When you move to a different country or even city for a while, you miss some things from your past lifestyle for sure. One of the ways I’ve found to make this transition process smoother and easier is to find something in the new place that can, at least partially, replace what you are missing. So today I’d like to share how this has worked out for me through my love of coffee.

Lviv, Ukraine

Coffee is really special for my city. During the cultural revival after the Soviet Union times, one of the oldest coffee houses in Lviv became the epicentre of the revival, where artists and social activists gathered for a cup of this aromatic beverage. Today, coffee has became one of the reasons that Lviv has transformed into a tourism destination. Because of the number and quality of coffee shops, some visitors come to the city even for a weekend just “for cup of coffee”. People in Lviv didn’t used to drink coffee, but rather tasted and savored it while working or having conversations with friends in those social spaces.

Two years ago I had the chance to be involved in the preparation of the “Lviv Coffee Festival”, where you can try different varieties of coffee and treats in one place and time. The most attractive part of the event is a competition between coffee shops for the title of “The Best." The Coffee King and Queen visit each of the competitors, tasting coffee and making their decision, all while the festival visitors are doing the same. At that time I was also responsible for the Barista Championship, and through these experiences the magic of coffee was revealed to me even more. I've seen how different the coffee-drinking experience could be with so many different flavors, which you could taste and enjoy for an almost meditative moment. This is much different from the way many think about coffee as an “awakening” substance.

Coffee became an integral part of my life, like a glue that connects me with my city and the people in it. So it was a nice, happy moment to have my first ArtPrize work meeting in a great Grand Rapids coffee shop.

Grand Rapids, Michigan

In the United States, as I’ve discovered, the coffee drinking culture is a bit different—probably not as intimate (generally speaking) as in Lviv. Even though there are a lot of great coffee shops here, it’s also very common to have coffee thermoses, which make coffee easier to serve.

Grand Rapids is predominantly famous for its breweries, but here there are a lot of good places for enjoying coffee. And this is really great, and very important, to have in a city full of professionals—coffee crafted by people who are passionate about what they’re doing. That means they’re not just doing business, but doing it better by sharing and promoting their excitement about coffee. Of course, in that way customers can be more confident in the level of quality of the product, and also be inspired to experiment with it and to look on this daily routine from a different perspective.

This was my experience in a coffee tasting at Direct Trade Coffee Club which I attended recently. Together with the ArtPrize team, I spent my lunch hour in this “factory of internal joy.” I don't want to exaggerate, but this describes exactly what I felt with all of my Lviv coffee background. The founders of this place—Kirby Watson and Chad Morton—introduced us to coffee in a way that I thought for sure at least one of them must be the “coffee brother” of one of my friends back in Lviv, who owns the coffee house and is also passionate about this dark drink. Through the coffee tasting at Direct Trade, I learned a lot of new interesting facts and tasted great coffee, which brought back memories of my hometown.

They also gave us their cold 24-hour brewed coffee (nitrogenated) to try, which was also amazing, and an experimental drink-surprise. Another drink we tried, a tea made from coffee berries, tasted a little bit like “compote,” a drink we usually make at my home in the summertime. This was another nice moment, when the flavor was complemented by memories.

What was really great to learn is that Kirby and Chad personally travel to farms in Guatemala and have met all of their coffee vendors. While on those trips, they watch out for the working conditions of the people involved to the process of coffee cultivation. This is really important because coffee cherries are gathered by hand, and workers must be very careful even at this very first stage in the coffee-making process.  

During this tasting experience, I learned about another important part of preparing coffee beans—the process of roasting. The best way to brew the tastiest coffee is to use freshly prepared coffee beans, at most 3-5 days after roasting. And here is the main advantage to the city of Grand Rapids and to coffee shops in having this kind of organization in town. Professionals are roasting the coffee themselves, and they know how to do it properly. It offers the opportunity to serve coffee to customers using beans roasted fresh every week.

I left the Direct Trade Coffee Club very happy, with a package of fresh roasted beans in my hands. And I will be back, for sure.

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Photographs: Dzyga.com, FlickrDirect Trade Coffee Club.

By Iryna Bilan on