The Roasterie Costa Rica Trip: Thoughts from an Entrepreneur (Day 1)

WRITTEN BY HERB SIH

In January of 2013, friend and fellow Kansas City entrepreneur Herb Sih joined The Roasterie on its annual trip to Costa Rica.  Never having been to a coffee bean farm, Herb was able to provide a fresh, new perspective for the coffee-growing region in the blog post below.  Herb also acted as trip photographer and was able to flush out his own entrepreneurial ideas including one of his new ventures, Smart Coffee.  Learn more and follow Herb through his day-to-day adventure in Costa Rica with The Roasterie:   

As an entrepreneur, I have always admired people like Danny O’Neill. Smart, passionate and being a good businessman are just the beginnings of traits that I like. But given my affinity towards almost any caffeinated beverage–let alone coffee –I knew I was in for a treat when Danny asked me to accompany him on a coffee-buying trip to Costa Rica in January 2013. You see, I am a lover of coffee, lover of people who are passionate about what they do and live “ALL IN”.  But perhaps most importantly, I enjoy surrounding myself with people who love adventure and can help me open my eyes to new worlds, previously undiscovered. So…this is where my adventure began with The Roasterie team and Danny O’Neill.  Little did I know what I would really find. Let the adventure begin…

THE BACKSTORY:

Costa Rica has always been a special place for The Roasterie.  After all, Costa Rica is where it all began.  In November 22, 1978, Danny O’Neill picked his first batch of coffee beans in the mountainous coffee-growing region around the Poàs volcano while studying abroad in Costa Rica.  Right then and there, he fell in love with the country, the people and the coffee–especially the coffee.  Fifteen years later, when Danny founded The Roasterie in his basement in one of Kansas City’s great neighborhoods, Brookside, it just made sense that we would partner directly with farmers and pay above-market values to get the best of the best coffee beans. Danny, his family, and The Roasterie team continue to visit these coffee farms in Costa Rica every single year.

DAY ONE–THE JOURNEY BEGINS

Oh-dark thirty and I am heading to KCI to catch the US Airways flight to San Jose, CR via Houston. I arrive at the airport to see Danny, Carla and their two kids wide awake, ready to roll – their son helping move a box almost as big as him to the ticket counter. It is interesting to see firsthand the passion and work ethic that their son has in helping support the family business. Carla watches over carefully, but without interrupting a well-choreographed routine of heading to Costa Rica to source and buy the world’s best coffee.

We arrive in San Jose and I am greeted by the warmth of the tropical sun, the smell of a foreign country and the sights and sounds of a bustling, emerging country relative to the United States. We are picked up by Grace, along with her crew, who is one of Danny’s most trusted global coffee brokers. Grace is a 5’4 powerhouse businesswoman, quick to smile and even quicker to pick up her cell phone and make a business deal in the international business community. She is Danny’s point person to source the world’s best coffee in many different countries, to include Costa Rica.

We travel by bus to a cabina, which is operated by a former Pan American tennis champion.  She is a vibrant, confident and graceful woman who has opened up her family’s statehome that has now become a “hotel”. Upon check-in, we form as a group for our first real “briefing” on what to expect for the next 5 days. We are scheduled to tour multiple coffee farms around the country, with a bit of time at the end for some site-seeing at one of the active volcanoes found on Costa Rica. As great as this itinerary sounds, I actually think we could lose the volcano part and take an extra day to learn more about Danny’s world of coffee. Little did I know how much I would rethink this in 4 days.

The one thing that really stands out as we listen to this briefing is that time seems to slow down. At first (especially given my usual pace of business that maintains in the US) it almost seems too slow. But as I am immersed into the ways of Costa Rica and the special ambiance of this hotel, you can’t hold out. Resistance is futile. Then the first of many conversations, the kind that never seem to have a formal start and casually drift towards a powerful yet unhurried end, begins. I talk with Amanda, who works for Grace. Amanda is a recent transplant from Nicaragua, who is very passionate about the world economy, human rights and most of all, coffee. She is one of more than a few Americans I meet who are nearly completely considered ex-pats, and I learn of her work with Grace, the farmers, and what led her life to be transplanted to Costa Rica. Immediately I begin to realize that the daily life of the United States, with all that it has to offer in the hustle and bustle that occurs in a very controlled environment, is very alien to many people in Costa Rica. In Costa Rica, people actually talk to each other. Families work, laugh, play and live with each other, not just near each other. The tropical fruit I am eating and the unidentified juice I am drinking immediately begin tasting better–one slow, savory juicy bite at a time. Kind of like life. I begin to think, maybe life should be savored more…slowed down a bit. Maybe the Costa Rican culture isn’t slow…maybe we are just too fast. Stay tuned for Days 2-4 to learn more about that.

Come back tomorrow to learn about Day 2, 3 and 4 of Herb’s Costa Rica trip.  Want to experience Costa Rica with The Roasterie just like Herb did? You can!  Simply enter The Roasterie Adventure Photo Contest and win a bean-picking trip to Costa Rica with The Roasterie! Only a few days left to submit!  Enter here.