Just two days after the fatal shooting at Robb Elementary School, The Crown hosted a group of students from Oakland’s Arise High School in our space. What originated as a simple engagement to talk about coffee’s sources and methods of preparation suddenly felt very heavy. I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t feel a little emotional about it.
Without the context of the month of May 2022, the details seem simple enough. History teacher Carlos Suarez set up a summer session for a range of ages of students to learn about the origins of common products they or their families use daily, focused on connecting people to the sources of common consumable goods such as coffee, tea, and chocolate.
The Crown offered them the opportunity to visit and learn a bit of coffee’s history, some basics of processing and trade, some light tastings, and even an introductory cupping led by The Crown’s Bolor Erdenebat, Doris Garrido, and myself. We wrapped the day up with hands-on roasting instruction led by Doris and espresso brewing with La Marzocco’s Michael McGee, Jr.
A personal highlight, and moment of humility and education for myself, involved the conclusion of the cupping, where I asked the students whether or not they liked the coffee. A definitive majority hated it.
Why? Well, I recalled, I didn’t drink coffee until my years as a young college student, and even then, it was always laden with cream and sugar. With menu-leading drink items like “Mocha Cookie Crumble Frappuccino” available at your local Starbucks, it’s hard to imagine the average coffee drinker of any age opting for unadulterated drip. Before lunch, barista Carolyn McBride sampled small portions of our lightly sweetened kegged latte, “Strawberry Shortcake Party,” to rave reviews.
Impressively, back at the cupping, many of the students were able to look past their initial distaste for the brew and offer an insightful dissection of a coffee’s flavor profile, after a little prompting.
Later, while observing these students roasting with Doris, I was impressed at their interest in the process, and of course, at the thrill of watching a batch of coffee drop into the cooling tray, whisps of smoke trailing off into the air and the aroma of sugar browning filling the lab.
In a quiet moment, a student tapped me on the shoulder and showed me her phone, on which she had typed the 21st century’s version of the paper notes I’d once passed in class myself. It read, “On a scale of 1-10, how much do you like your job?”
Unsure exactly of the motives behind the question, I told her the answer was a 10, that I loved coffee and got to teach others about why I love it. Later, as students bagged their take-home roasts, I noticed her thumbing through the pages of my recently published book. I sent the class home with a copy.
The day after our session, I received the following feedback from their instructor, Carlos Suarez:
“The students benefited enormously from the hands-on activities and “From Seed to the Cup” lecture. As soon as the students arrived back to campus, some of them began to show off the coffee they roasted and ground. Because of the overwhelmingly positive experience we had, I hope to stay in contact. If there is enough interest, perhaps I can develop some sort of program in the near future. Because I believe so strongly that students should be deeply connected to the products they consume (coffee and beyond), I hope they walked away with the understanding that their decisions about who and what they support is deeply rooted in this understanding, and the business practices of the companies they consume.”
In some ways, I think this connection to our community and youth here in Oakland is core to what The Crown’s mission is and should be. Per Bob Fulmer (Royal’s cofounder), “This is what Max [Nicholas-Fulmer, CEO] and I were talking about the first time we looked at the [Crown’s location] and thought at what might be possible.”
Doris and Bolor also expressed enthusiasm and hope. Bolor noted that “this is truly the way to educate the younger generation on coffee and sustainability.” Doris looked to the future, expressing “at one point they will realize how close their roots are to coffee and will remember this trip.”
I’m thrilled and proud to see this kind of engagement, and I’m really looking forward to seeing this blossom into a larger opportunity for us to connect to the next generation of people, whether they pursue a career in coffee or simply appreciate a little more deeply how their daily cup is grown, harvested, traded, roasted, and served.
At a time of such tragedy and uncertainty, spending a few hours talking shop with these kids felt important in some intangible way. I hope this leaves you all with a few ideas about how to inspire hope in your circles as you move on with your week.
If you represent a group like those from Arise High School, or if you simply want to engage in similar learning experiences, we offer lots of opportunities, from private instruction to group trainings, certified CQI coursework, and of course public events and classes. Don’t hesitate to contact us about your needs or curiosities.