It was a year ago this week that I first met Anne Campion, Revel Caffè’s owner. We both were dateless at a Stratford Women in Food dinner at the Old Prune and as fate would have it, we were seated together. What followed was an evening of amazing conversation, lots of laughter, swapped stories, a soul recognition and a mutual declaration to be BFFs.
It’s fitting that on this Valentine’s Day, we sat together and chatted about her trip to Nicaragua this December past, to the plantation and the people who grow and produce the coffee Anne serves in Revel – the coffee that’s the very substance and metaphor for how this incredible woman lives her life.
A little backstory: Revel’s coffee comes from La Union – 12 coffee plantations on a 100-acre farm high in the Nicaraguan rainforest. The plantation’s been in the family for three generations. The villagers who work on the farm defied the Sandinistas and refused to allow the farm to be nationalized. The patriarch, Don Reynaldo, was arrested, imprisoned and then fled to London, Ontario where his daughters Maria and Valeria, owners of Las Chicas del Caffe still live, importing the beans and roasting them 5 lbs at a time. Don Rey returned to Nicaragua but comes back Canada every April to supervise the arrival and unloading of each new harvest.
Anne is a soulful person. As she tells it, “I’m involved in meaning.” Thoughtfulness and intent are part of everything she does.
Anne had been a “reveller” (re-vel-ler: a person who frequents Revel Caffè) before she bought the caffè in September 2010. She saw the purchase as a way of continuing the relationship with this particular coffee that was all about sustainability, as a location for a group of searchers and questioners she belonged to and as a way to provide an income.
But deeper than those three reasons was the intention that has become Revel’s “foundational statement” which Anne derives from the Book of Jeremiah: to be good for the city… for on it’s prosperity my peace depends. Or as Anne further explains, “it’s not about making Revel the hotspot to be.”
Soon after the deal was done, Anne went to Maria and Valeria for a “cupping”. “I knew then I knew nothing,” Anne confesses. “They value the coffee, they’ve seen their dad pick up every bean that has fallen down, they’ve learned to roast the coffee by sound from their grandmother. They know so much and I felt I had a huge responsibility.”
So Anne decided to visit La Union within two years of purchasing Revel, “to say thank you, to let everyone involved in the coffee know they were appreciated.” And that trip happened last December with Maria.
The visit began with a terrifying drive 1300 metres up into the mountains on a skinny road.
The first thing she saw was coffee beans drying on the patio. “Maria said, ‘Why don’t you make a coffee angel.’” And that’s what they did.
Anne says it’s hard to put the trip into words but explains that every step of the process is done by hand, from the picking the coffee cherries (two beans to a cherry), carrying the plucked cherries to the farm, hulling pulping (hand cranked) the flesh off the bean, washing the beans, raking the beans on the drying patio 3 to 4 times a day for seven days, bagging them, loading the bags, bringing them to export. Every step is done by hand.
While at the farm, Anne did it all: picked cherries, raked, milked the cow for morning coffee (“Instant latte with foam!”), raked, washed the beans, roasted. She even brought the Revolution Blend that Maria and Valeria created just for Revel Caffé to the farm to make coffee for everyone to taste.
Back in Stratford, Anne sums up her trip this way: “I understand that it's my privilege that I could go to the plantation, but I also think about the responsibility of that privilege – what does this require of me. It’s not to be preachy but to advocate for good coffee drinking and to ask the questions of the value system behind that: how to you do good locally and globally? Don't let a bean fall on the floor here. Make the finest expresso shot because someone picked that bean by hand. Honour the bean because when you do, you honour the person who made it possible.”
“Be able to say ‘thank you’ every day.”
50 Wellington Street, Stratford
Chicas Del Caffe
207 A Exeter Road (Located at 135 Industrial Park), London, ON