Sophia Blanco Lovo

Mercer Street manager Sophia Blanco went to Nicaragua to spend time with Jaime Lovo on Finca Santa Isabel.
Sophia fell in love with Jaime Lovo's coffee, so Fury brought her to meet the family behind it.
Here's Sophia's account of the trip.

ey! Soph here - you might recognize me from the Mercer St. location. By now you're probably pretty familiar with our travel experiences -why we travel to coffee farms, what we're looking for, who we're hoping to meet, the whole shabang - well after reading about so many other peoples' experiences traveling for and with Think, I became super enthusiastic and couldn't wait to share my own experience with you! Matt recently shared his account of our trip to Nicaragua, with many details on the business side of things and the project we're working on. What I'm going to share with you is a little bit different.

Over the past few years I've had the luxury and opportunity to watch Think grow and change and evolve - from behind the counter, to in our offices, to various community events with local non-profits who we support. I started to see that the people I was working with and for were constantly questioning how things were being done: could they be done better? More environmentally, agriculturally, socially friendlier? In a more sustainable manner? In a way that could benefit more people? How can we make this taste better, or simplify this process? After seeing and being a part of many of Thinks changes, I really wanted to learn more and see more; so I took up an opportunity and was asked to visit some new friends in Nicaragua.

The opportunity I took up was the NERBC:
Every year since the year 2000 a World Barista Championship has taken place - first there are Regional competitions, followed by National competitions, and finally a World Championship.

Not only does competing allow a barista to learn more and excel, but it can open up so many interesting doors too! Think hoped that one of their baristas would be interested in competing - and this happened to be just the experience that I was looking for. So I headed over to 8th Avenue, found Matt Fury, and said "yo - this is really interesting to me. I would like to represent Think Coffee in the North Eastern Regional Barista Championship. What do you think?" Fury was stoked. We tasted a few of my favorite coffees from our Single Origin menu as espresso, and decided on a winner: Nicaragua. Before I knew it we were planning our trip (and my first trip to Central America) to Ocotal and Dipilto, to meet Coffee Farmer Jaime Lovo and Exporter Luis Alberto Balladerez.

Interestingly, this trip was very much like visiting that family you're so close with but rarely get to see; a constant flow of open arms and big smiles everywhere we went - from room to room.

I don't speak Spanish. I have a fairly good understanding of the French language though, which is close enough to Spanish so that I was able to keep up (though minimally) with conversation during the trip. I expected to feel pretty out-of-place - thankfully this was not the case. For one, I was hardly the only presence with a language barrier, Jaime and his family did not understand English, nor did Luis Alberto. Fury and Claudia (Luis Albertos assistant) translated conversations and ideas throughout the trip for everyone. Mutual feelings of friendship and comfort allowed for such a pleasant experience all around, as well as a constant aim of trying to share conversation through photos, attempting one another's' language, even cooking together!

Our trip was a lot of business, but all done in such a friendly manner. Claudia took a lot of time playing host' for us. We had breakfast together at the local farmers market, tasting different Central American fruits. We had dinner together at local restaurants with Claudia's 3 children and learned about their interests, their lives, even what made her 4 year son giggle.

Jaime and his wife showed us all around their farm, took us into their home to cook for and with us. We saw pictures of their family and heard stories. We sipped on some their favorite coffees and were taken to some of their favorite restaurants and pottery shops. The Lovos even bought for me a set of beautiful hand crafted cups and a basket which I
could use at the NERBC! Everyone was so thoughtful and considerate; constantly trying to find ways to keep us feeling like we were at home, like we were family. Sharing experiences that they thought would interest us, showing us things we otherwise would not have seen. On our last night, while staying in Managua at a hotel not far from the airport, we yet again experienced their kindness: Jaime's daughter, who lived in Managua (and who we had never met or even spoken with,) called us on our last evening, picked us up from our hotel and drove us to a favorite Sushi restaurant where we enjoyed a few hours of great food, drink, and conversation! What a departure.

Needless to say, we found a group of people we were eager to share a business relationship with and maintain friendship with. We found that the way they lived reflected what we encourage, and the things they hoped to accomplish would coincide with what we planned to accomplish. And for me: this was an incredible experience, a huge and sought out learning opportunity, seemingly effortlessly presented from Think Coffee to one of their baristas.