Proyecto Origen without hesitation.
Meanwhile, Nicolle and Xavier started making contact with potential participants on the ground. Gustavo Arroyo, a coffee producer, and the owner of Rancho Contento farm located in Yauco, at 1100 meters above sea level, quicky expressed his excitement for the project and extended the generous offer to host the event at his family's farm and home.
With the project's mission in mind, the group announced two classes, SCA Green Coffee and Sensory Skills Foundation with a special price for residents of Puerto Rico, which included the internationally recognized SCA certification, once the participants passed the respective online written exam. The dates were established for the days from January 15th to 18th, 2023.
As Xavier and Nicole put it, “We wanted to make these classes accessible to hard-working baristas and coffee producers who can't afford to take time off to travel or pay high trainer fees.” The two are baristas and parents. While she is not currently working on the bar, Nicole gives latte art workshops and has recently achieved Professional Barista level guided by Coffea School. Apart from being a working barista, Xavier, plays classical trombone professionally, though he now dedicates his time fully to coffee and opening Dueto. Coffee is their passion and along the way they have sacrificed a lot, personally, professionally and emotionally.
Proyecto Origen caused a lot of enthusiasm on the Island since its first broadcast on local social networks. Seats sold out in a couple of days, and some key sponsors immediately offered their support, one of whom happened to be our host, Gustavo Arroyo of Rancho Contento, Inc., a permaculture agribusiness and first-place winner of the Taza de Oro in Puerto Rico 2022, in the natural coffee category. However, despite their best efforts, Xavier and Nicole were unable to get any publicity or sponsorship outside the island. With the exception of Hario USA (who generously supplied V60s, carafes, and filters) and Coffea School, this event was for Puerto Ricans, and by Puerto Ricans. Local small business owners volunteered their time and supplies to make the project work.
In total, 21 people attended the Green Coffee Foundation course and 20 people attended the Sensory Skills Foundation. The activities that were held during the 4 days went beyond those formally established in the Coffee Skills Program, among them: a tour of the Rancho Contento farm, 2 picking competitions with winners as the best picking team (organized in groups of two ), camping installations in the farm with all the needs covered for campers such as showers with hot water, bathrooms, kitchen, ample space to place tents, special lunches for vegans or those with dietary restrictions, etc., explanation of the various processes made on the farm, especially those with special fermentations, bonfires, beautiful sunsets and sunrises and much more. It was an experience full of emotions and personal discovery for many of the attendees, as expressed in the conversations held during the feedback time between the participants and Coffea School.
Similarly, Emmanuel Ruiz (guest/producer) and Gustavo offered their perspectives on where high-quality coffee production is headed in Puerto Rico and which resources they consider are most urgently needed. But they also gave us hope when they see the benefits of their land, their dreams and where they see themselves in 10 years. These talks were very enlightening and helpful for all the participants to understand what the reality is (at least in Yauco) in regards to specialty coffee, the perception of what "their coffees" can represent and the potential of their terroir.
Mariselly from Cereza Coffee deserves a special mention, she cooked for the entire group of attendees during the 4 days than Project Origin lasted at the Farm. Also Bethzaida and Adrián from D'Nuevo Cafe cooked together with Mariselly. Bethzaida, additionally, shared with the group one of the best Strawberry Cake that we have ever eaten, a recipe that she has had in her family for years (you can taste it in her establishment). These two incredible women were committed to the project from the beginning without expecting anything in return and we want to offer our heartfelt thanks for the support and consideration, as well as for their exquisite seasoning.
These types of events go far beyond completing an educational/training program. We had the opportunity to share the reality of coffee production, in Puerto Rico and beyond, and how climate change increasingly affects producers with situations that are beyond their reach and control. Thanks to Gustavo, our host, we were able to see first-hand how the industry in Puerto Rico, specifically in Yauco, has been affected by the latest hurricanes and other climatic situations. We also talked about the main challenges to overcome in order to reach that level of specialty with production and the difficulty of getting staff to harvest in the required time. We were all very moved by the stories and difficulties suffered lately, creating a higher consciousness, especially in those who fulfill the role of Baristas, who confessed that despite a deep sense of belonging and nationality with their country, they had never enjoyed a Puerto Rican coffee like the ones that were tasted at Finca Rancho Contento produced by the Arroyo family at the hands of Gustavo. Which makes us very happy.
It was our first time at origin Puerto Rico, and we must confess that the event exceeded all the expectations we had set ourselves. The organization of the event was impeccable, overcoming everybody's expectations. As Gustavo's father commented on our last day at the Finca, the good vibes that were in the whole group is very difficult to achieve in such large groups of participants.
Nicole and Xavier did an amazing job. And on behalf of SCA - and on our own - we thank them for this initiative that we are sure transformed the perception of many, inspired everyone and created new goals and dreams.
Our thanks to the following sponsors for their help and desire to participate in this event with the sole idea of increasing the professional level of all those who are dedicated to the coffee industry in Puerto Rico:
Dueto Specialty Coffee Bar
Coffee House PR
Casa del Barista
Cereza Coffee House
Cafe Don Juan
Academia de Baristas PR
Cabra Tosta Coffee House
Gourmet Business Solutions
D' Nuevo Café
Gerald Roldan Rivera & Trasiego
The Perfect Tray PR & Coffee Shop
To all those who participated, to those who helped, to those who believed, to those who did not believe, to those who accompanied us, to our friends, THANK YOU FROM THE BOTTOM OF OUR HEARTS!
Setting the class the day before the start: Nicole, Xavier, Gustavo Arroyo, Arnaldo Gratacos, Dylan Thome y María Esther Thome
UPDATE: As we mentioned before, one of the struggles Gustavo's farm has suffered in recent years has been the difficulty to hire people in harvesting season. When we got to Rancho Contento, he was worried that many of the cherries would be going to waste because of the lack of hands and helpers.
Because of the Proyecto Origen and Coffea School alliance the coffee community responded in a really strong way to Gustavo's struggles. They said "PRESENT", coming to the farm to help manually pick coffee. Even people that did not attend the event decided to give a hand to a farmer that probably they never heard about before. So far, on 5 different occasions, groups have come back to the farm and have helped Gustavo wrapping up the harvest season. Gustavo reports that he has now harvested more in these two months than he has ever picked before.
Our intention was always to encourage the true meaning of community beyond the certificates; to create a bond between farmers and roasters, roasters and baristas, and baristas and the community they serve.
“AS ONE PERSON I CANNOT CHANGE THE WORLD, BUT I CAN CHANGE THE WORLD OF ONE PERSON.” .- Paul Shane Spear.
Changing the world looks like a huge task, and something that not many of us will be able to fulfill, but creating an impact on the lives of a small group of people, or even just one person is huge. The implication is that we’ve done something that improves their world. It doesn’t need to be a profound change, even small changes can make a huge impact and difference.
We want to thank everyone of you, the baristas, the hard workers, roasters and coffee shops owners that have taken hours of your time to be part of the solution through coffee. We appreciate all of you.
I want to leave a piece of a story I love: The Boy and the Starfish, as told by the American anthropologist and philosopher, Loren Eiseley. It goes like this:
One day a man was walking along the beach
when he noticed a boy picking things up
and gently tossing them into the ocean.
Approaching the boy the man asked, “What are you doing?” The boy replied, “Throwing starfish back into the ocean.
The surf is up and the tide is going out.
If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.”
Laughing to himself, the man said, “Son, don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish?
You can’t possibly make any difference!”
After listening politely, the boy bent down,
picked up another starfish, and threw it back into the ocean.
Then, smiling at the man, he said,
“I made a difference to that one!”
María Esther Thome-Lopez
"Because behind each cup of coffee there is much more than roasted beans."