How did I get into coffee? Well… it all began with a Latin dance class.
As a young boy my mother used to tell me stories of her childhood in Colombia. Every night she would sit at the edge of my bed, whispering in hushed tones of fantastical places and people until I could no longer keep my eyes open from drowsiness. She spoke of mountains, lush rainforests, excitement, and adventure. And even as I drifted off to sleep, I could always hear the unmistakable longing that leaked from her heart.
My mother always had the best stories. She talked about taking luggage- burdened buses through beautiful and remote parts of the country. Of getting bitten by the neighbor’s dog, her mother shaving the animal, and rubbing the fur on her wound so it wouldn’t scar. Of her 250-pound linebacker of an Aunt who once chased down and pummeled a thief to the ground, with her purse. Of having to kneel on rice until her kneecaps bled, while the nuns at her school scolded her for throwing away arepas. She always spoke with such passion and imagery that sometimes it felt like I was really there in her stories.
She said that in Colombia, superstition and magical realism became an integral part of her life, and she had learned to believe in ghosts, spirits, and the power of fate. When I would misbehave, she washed my mouth out with soap, just like her mother had done to her. She could be incredibly harsh; but I swear, she could convince even a fish it could fly.
She would always say to me: “Andrieu, your grandmother came to this country with a hundred and twenty-five thousand pesos. She made something of herself. You were but one decision away from having a very different future.” Something that I didn’t truly appreciate until much later.
Looking back now, I can’t recall all of the stories she would weave together each night, but her sense of passion and longing have remained steadfast in my memory. Through my years in school, I would often think of Colombia, longing for a chance to visit this amazing country my mother described to me as a child. Of course, life would get in the way; girls, fights, friendships, and other things would occupy my mind for a time. But whenever I felt like a boy who needed his mother, I would imagine myself in Colombia, forging my own path into the unknown…
It was my second year at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and things weren’t going so well. In actuality, I had withdrawn from school for the semester. My mother and I hadn’t seen each other in months because of some argument, and I felt lost.
At the time, I was working at a local burger joint from 3PM to 3AM, five days a week, and to be frank... it sucked. The only part of my job I really enjoyed was interacting with the customers.
It seemed I knew something that none of my co-workers had picked up on. To them, they were “the customers”, a mass of people who ordered food. But I knew our customers were all unique individuals; every single one of them came from a different place, had a different story, and a different palate. It forced me to be dynamic, improve my people skills, and develop an idea of what customer service should truly be.
One Sunday, after a particularly long late-night shift, my mother called. She told me that she had met the wife of a man named Badi Bradley. My sisters were in a Latin dance class with his daughters, and he might be looking for some extra help around the office. I wrote down his email on the back of a crumpled receipt from work and promptly forgot about it for two weeks.
Fast forward a year and a half. I was back in school, preparing to graduate in December of 2015, but more specifically, I was on a plane heading for Bogota, Colombia. It had been eighteen months since I began working with Badi Bradley and Caravela Coffee. Eighteen months of sweeping floors, doing dishes, running errands to the bank or store, but also eighteen months of “muestra” logistics, coffee cupping, sample roasting, moisture readings, and learning to work within the realm of a professional organization. Eighteen months of learning, hard work, and joy.
Here I was on a plane. I was finally on my way. Through the window, still thousands of feet above the ground, I could see the mountains. The clouds seemed to take the shape of my mother’s face. My three month apprenticeship with Caravela Coffee was about to begin.