“Dear ones beware, beware of the tiny gods frightened men worship.” —Hafiz
In the middle of the night, I awake over a sea of darkness. The first moon of the new year is still in it’s infancy. Sky around and sea below have faded to black. I feel what seems to be strained violin notes running through my veins, out from my shoulders and down through my arms. The sensation is hot and piercing as the airplane rips through the canvass of the unknown. After an hour or so of reading myths about the belly of a whale under a crooked overhead light, I see the orange glow of what I take to be Havanna, emerging from dark Atlantic sea below. The miniature, apocalyptic currents running through me are diffused temporarily by the light of unearthed possibility coming up from below. By morning, I arrive in Sao Paulo to embark on a 21 day voyage through the coffee lands of Brazil.
Coffee’s true inheritance comes from being a wanderer. She is a traveler by birthright, a majestic and coded territorial assemblage of different cultures moving across borders and lips. Cultures by way of soil and seafarer. Each stop that coffee makes on it’s journey along the value passage from seed to cup has the opportunity to increase or decrease it’s integrity. From the farm where the cherry is born to the place it is brewed, biomaterial matter-flows are given directionality by which coffee either gains or loses power. The whole process is a wild orchestra of 1000 different hands networking on the same project. When everything comes together to make the perfect cup, a symphonic ecstasy of culture, travel, and taste converges. How does coffee take the high road to greatness? It starts with foundational interactions and works up from there.
The truth of the matter is that I disagree with Hafiz’s opinion of tiny gods. I know it’s not very elegant to go around disagreeing with the wisdom of 14th century Persian poets, but for me, the tiny gods are the miniature moments we would otherwise bypass along the super highways on the coffee trade routes. While others shoot photos of the awards ceremonies, I want to get in close with the little particulars of the day to day breath-work of people’s survival in the industry. The gate movements of their stride, the way they hold their spittoon, the voice tones they sing when navigating taxi cabs in the drunken, midnight ride back to shanty hotels. It’s there that things start to add up. But, in Hafiz’s defense, language must travel as well, and be trasmuted with each translation. For all I know, “beware” could have originally meant be aware. That would go along with my understanding of the importance of nomadic undertakings and the true nature of coffee quality that comes with just the slightest adjustment in syntax. Every coffee brewer knows that the finest adjustment in the grind setting is the thin line between magic and sorrow. To be aware is to engender a sense of understanding which is both the root of compassion and connection—foundational, baby steps on the spiral staircase of success.
Though I studied ecology, the only great notion I have when it comes to direct, ecological action is to develop a first hand connections with coffee professionals, be they growers, traders, or baristas. This connection comes by travel. It comes by extending the hand of friendship to strangers, walking the grounds together with people who don’t speak the same language as me, drinking coffee together with people wondering why I am here, and beginning the needle and thread work of gaining a better understanding of the other. That is why I have come here to Brazil, why I have accepted this midnight disorientation of flight from my home to meet with new guides on the heroic adventure of the life experience.
As I exit the plane in Brazil, my dear friend Antonio Biagi greets me at the airport with open arms. The beginning of something is the beginning of everything. There are no endings in the belly of the whale. Emergance from the slimey depths of the lower world is completed with a thank you note for being swallowed so wonderfully, just when everything was going so well while swimming in the sea. Should we eventually be so mighty with our relationships that we are able to treat the last sip like the first, we will forever be becoming. The notion of becoming in our pursuit of personal or professional greatness, for me means taking the time for the small joys. Should we become aware enough to take small photos of the otherwise unphotogenic passages and know that in the destination of our deepest pursuits, arrival comes when we stop to reconfigure gratitude into the tiny gods of the daily existence. I somehow believe that this has rendered the scratchy notes of screaming violins into an orange, glowing beauty to comfort my passage over the night sea.
21 days of traveling through Brazil. 3 states, 10 different towns, 70 different lots of coffee to cup, 60 hours in transit, and 1000 hands to shake. Each an opportunity. The little things add up when getting coffees to the place where people want to give you awards. Don’t be afraid to worship the tiny gods of the coffee existence, of any existence, for that matter.
After spending a few days in Sao Paulo I made my way to Espirito Santo Do Pinhal to act as a cupper in the Late Harvest Cup of Excellence Competition. This competition looks at Brazil’s best naturally-processed coffees. It was an amazing experience to be part of such an esteemed, international jury. The body of judges came from the farther regions of the world to convene and commune in Brazil. We spent the entire week methodically working through lot submissions that had already passed a national jury of cuppers. The process proved to be another wonderful example that naturally-processed coffees have a tremendous amount of complexity to offer the speciality coffee world. The multi-dimensional flavor profiles that the jury experienced were a treat to the nose, lips, mouth, and mind. Seeing the way this organization raises awareness around the artisan possibilities of coffee farmers is a exciting tool for our global understanding of what great coffee can emerge when the right platforms are developed. The Cup of Excellence and Alliance for Coffee Excellence are sister organizations that 1000 Faces is very proud to be taking more and more of an active hand in.