11 months ago I bought a one way ticket to Costa Rica, packed a backpack, and headed for the coffee hills to find out who grows coffee and what they do.
I had spent 6 years living in New York City, the last two of them working as a freelance writer covering "green living," which lead me to write a weekly article about the city's greenest food and drink.
Being an avid drinker of $1 burnt, black (and surely unsustainable) deli coffee, I set out to see what the city's most "sustainable" coffee offerings were and quickly got lost in a web of marketing, labeling, claims, and trends.
I tried to do more research and was frustrated that I couldn't find any concrete information about who grew "regular" coffee. As a sustainability writer, you always have to establish what the baseline convention for growing or doing something is before you can claim something else as more or less sustainable.
There were plenty of statistics citing the 25 million people worldwide dedicated to producing coffee: so why wasn't there anything available from any of them?
It bothered me that the same handful of English-speaking farmers were the ones being quoted again and again; there were 25 million people who could answer my question of "how do you just grow regular coffee?" -why weren't their stories and knowledge in print?
As a writer, when there's a book you want to read that hasn't been written, you go write it.
So I bought that ticket, packed that backpack, and set out to the Latin American coffeelands (since I speak Spanish and wouldn't have to rely on a translator) to ask the people who grow coffee who they are and what they do.
You'll never be able to buy coffee at the farmer's market in North America, but this collection is a compilation of the conversations and stories that might be exchanged if you could.
Some people I met with tell stories of their grandparents, some explain technicalities of production, some make bold indictments of international pricing mechanisms, and some just ask me to tell them stories of who drinks coffee in New York and what they do.
You can navigate between the stories from coffee people and those I tell of coffeepeople in a "Choose Your Own Adventure" format by "clicking" (flipping) to related stories at other points in the book. Read it cover to cover or weave your own coffee odyssey and see what you find.
Because when you look for coffee you'll find everything. When Coffee Speaks is 100% non-fiction; part travelogue (see whencoffeespeaks.com), part interview anthology, part social commentary, part anthropological biographies, part industry review, part "single food book," and part environmental report, with spicy moments of postmodernism and poetry and a few shameless bilingual forays.
When coffee speaks it has no shortage of stories to tell.
Let's do this! Vámonos!
Risks and challenges
Self publishing is expensive. I still don't have the final manuscript, so I'm calculating publishing costs for a 300 page book.
I'm returning to Latin America this fall to attend several coffee related events, and thus have a terribly short timeline in which to finish translating, compiling, editing, and annotating the final draft.
"When Coffee Speaks" will certainly be a collection of stories from (interviews) and of (my observations) Latin American coffeepeople, but it might not be perfect.
I'm planning to work with a reputable bookstore in Manhattan to publish, but there's always a chance that they will have some sort of last minute delay or speed bump.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
"When Coffee Speaks' by the numbers...
Publishing fee: $350
Copyediting and design fees: $500
Printing 400* copies of ~300 page book: $6,000
50 copies to sell in store and online with McNally Jackson (publisher)
50 copies to sell at industry conferences in Latin America
100 copies for interviewees/hosts/Latin American coffeepeople integral to writing the books
200 copies for YOU, Kickstarter champions!
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