Hanging on the north wall of my home office is an oversized greeting card that I bought almost fifteen years ago in a small bookstore in Tucson, AZ. I purchased the card just after landing my first job out of college. On the cover, a deep-pink, watercolor Amaryllis embodied the exact feel that I wanted for my new office. It was lively and colorful yet mature and sophisticated at the same time. Just below the elegant flower, Eleanor Roosevelt’s words moved gracefully across the cardstock: “A woman is like a tea bag. You never know how strong she is until she gets into hot water.” Of course, I found the quote to be insightful and stimulating back then but, it wasn’t until many years later, after many setbacks and challenges in my professional life and quite a bit of sitting in boiling water in my personal life, that I fully came to appreciate Ms. Roosevelt’s words.
Over the years, the analogies between tea, coffee and people, not only in terms of brewing but also in terms of cultivation and processing, have become more vivid and poignant. Species, soil, climate and processing techniques influence the resulting flavor of tea leaves and coffee beans in the same way that family histories, culture, customs and environment influence who we are as people and what our personalities are like. According to Social Psychologists Harry C. Triandis and Eunkook M. Suh, ecologies shape cultures and in turn cultures influence the development of personalities. For me, as a Latina born and raised in the heart of the Mexico-America border, the analogy between coffee and people has played a crucial role in helping me find a sense of self amidst the push and pull of two culturally-powerful countries. It has helped me embrace and learn to savor the different blends and factors that make me who I am.
Of course, with so much history and with the enormous role that both tea and especially coffee continue to play in our society and popular culture, the opportunities for comparison are endless. In my own pursuits and research on the subject, a second unexpected piece of good fortune has come about: I have learned about some of the best and most delicious coffee around. Included in my findings are: 1) Santa Elena Coffee Co., Inc., founded in the United States by Latina entrepreneur Astrid Bernstorff; and 2) Gariola Coffee, a coffee-roasting business that originated in owner Claudia Garibay-Acosta’s kitchen in Caborca, Mexico and, as of 2008, has crossed borders into Nogales, AZ. Both of these businesses offer some of the best Mexican coffee and also exemplify the essence of strong, hardworking and humanitarian Latinas who have discovered their individual flavors.
Santa Elena Coffee Co., Inc. produces some of the world’s finest coffee through revolutionary agricultural practices that include better working conditions for plantation workers and less detriment to the environment. Gariola Coffee imports its green or raw coffee directly from growers in Mexico and roasts it the moment an order is placed to maintain the freshest aroma and flavor. They offer ground or whole bean coffee (a better option for those aiming to preserve the flavor for a longer period of time), regular or decaffeinated and medium or dark roasts. They also work closely with community and local non-profit organizations to raise funds for schools and churches.