Back in February, I joined a team in Honduras with the non-profit organization that is now family to me, Humanity and Hope United. While on this trip, Ben briefly mentioned this idea he had for a company, "Generous Coffee." Back then, it sounded like a nice idea -- but exactly that, just an idea. I wouldn't have imagined back then that a couple short months and a few unexpected connections later, I'd be a on road trip across the central american country with him and 2 others on a quest for a grower, a story, and the best cup of coffee.
First of all, who are these guys who mysteriously whisked me away right in the middle of wedding season? Ben Higgins: board member of H&H, one of the three founders of "Generous Coffee," lives in Denver, Colorado, funny, friendly, compassionate, heart of gold. Riley Fuller: president/founder of H&H, Ben's best friend, one of the three founders of "Generous Coffee," lives in Austin, Texas, caring, intentional, driven, heart of gold. Darwin Suazo: works for H&H, lives in El Progresso Honduras, absolutely hilarious, sweet, spontaneous, heart of gold. Truly, these guys are gems; I adore all three!
When invited on this trip, my mind was blown that they wanted me to capture it all. When I returned from this trip, my mind was even more blown by what I experienced on this trip, and most of all - the crazy ways in which God works if you truly surrender your heart to Him, and faithfully trust in His plan.
We were in such preliminary stages of Generous Coffee, that I had no idea what to expect, especially because it sounded like Ben and Riley didn't know either. Truthfully, I wasn't sure how much we would actually accomplish, but I was still excited for the experience! I myself am a planner and always have an itinerary of some sort while traveling. I knew I was in for a wild ride with these guys when into the first 40 minutes of the road trip, Riley (driving) looked back in the rearview mirror at Darwin and asked, "Hey, we are going the correct way... right man?" Darwin, dumbfounded, responded, "Um? I have no idea. Where are we even going?" Ben chimed in, "Do we even have GPS?" None of us had an international plan on our phones, no GPS, no maps, and apparently nobody knew where we were going. Jesus, take the wheel.
I had a feeling that was a sign for how the whole trip was going to go, but honestly I trust these guys with my life and have so much fun with them, that I wasn't completely worried. But, in that moment, I may have been slightly concerned. Jesus really did take the wheel though for the whole trip! The order of events, the people we met, the views we witnessed, the amount of things we learned, it was all God, guiding us and completely present with us for the entire journey.
Day One: Doing Business on a Mountain Top
We drove for a good three hours in order to meet up with coffee grower and producer, Cristian. He led us to one of his areas of production, literally on top of a mountain, Taulabe Mountain, with outrageous views, to show us where his coffee beans are dried with the natural air. This is when we just started finding out exactly how little we all actually knew about the coffee industry, haha. Cristian was very informative and educated us quite a bit, while also telling us a little about his story, his family business, and background in the coffee industry. He was also showing business developer and coffee expert, Habib, of Project Origin in Australia, around his farms... so even just listening to their conversations, we got so much insight into the coffee world! Right place, right time. We also got to meet Cristian's longest employee, who was the exact epitome of what we had in mind for a Generous Coffee story. Cow-skin cowboy hat and all, we even kind-of-kiddingly said that he should just be our company logo.
Day 2: Coffee Education from Cristian
After leaving the mountain, we checked into our cute hotel, and walked around the quiet town of Siguatepeque, Comayagua before ending the night at the only restaurant left open that late.
The next morning, we met up with Cristian again at his little coffee shop where his coffee is actually sold in town, Cafe Tio Juan, where I enjoyed the most delicious iced coffee I think I've ever had. Cafe Tio Juan is named after Cristian's younger brother, who tragically passed away trying to protect their family coffee from thieves in their fields in the middle of the night, a few years back.
It was a lovely little morning sipping Cristian's coffee, and the waitress serving us was so sweet! Before trekking onto our next adventure, we soaked in a few minutes standing in the geographical center of the Americas and of course had to take a squad photo. Kind of neat!
From there, we visited Cristian's farms and learned what a coffee plant actually looks like, haha. It was kind of wild how much we learned in that one day though. Between listening to him and coffee expert, Habib, and asking several questions, we definitely soaked in a tremendous amount of coffee knowledge in one day. As Ben said, "I think I learned more about coffee in one day than I have in my entire life."
Day 2...Continued: Gracias Bound
The rest of this Day 2 was spent traveling into Gracias, one of the cutest little towns that I've truly ever seen. The architecture and stone streets were so beautiful, yet it still had a very small town feel. We had all afternoon and evening to kill so we checked into our adorable hotel, had a nice lunch talking about coffee since we felt like experts at this point, and then roamed around the town, cigars in hand, singing with locals and taking pics.
Just when I thought the day couldn't have gotten any better, we finally got to meet Carlos Javier, newly hired agronomist for the Hacienda Montecristo Coffee company, one of the largest coffee producers in Honduras. He gave us a warm welcome by treating us to one of the most delicious dinners in by far the LOVELIEST setting I've ever dined in. Strung lights, streaming river, delicately designed details everywhere, fresh mountain air, elegant wine, and divine food. Seriously, the evening was perfect. I remember sitting at the table sipping my wine, looking around me and just feeling all around blessed. It was a beautiful evening that I will remember forever.
Day 3: The Best Cup of Coffee, complete with a story.
Okay... just when I thought the entire trip couldn't get better at this point, the third day ended up being the absolute best. Cristian had educated us so much in the last few days, and we had been lucky to taste his delicious coffee and get to know him, but we were still in search of story.
We awoke the next morning to Carlos Javier taking us on a "2.5 hour drive" to meet a small coffee-growing family that his larger company outsources to. We drove about 10 minutes before turning onto a quite treacherous bumpy, rocky road and that's when I realized we were in for a 2.5 hour adventure, not just a drive, in order to get to this family.
Driving up the mountain with my hand out the window, I literally felt tears coming on because the views were just so magnificent, and quite literally, breathtaking. I, unable to control my photographer brain, may have politely asked Javier a couple times too many to please pull over for the several photo-ops ;)
About halfway up the mountain, after seeing these crazy views, small little homes built on side of the cliffs, and naturally a little boy randomly in a tree in the middle of nowhere, we stopped to let these 2 ladies and a small newborn into the back of the truck so they didn't have to continue walking. We were probably driving at least 30 minutes straight up hill before we approached their destination. I couldn't believe these people living on this mountain walk up and down that terrain on the daily, or weekly, as they have no other form of transportation.
After a few other hiccups that included Riley falling out of the back of the truck and waters too high for our vehicles to pass, we hiked up the remainder of the mountain to the family's farm.
I'll never forget approaching their home. There are 4 main brothers that run this family coffee farm that has been in their family for over 100 years. Each brother has a rather large family of their own, a wife and several kids, that each live in their individual, very small, manmade homes. Coffee is their life. The men farm the coffee beans, the children pick them, the women process them into coffee. It is my understanding that the children have not ever seen the real world, much less have ever left the mountain that they live on. When we approached, the children scattered so fast and hid behind doors, their parents, anything that would hide them! They were so, so shy. After all, they had never really seen people outside of their family members.
We got to chat with the brothers, and I finally got the kiddos to warm up to me by snapping photos of their sweet faces and then showing them the back of the camera. They were the sweetest little children. The one particular little boy in the majority of my photos, in the red shirt (then later in the maroon/white striped shirt), holds a special little place in heart, as he followed me around all day, at a safe distance from me of course, so secretly, and so bashful. At one point, I noticed he had gone and changed his dirty shirt into a clean shirt and then he snuck over to their outdoor sink to rinse off his dirty face and arms. He seemed so intrigued by us, but I think I was more intrigued by his curious and sweet spirit. I caught sight of him at the wash basin, and every time I glanced over he would take turns hiding behind the pillar than doing more rinsing. I finally convinced him to give me a hug by the end of the day, and it melted my heart how he held onto me for a few lasting seconds.
After wandering around their farm a bit, my favorite part of the day came when we all sat in the eldest brother's dining area of his home, overlooking the view from the top of mountain, and sharing a cup of coffee together. His very own coffee. It was truly charming how his wife so eagerly prepared and served the coffee to us. It was even more touching to have the brother repeatedly telling us how much he couldn't believe we were interested in their coffee and interested in their story. He seemed radically humbled and I'll never forget the tiny tear I saw in his eye as he was smiling at Ben and Riley, thanking them over and over again.
In my mind, in that moment, the quest for the best cup of coffee had been accomplished. This family has a story. And it needs to be shared.
Day 3...Continued: A treat from Ramon
Leaving the mountain that afternoon, my heart was completely exploding with love and adoration for this family. The endless labor and sacrifices that they make for their family coffee business is completely astounding. It sounds like Hacienda Montecristo has really helped this family out by giving them more demand for their supply, by outsourcing to them.
This is how perfectly God's plans work... None of that would have happened that day if Riley wouldn't have randomly met Ramon, family heir of Hacienda Montecristo, on an airplane to Honduras a few months prior. Like, what?!!! Talk about perfect place, perfect timing.
Although Ramon was out of the country at the time we were there, he still graciously invited us to his family property in Copan, where he had his employees and wait staff completely TREAT us to another fine meal and great tour of his family's gorgeous plantation. As soon as we arrived with Javier, these sweet little waiters (they had to be like 14 years old!) came out and offered us cocktails as our jaws dropped in awe of their beautiful home. So much history and so much beauty, their home is seriously unreal. Someone overheard Riley and Ben talking about how they should have saved their Honduran cigars from earlier to enjoy on this fancy porch we were now standing on, and sure enough - 5 minutes later - this little boy comes out with a platter of cigars for them. It was so sweet! We definitely felt completely treated. After another lovely meal and a DELICIOUS coffee cake desert, we started our personal tour of the plantation, learning all about their growing process, how many families work on the plantation, the history behind it, and we even got to experience the task of "cupping" coffee by these two sweet ladies who are in charge of that particular process.
Another educational experience for sure. It was also very interesting to literally go from one extreme to the other, having experienced the way that the small 4 brother families live to the fairytale sights of Hacienda Montecristo, in only a matter of hours. However, it did make my very happy that wealthy, successful people like this also have huge enough hearts to want to help smaller families in the same industry. Thanks, Ramon, for the special treat of a wonderful day!
We ended our 3 day adventure driving back to San Pedro Sula area in the pitch black of night in a dangerously heavy rain storm. Thank you, Riley, for keeping us alive on that scary drive.
We chatted life, reminisced about the people we met in those short few days, and talked about our excitement for the future. Personally, I believe Generous Coffee is going to change the world.
They brought me along to capture a small documentary / promo-type film for the new company... which will be coming soon. However, I didn't expect to take so many photos and I certainly didn't expect to blog about the trip either.
I ended up wanting to document every moment especially so I could remember it for myself. Like I mentioned in the beginning of this extremely long blog post, God works in such crazy ways. The order of events, the people we met, the experiences we shared, I don't know that it would have A) been as effective or successful if it was any different, and B) deepened my faith and touched my heart the way it did.
Riley and Ben, thank you so much for including me on this wildly awesome adventure. I'm so proud of you guys and blessed to call you guys friends.
Everyone else, stay tuned for the Generous Coffee Launch in a few short months!