Dean Stevens Loves Coffee
And what's more, we get to drink the best coffee in the world, for free. It's our only remuneration from this coffee venture. They tell me that coffee vies with cocaine to be the second most traded commodity in the world economy (Oil is #1). So how did Jennifer and I get so lucky as to have a direct connection to a marvellous source of this fabulous life giving, almost sacramental stuff?
Izotalillo (pronounced-eesotaliyo, or abreviated handily as "Iso") is a village in El Salvador, tucked into some remote mountains near the Honduras border. To get there, we walk three hours, straight up a steep steep path. If you're not up to the hike, you can also get there on a mule.
We started visiting Izotalillo soon after they had returned to their village, in 1993. We were immediately in love with the place, both for its remote and rugged beauty, remarkable evening sunsets and night starfields, as well as for its devastating and proud history. There are about 100 people who live there, 12 families. They grow corn and beans for subsistence, and have a few barnyard animals and vegetable crops as well. The surrounding area is a pine forest, and they also earn some cash cutiing logs by hand, and hewing them into planks and boards. We have witnessed the rebirth of this community. They were at first in tin shacks, and now most families have adobe houses surrounded by garden plots. We have helped them secure a good water supply. We have also helped them get started on this coffee venture.
From the time they returned, people in Izotalillo have been planting coffee, as it is a crop well suited for the cool foggy climate there. There were coffee trees of a variety they call "Café Indio", which survived the war years, and have been growing on those steep hillsides for some 100 years. More coffee has been replanted, and they now have between all the families, a few acres of coffee that is just coming into production. This coffee is shade grown, and probably organic (they can't afford fertilizers or pesticides), though not certifiably so. It is also hand processed. Most coffee you buy is mechanically processed, dried and prepared. This is all done by hand. We have helped them buy a manual (I like to call it acoustic) depulper. We also provided them with cement with which they have built patios for sun-drying the coffee beans. Removal of the shell and parchment is a tedious manual process, done in enormous hollowed-out log mortar-and-pestels.
This is what we bring to Massachusetts: unroasted (some call it"green") coffee. . Our current roasterman is Dan Kenn, of Sudbury Coffee Works in Sudbury, MA. The secret to delicious coffee is a recent roast. That is why I am roasting as much as I can sell in about three weeks, bagging it in the plain brown bag with the stains that indicate freshness (I stole that from Garrison Keillor).
I am not a coffee baron, but I have a modest goal of being able to buy Izotalillo's entire crop every year, about two tons, and sell it among our community of friends, family and music listeners. I pay $1.25/pound for the coffee, which is a price set by the Fair Trade Coffee Association as a just price. This is twice the going price of gourmet coffee on the commodities market, and about four times what Izotalillo villagers can get if they sell their coffee locally to a processing plant or broker.
We have not figured out the shipping piece of this puzzle: we presently bring back only as much as delegations can fit into luggage on the plane, about 600 pounds in 2003, maybe a bit more this year. It is tedious thing to bring back such heavy bags, but worth the inconvenience: the Izotalillo bank account has about $2000 in it, that will eventually go to fund a community project. They are lobbying heavily for a truck, but that will take a few more years of coffee sales.
My passion is for medium roast (AKA full city roast), but we also make some dark roast, the shiny oily kind, if that is your appetite.
Let us know if we can sell you some coffee. We will soon have an order form on this page, but for now, you may simply email or phone us to place an order. $10/ pound, plus $2.00 per pound for postage. We'll see if this turns into a shipping and receiving nightmare, but for now it's fine. If this is not a convenient way for you to support your habit, I'd recommend that you find out about Equal Exchange Coffee Tea and Cocoa (www.equalexchange.com) available nationwide at many grocery chains, cafes, deli's, and also sold at a growing number of church denominations and college campuses. I am a small shareholder in this company, and they are in my opinion, the shiningest beacon in this dark night of American Capitalism and Globalization.
Come and visit Izotalillo with me sometime!!Dean Stevens