For those whose only desire during the course of a day is a decent cup of joe, this story's for you. You know the feeling. A growing sense that something is not right with the world. People speak. All the words seem familiar, but the meaning of the sentence is totally unclear. You move about the house as if underwater, dragging a sofa behind you. Ripping your hair out, you wonder why everyone's picking on you. The empty pack of aspirin laughs from the bathroom shelf. It's hard to stay awake.
"After being here for two or three years, I was getting desperate for a cup of real coffee," said Tony Ryals, proprietor of Tostaduria Antigua. "Then I stayed with a Guatemalan family and one of the women, Gladys, was roasting coffee on the stove and grinding it in a little grinder. After tasting that, I couldn't imagine drinking anything else."
Born in Texas and raised in Louisiana, Tony arrived in Central America from California, where "coffee kulcha" had already caught on. He opened the Tostaduria de Antigua in 1993, the same time that the Starbucks phenomenon was introducing North American coffee drinkers to designer beans from exotic locations.
"Where I had been living in the Bay Area, coffee couldn't have gotten any bigger," he said. "All I had to do was taste that coffee that was roasted on the stove. I realized all I really needed was the regular highland bean, just avout anybody's bean from the yard would do, and to roast it."
With no prior knowledge about coffee, Tony purchased a small roaster. It only spins 10-12 pounds at a time and takes 45 minutes to roast a 12 pound batch of beans.
"I often say the only thing I knew was drinking coffee and drinking the best," he explained.
After all these years, the people who supply the Tostaduria with coffee beans are still small growers, some of whom are actually located within the Antigua city limits.<(p>
"We're so local. We just deal with small farmers. Sometimes people only have 10lbs. to sell" Tony said. "When I first started this, I used to walk to the market, buy 40-50 lbs. of coffee and carry it back on my back and roast it. Now, people bring it in to us. It was only during the coffee crisis in Brazil in the mid-90s, when the price of coffee was tripling overnight, that nobody brought us coffee. I desperately went knocking door-to-door in villages. People would come out with 40 lbs, 50lbs and I threw it all together and brought it back"
Buying and roasting small quantities of coffee not only provides and income to farmers who would ordinarily have no market for their beans. It also creates subtle differences in flavor for which the Tostaduria has become famous.
According to Tony, another unique aspect of buying coffee from small growers is that the fermentation process is eliminated. Fermentation is a part of conventional coffee processing and is bery water intensive. Small farmers let their ripe coffee berries dry in the sun instead, producing what he calls "zero-water coffee."
"Medical teams and missionaries have been our biggest supporters," he said.
A pound of fresh roasted coffee is only Q25. There are also a few tables inside the tostaduria for a quick cup and conversation.
With his coffee craving under control, Tony plans to branch out to nut butters. Using the same roaster, he is currently experimenting with almonds and macadamias.
Poetry and music by Anthony Ryals
Web site design by Kim Chibou