Strengthening Communities With Coffee

Coffee is a mundane thing. We consume it with such frequency that, oftentimes, it is easy to overlook its significance. We rarely consider what it takes to go from the farm to our cups, but the process is, in actuality, remarkable. What is even more remarkable, perhaps, is the role it plays in our own local economy.

Creative Living Coffee is a program of Medina Creative Housing that offers vocational opportunities to students and other individuals with disabilities. When you enjoy a cup of Creative Living Coffee, you make an impact on the local community, an international community, and you leave an impression on people throughout many life stages. To find out how and why Creative Living Coffee makes a difference, I sat down with Tim Hagerty, who oversees business development of Creative Living Coffee.

Lifestyle: Coffee is a pretty special drink, and it has a pretty remarkable impact on communities around the world. Tell me about the roasts offered through Medina Creative Living Coffee.

Hagerty: Coffee is a food, and as such it reacts with people’s chemistry and taste buds differently. We offer a number of roasts so that our customers may experience a great flavor while they continue to support the work we do in striving for employment for all. We have seven different roasts including a Premium Decaf. Five are single origin and two are blends. We buy quality beans, roast them so they never taste bitter or burnt, then encourage people to experiment with various brewing methods. In the near future we will be unveiling our Creative Café and Roastery on Grande Boulevard, and when it opens we hope that customers will join us for adventures in cupping and tastings so we can experience this wonderful journey of helping each other enjoy life to the full-all with a cup of coffee.

Lifestyle: Are there any brews in particular that you would recommend for this time of year? 

Hagerty: When I think about autumn, I think of warm and rich. Our Meximala Blend, which is a 50/50 of Mexican and Guatemalan, is our lightest roast, but often I find hints of citrus and hints of chocolate depending on what I am eating. If you pair that blend with any foods containing lime, those sweet, rich notes seem to come out. Sometimes, after a meal, I will pair that blend with a chocolatey dessert. Our Java Jubilee is a single-source Nicaraguan roast, and it is interesting because it is very smooth but there is a hint of a berry characteristic. When I think about berry pies at Thanksgiving, I crave this delicious roast. The Brazilian Roast is a medium roast, and it is a little earthy. Sometimes there are some nutty notes in it, so if you would like to enjoy coffee with pecan or pumpkin pie, that is a fantastic roast to go with.

Lifestyle: Do you think coffee pairs well with every Thanksgiving get together? 

Hagerty: I think coffee should be at every get together! The fun thing about what we do at Medina Creative Housing—in addition to seeing the development of individuals with disabilities and the joy it brings to them when they are roasting—is that we treat the flavors of coffee much like folks treat wine making. The taste of the wine is dependent on where the fruit is grown, what the climate is like, what is in the soil, and what things are growing around it. The same goes for coffee.

Lifestyle: Wow! Can you tell me a little bit about where coffee beans are grown? 

Hagerty: Coffee is a brewed drink prepared from roasted coffee beans, which are the seeds of berries from the Coffea plant. The genus Coffea is native to tropical Africa and Madagascar, the Comoros, Mauritius, and Réunion in the Indian Ocean. The plant was exported from Africa to countries around the world and coffee plants are now cultivated in over 70 countries, primarily in the equatorial regions of the Americas, Southeast Asia, India, and Africa. The two most commonly grown are the highly-regarded arabica and the less sophisticated but stronger and hardier robusta. We roast only the gourmet arabica beans. Once ripe, coffee berries are picked, processed, and dried. Dried coffee seeds are roasted to varying degrees, depending on the desired flavor. Roasted beans are ground and brewed with near-boiling water to produce coffee as a beverage. The Coffea plant likes the hotter temperatures found closer to the equator. Taste varies based on factors like climate, elevation, minerals in the soil and techniques of individual farmers. Remember the ultimate product that we drink is water—it extracts flavor from the coffee bean in quite a number of methods.

Lifestyle: How do you select the farms from which you import coffee beans?

Hagerty: The two primary ways for us to acquire beans are through a coffee broker or with a direct relationship with a grower. We buy beans through brokers that acknowledge fair trade practices. In the cases that our brokers have direct relationships we can purchase those beans as well. We want high-quality arabica beans and we want to know that those working hard to produce, harvest and dry the coffee berries are being fairly compensated for their work. Currently we are exploring opportunities to develop relationships with growers so we can purchase directly. We believe this could give us the best quality products and help the producers receive the most net compensation for their efforts. This requires an additional amount of effort on our part due to currency issues as well as, shipping internationally and clearing customs. There is an efficiency to work with brokers that regularly process transactions when we can still meet the other requirements that are important to our organization’s goals.

Lifestyle: And when the beans come here to Medina, what happens then?

Hagerty: Currently we roast at our facility on State Road in Medina. Our roasts vary between light, several mediums and dark roast. It is important to note that we have individuals with disabilities working on every facet of the process. Because we focus on abilities we have very capable individuals from beginning to end. They record materials and products in and out. The whole process is very exciting and leads to your enjoyment in every cup. We are especially excited to expand our operation in our new Creative Café and Roastery, which will be a working coffee house on Grande Boulevard just west of the Home Depot. We hope to be in the new facility before year end.

To enjoy and purchase some gourmet coffee, stop by Books & Brew in the Brunswick Library, Creative Cafe at Lodi Hospital, or swing by Medina Creative Housing at 232 North Court Street.