The first coffee I bought in México was instant coffee.
This might come to you as a surprise since México is amongst the top countries on a global scale to produce coffee. And not just any coffee, world class high-quality coffee. According to “Cup of Excellence”, the best coffee 2022 is from Finca Santa Cruz in México.
So how come that I walked away from the Tienda, the small shop at the corner of the street, with instant coffee? It is, in fact, no surprise. If you know a little, tiny bit about coffee, this may sadly be the stories you are encountered with, again and again.
I don’t think we grow up being aware of this in Germany.
We simply got used to the standards surrounded by.
But for many countries beyond the European Union, there is another standard:
The best continues to be exported to Europe.
That leaves me with a feeling of having failed. Or a feeling of deep sadness. A feeling of wanting to distance myself from my European roots because they only ever make me feel ashamed.
As a coffee lover who indulged in the coffee world in Europe, thinking I knew what there was to know about speciality coffee, I had my moment of grief. Of being faced with the truth.
And the truth is that I did not know a thing about coffee.
Until I packed my bags and listened to my heart and moved to México.
Build my home here and my life.
Now, I dedicate my time to sharing what is being left out, if on purpose or not, but it is simply not being told. That is why you came across this article. A story wanted to be shared.
So sit back, and enjoy. Have a coffee, if you like to.
Coffee makes everything always a little more … enjoyable.
Let me begin then.
There is something distorted with how coffee is depicted in Germany.
With how it is sold, talked about and presented, on a main-stream level.
I am saying this, because I have seen both sides.
The German side. And the Latin American side.
In fact, they both are my roots. They both are what I call a home.
When I first got involved in the world of coffee, I actually had no idea I would. I never searched for a place in the world of coffee, it was the world of coffee that called me. It was a total coincidence, or, should we play with the words, a coffee - incidence.
Unexpectedly, I was invited to give a talk on climate politics and sustainability at the UNICACH University in Chiapas, in the South of México. I remember the first day –- there was a power cut and we had no electricity to project the presentation I had prepared. Which, now I think, was gorgeous –- because there was nothing to hide behind. No data, no facts, no slides and no laser pointer. Just the raw moment. From the very beginning, coffee asked me to leave behind the German mentality to prepare everything up to the tiniest detail and instead, embrace a little more the Latin American way of being present in the moment, and real.
My first question to the students present was: What does coffee mean to you?
It is the same question I asked half a year later on a little tour in Germany speaking about coffee, and the initiative I had founded with baristas and coffee roasters in Aguascalientes. I remember speaking in Berlin and noting down the answers on a blackboard. Work. Being awake. Friends. Those were the most common answers.
The answers I had received in Chiapas had been similar. Work was amongst them. Yet, there was more. There was tradition, nature, and family. And even love.
I wondered how it was possible that the same beverage is being received so differently, how it gets a different meaning depending on the place you’re at. And I wondered what would happen, if we could all meet in person. Be a little closer.
And maybe the very cup of coffee is that meeting point, the point of connection. The point where two worlds come together. However, it is sometimes so hard to recognize that, right? Where coffee is being produced, and the people and stories behind a cup of coffee, always seems so very far away from a German perspective.
But that’s the thing. Latin America has never been far away for me. Never far enough to not care, as I observed often in Germany. For me, it’s been as close as it gets: inside me. Latin America is my home. And as such, I will share, embody, talk about, and live my roots.
The contrary to what I often was expected to do: to adapt to such an extent that any other than being German was not welcomed.
Maybe that is what happens with coffee as well. There is simply no space for it being more than a beverage serving the purpose to become more productive, work longer hours, or share a fancy conversation about third-wave-coffee in the new hipster barista coffee shop.
When did we extract coffee to such an extent that we cut out the cultural context?
You know what makes me most angry in Germany, is when I see coffee producers being depicted in only traditional clothes on posters, on coffee bags, on postcards in so-called fair coffee shops. How they depict producers is anything but fair. It is the narrative of pity, a narrative that has been repeated for too long. The one of the first world needing to reach out a hand and help.
Think about it. No-one who would not set themselves on the first place, would invent categories of first, second, or third. The simple concept of developing countries is a standard invented by those who benefit from wanting to be seen as a few steps ahead.
I say, Germany has a lot to learn from Latin America.
We can begin with maybe just telling the truth, which is, that coffee producers don’t always wear “traditional” clothes. Maybe we could begin to depict coffee producers with smartphones and using WhatsApp like anyone else. Maybe we could begin by also talking about the excellent cafés, baristas and coffee roasters that are also existing in coffee producing countries. And we could begin by finding ways roasted coffee is being brought to the European Union with no extra tax for not being green coffee. And by that, finally meeting each other on an eye level. Because that is what is so desperately needed.
In Germany, I learned that coffee would be “a production chain”. Guess what, it never has been and it never is. Because a chain implies that there is one end, and another. (It is no secret one end likes to even put itself a little above the other.)
I say, coffee is a circle. Just look at the coffee cherry or a coffee bean: it is round, right? Or look at the stain of a cup of coffee leaves on a napkin. Coffee is a circle. A circle we are all part of, in some way or another. And the one that roasts coffee is not any better than the one who prepares coffee, the one that drinks coffee is not any better than the one knowing how and when to pick the coffee cherries off the branches.
Did we even learn somewhere how coffee grows? It was a mystery to me until I stood next to a coffee plant. Everyone laughed at me because I got so excited. That is when I realized that it should be as normal as seeing an apple tree. And that is when I also realized that I had just outed myself as having grown up in the first world where efficiency counts more than knowing where your food comes from. Where we learn more about biohacking than the connection to nature.
As I write these words, we have a power cut. Only a brief one. Funny, the power cut seems to find its way in my own story with coffee.
That never happens in Germany. In Germany, everything is always working - and expected to be working. It is this mentality which we bring to all we do, decide, say and create. We even bring this to intimate spaces, such as coffee, friendships, family and love. I was told it is better to complain about a man helping you carry the suitcase than it is to say thank you.
Here, in México, we respect. We respect the elderly. We respect the moment, the spontaneous conversation, the hug instead of a distant handshake, here, not only the weather is warm. People are.
And coffee is.
Coffee is cariño. A word describing a feeling of care, companionship and love.
However, coffee in Germany is more like … colonialism in disguise. This might sound harsh but please remember my encounter with instant coffee. Even though we have a lot of places and coffee shops who are significantly changing the narrative here in México, this continues to be an effort. It is an area of change, and profound change.
I wish for seeing more respect when it comes to coffee, whenever I visit Germany. Until now it has been more of a headache, really –- and then a sigh of relief when encountering coffee shops who truly get it. There may be few but these do exist. Those who are not afraid to have and foster an honest conversation about how we have done things wrong in the past. Where we may still enjoy too much comfort instead of thinking a little bit more critically. Where we could stop relying on certificates and instead, be more curious to explore the story of where the coffee you drink comes from.
A side note to certificates - they are not always easy to get. In many cases, coffee is as organic as it can get, grown naturally and with a lot of care. Yet, there is no possibility of an investment on the horizon to have that work become a certificate issued by someone from Europe. (No, we don’t need another European charity for that, we just need Europeans to care and think about their expectations and critically review their own choices.)
So, here is my conclusion: Let this be the first word of a longer conversation around coffee. If you have any questions, reach out.
And don’t get disappointed, frustrated or angry. In fact, more than you speak up, first, listen. In Germany we are used to complaining and putting our own opinion and perspective onto other realities, more than we are encouraged to sit back and let others speak. Be moved by the stories you encounter. Listen and be humbled. Then, focus on the hope. The inspiration. And start with yourself.
Much is being changed by feeling … cariño when drinking coffee. Don’t rush, there is already so much rushing everywhere. Take a moment. Grab your journal or simply observe. Let your taking time be the biggest rebellion and statement in a world that reduces coffee to productivity. And watch out for coffee shops where coffee is being traded directly. You can simply ask – Where is the coffee from? When you receive a shrug, next. When you receive a story, stay.
I hope you enjoyed this story.
Ariane Vera is a coffee lover, singer-songwriter, 3x author & journaling coach with German-Argentinian roots based in México. Her personal instagram can be found under @sheisarianevera, her coffee page is @acoffeedaily.