Passersby probably can’t hear the hum of Coffee Emporium’s Roasting Haus from Walnut Street, but there’s no escaping the smell. Tony Tausch, co-owner and artisan roaster, mans the tall, Diedrich roaster as its heat draws the perfect flavor from the coffee beans.
Tausch hand roasts up to 130,000 pounds of coffee a year to serve at one of his four Coffee Emporium locations across Cincinnati. And Tausch doesn’t roast just any old coffee beans -- he works directly with farmers across three continents to bring the best beans to the Queen City.
Quality is only one part of the deal. Tausch buys from family-owned farms that use sustainable farming methods and pay their employees a fair wage. He buys from farms in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Mexico, Costa Rica, Hawaii, Kenya, Ethiopia, New Guinea, Sumatra and Guatemala.
“All those people have to make a living somehow, and all those people have to be paid a fair wage,” Tausch said.
Life in Los Andes
Los Andes, a coffee and tea estate in Guatemala, provides work and a quality of life for about 150 people. The private nature reserve, owned by Olga Hazard and her family, is much more than a coffee farm. Families have a home with electricity and clean water. They have access to a health clinic and a small store, and children have the opportunity to receive an education.
Hazard has always been passionate about providing education at Los Andes, and selling coffee to buyers like Tausch allows her to pay for the school and the conservation of over 1,000 acres of virgin forest.
“They can go to school since they are very small, since they can walk ... they can continue getting education as much as they want because we have really worked for many years with the community to be able to create opportunities for boys and for girls equally for education,” Hazard said.
Los Andes produces an average of 4,000 bags of parchment coffee each year. Most of the coffee is arabica, beans that are grown at a higher elevation for a higher quality product. Their coffee trees grow fruit on the slope of the Atitlan Volcano; the property spans over 2,600 feet and is 6,200 feet above sea level.
Just as Tausch won’t buy product from just anyone, Hazard seeks buyers who share her mission.
“We sell it to coffee buyers who are interested in buying coffees from sustainable communities protecting nature and are interested in supporting educational programs like us in Los Andes,” she said.
Tausch pays more for a higher quality product, but he also knows he is paying for much more than just coffee.
“We know that we are going to pay a higher premium for this coffee, but in doing this, we know that this coffee is allowing her people to have a better lifestyle.
“The nice thing about paying a higher wage, is the fact that these people have a better lifestyle, they tend to be healthier, they tend to be happier, and that reflects in the coffee; the coffee is going to be a better quality coffee,” Tausch said.
Building relationships 'from seed to cup'
For Tausch, one of the most important components of buying coffee is building a relationship and trust.
“Well, it’s a couple different things. One, you, the chemistry has to be right. You know, just like when you are dating someone ... if you don’t feel like the chemistry is right then you feel like it is not going to last. It is the same thing with this,” Tausch said.
“When you are buying coffee or when you’re buying tomatoes, when you are buying anything like that and you want to do it long term, you want to make sure you are buying it from someone you like, that you enjoy, that you can talk to and have a relationship with.”
Tausch and Hazard’s relationship spans nearly a decade. Tausch has stayed at Los Andes, and Hazard has made numerous visits to Cincinnati.
At a conference last year, the pair negotiated coffee prices as they were jumping in a bouncy house, bopping each other with oversized boxing gloves.
“It was just kind of fun,” Tausch said. “It was the mere fact that we had a relationship, that we could have fun really helped buy that. Same thing with our coffees from different parts of the world.”
Tausch and his wife, Eileen Schwab, have been serving up coffee in Cincinnati for over 20 years. Many things have changed in that time, including a current remodel of the Hyde Park and Downtown locations, but the reasons why they choose where their product comes from has always been the same.
“We want to make sure that the people we buy coffee from are treating their people good, they’re treating their land good, they’re treating their community good. Knowing that we can trust them to do that makes us feel so much better and so much more capable of selling their coffee to other people,” Tausch said.
'Many, many lives are being touched by coffee'
About 18 people touch coffee before the consumer curls their fingers around a mug, and it all starts with a seed.
Though every farm and operation is different, generally speaking, a seed grows five to six inches before it is grafted and planted in a nursery. After two years in a nursery, the plant goes to the field.
Workers prune and clear the fields, where the coffee trees are shaded from sun. When trees reach maturity after at least three years, workers pick only the brightest, ripest cherries. The cherries are then de-pulped; the fruit is separated from the seed (coffee bean) in the center.
The seeds are soaked to ferment in large pools. From the pools, the coffee beans go to a patio to dry in the sun. Workers use rakes to flip the beans for an even dry. Beans then go into large dryers. After drying, a technician tests for moisture levels before they are sorted, bagged and shipped. And that’s just on the farm.
Taush buys carefully because so many lives are involved.
“We’re not talking to her as a corporation or a nameless and faceless entity,” he said. “We are actually talking to a person who has a family, who has a larger family. Very similar to my wife and I. We have many, many, many, many, many, children. We have 16 children. All of our employees. The same thing with her (Hazard).”
Coffee is more than a morning routine for Tausch. It’s his livelihood, and it is the livelihood of millions of people across the globe.
“We’re trying to take the coffee experience, not just being a coffee house, but also realize that people, this is what they want to do as a living. This is what their career choice is,” Tausch said. “Coffee shops are more than just a person making coffee, there’s a life here. Many, many lives are being touched by coffee.”