It’s late in the afternoon and the sky is beginning to grey. The lingering humidity cools as the sun drifts behind the mountains. The sounds are familiar––the buzz of conversation, the bouts of laughter, and the clinking of ceramic cups––but it’s the scent of the rich, dark beverage in front of me that truly completes the scene. I breathe deep, taking in the earthy smell.
Between my hands, the cup is like a small radiator. I let the heat permeate my skin and sink deep into my bones. Taking a sip, I slur the coffee across the middle and back of my tongue, keeping the hot liquid from burning my mouth. The flavors diffuse and I can feel my glands swell as they react to its acidity.
Outside, drifting above the concrete walls, are the noises of cranky, old cars and zipping motorbikes. Down the street, I hear a guitarist effortlessly compose a fluid, latin melody, accompanied by the velvet-like tone of his baritone voice.
I draw myself out of my thoughts and bring my attention back to my newly acquainted friends who sit around me laughing and chatting together. I’m at the final stop on today’s long and exciting journey: a local coffee shop in downtown Matagalpa, Nicaragua.
Sitting across from me is my new friend, host, and guide, Ixil Borter Torrez. She has spent the day leading me through the process of Nicaraguan coffee production. We visited two farms, each of differing elevations, a co-op, a dry mill, and, finally, the coffee shop where I now sit.
Throughout the day, she has mentioned portions of her life, peaking my interest. Curiously, I ask her if she would share her story.
She tells me first about her family’s rich legacy in coffee farming, nodding toward her parents who sit next to us. I sit enthralled as she walks me through their history. Her family has been producing coffee for over eighty-four years. Almost a century ago, her great-grandfather immigrated from Spain, bringing coffee with him. He married a Nicaraguan girl and started a conventional farm, simply because that’s all they knew. The coffee farming lifestyle was passed down two more generations to Ixil’s father and mother, Victor and Juanita. Both Victor and Juanita’s families owned coffee farms and when their parents passed away they received portions of these farms. Together they decided to continue the legacy and tradition of producing coffee.
Ixil goes on to explain that aside from growing up on a coffee farm with her family, she’s now been in the coffee industry for eighteen years, having worked in Nicaragua, England, and Holland. She seems to breathe coffee. In Nicaragua, she worked at a dry mill for seven years, each year having a different position as she moved up in the company. After that, she moved to England for seven more years where she learned English, received her Master’s degree in International Business with a focus in Coffee Research, and worked in the coffee industry. Her university invited her to continue her research as a PhD program, completely funded, but she turned it down, intending to eventually start her own coffee company. She finished her time in Europe working for an importing company in Holland for a year before returning to Nicaragua.
Suddenly, the ruckus of laughter next to us breaks into our conversation. Ixil pauses and chuckles, looking down the table.
“This is a full coffee culture experience. In Matagalpa, this is what we do in the afternoons. We get together and drink coffee.” I smile, imagining what it would be like to actually live here. She continues.
When Ixil returned to Nicaragua, she met her now husband, Adrian. They married shortly thereafter and within three months started AdIx (pronounced “ad-ix”) Coffee, a coffee distribution and exporting company. She explains that the name is a combination between her and Adrian’s names and also sounds like “addicts,” referencing her passion for coffee. But as she talks about her company, I realize that coffee isn’t the only thing that she’s passionate about.
“Coffee is not only a concept for a business for me, but it’s eighty-four years in my family line. It’s culture, it’s legacy, it’s passion, it’s history, it’s love, it’s tears, it’s joy, it’s breakthrough, it’s the struggles, it’s promises, it’s a future, and it’s a whole lot of things in one way of doing life.”
I can feel her zeal increase.
“Drinking coffee is not about pushing a button in a machine that then gives you a hot drink and makes you feel good. On this side of the world, to produce a cup of coffee is hard work throughout a full year.”
She tells me that when she began her coffee research, she found that the small price that producers in the countries of origin were selling coffee for was being increased to five or six times that rate after leaving the producers. This bothered her and sparked a fire in her heart to see transformation.
In 2011, Ixil happened to meet the President of the International Coffee Organization (ICO). He asked what her heart for the coffee industry was and how she might envision seeing it transformed. She told him, “That people would know the value of the heart of a coffee producer and be willing to link arms with them.”
Putting the pieces together I realize that AdIx Coffee is not just about coffee. It’s also about people. Ixil and Adrian started this company to be a bridge between the producers and the buyers, roasters, and consumers. They want to directly support and benefit these coffee farmers with good prices, bringing transformation to their communities. To them, it’s not merely about Fair Trade, but about direct, collaborative relationships.
“We want to invite buyers to come and do what you did today. This is for us, a high core value of relationships, fun, getting to know each other, and getting to work, linking arm to arm, so that we can get further in the coffee industry together.”
My Western paradigm of coffee shatters.
I think about today and all of the individuals we met. I think about Reynaldo, who started his own coffee farm at the age of seventeen, twenty-two years ago, and has been the president of a coffee co-op for three years now. I think about the individuals who took the time to explain in depth the cupping process at the dry mill. I think about Victor, Ixil’s father, who has spent his life producing coffee through all the hardships of life, love, family, and civil war. And I think about their passion, their dedication, and their persistence.
Coming into today and walking through the process of coffee production, I really had no expectations. I did not anticipate how my experience would transform my paradigm toward coffee. Yes, the process of coffee is intricate and difficult, but beneath all of its complexities, I now realize that its true value is not found in its culture, processes, consumption, or history. Nor is it found in its flavor or the way it brings people together, superseding culture, country, and differences—though these are all valid. Its true value, I realize, is found behind the product in the individual and their story.
Tipping back my small, ceramic cup, I sip the rest of my coffee, letting it rest in my mouth for a moment. The flavors expand across my palate, with a buttery bite and an earthy tang. I swallow and turn to glance at the people around me, knowing that I will never view coffee the same again.