Building the Last Mile by Arno Holschuh


Originally posted in Royal Coffee.

It is the product of many hands, cooperating to bring an idea from a simple genesis to a fully realized, glorious piece of splendor. Yes, it’s that time of year again: We opened a café.

What were you thinking of? New crop centrals?

Yes, well, it is true that without green coffee – and the growers, miller, exporters, shippers, importers, agronomists, warehouse workers, and truck drivers who make that coffee happen -- there would be no café. But if we want to create a sustainable economy for farmers of specialty coffee, then we must also create efficient outlets at which to sell their product and tell their story.

The smallholder in Huehuetenango and the barista in Hayes Valley have as much uniting them as dividing them – both work directly with coffee, getting their hands on it and making their living from their skill at doing so. And both can only succeed if placed in a context that allows for a living wage and hope for the future.

As such, it was with great pride that we at Artís coffee opened our second café. Mayra Powell came by and talked about her work in Honduras and kept several of our visitors spellbound. I grew almost hoarse trying to explain that, yes, we do roast coffee on-site, and yes, that works very well indeed. A lot of people got to see, smell and feel green coffee for the first time. Creating an immersive coffee experience for customers is our mission, and is paired with our hope that they will come to see the product as something more than a hangover remedy or a method of warding off the morning chill. It is a joy, a passion, and a way of life for people all over the globe.

Of course, it’s also good to be realistic about our impact: We cannot save coffee growers. We are a very small link in this chain. The best we can do is run a successful, profitable shop that allows us to pay sustainable prices for green coffee while educating people in San Francisco about how dependent their morning delicacy is on the talented, hard-working people at origin -- and responsible importers like Royal who help to create a supply of wonderful coffee that will be with us for the long run.

But that day in May was a time for celebration. Kids yelled; dogs barked; coffee was roasted, drunk, carried home for future preparation in the micro-kitchens of micro-studios all across that city of macro-wealth. And the celebration was deserved, because every time we open our doors, we are building that last mile of a trail that brings us coffee from the shores of Lake Tawar, from Yirgacheffe, from Minas Gerais – and sends money back to those regions.