By Bob Fish
Teija Lublinkhof (pronounced T(hey)-Ha Lube-Blink-Hoff) reminds me of an American frontier woman in an old Western movie. You know those movies where everybody has three jobs? You meet a character who is the midwife, but she also runs the general store and maybe she’s pretty handy with a gun.
In Teija’s case, she is the President of the Zambian Coffee Growers Association, she owns a company called Marika’s that exports coffee to roasters in Finland (her birthplace), and she owns Peaberry Coffee Roasters and Cafe. She also has a softer version of the kind of ruggedness you might associate with, say, Annie Oakley. Although Lusaka isn’t a frontier environment, being a very white female business owner in the middle of a lot of hustle in one of the poorest countries in Africa seems like a challenge. But she is making it work.
When we first met at the Zambian Coffee Grower’s Association, I sensed a lot of uncertainty. I had the impression she had no idea who she was receiving and why. Don’t get me wrong, she was open and welcoming, but we definitely initially presented like a bunch of rubes who showed up out of nowhere.
We were in a small room with Joseph Taguma, the resident coffee guru, and of course, Michelle, Lee, and Kim. During the introductions, everyone ran through their Bonafide’s, and once she heard who we were, the scale of Biggby Coffee, and what we were about, I could sense a relaxing.
Joseph prepared some local coffee for tasting, not quite cupping (that’s a different process), and then we got into learning more about the Zambian growing regions and how difficult it has been to promote Zambian Coffee. Frankly, Europe is much farther ahead then we are in the States on their understanding and appreciation for Zambian Coffee. By the end we were all laughing and getting along like old friends, and everybody agreed that a group photo was in order.
Teija invited us right away to pop over to her roasting facility for a cupping, and I knew we should jump on that opportunity. Her place was awesome. There was a Probat Roaster (about a ¼ bagger) in the corner on the left, and on the right was a coffee counter with a LaMarzoco 3-head Espresso Machine. In between were tables. some small, some long for groups of people to be together. It had an industrial vibe…we were in a warehouse district, but the café was completely comfortable and inviting.
Teija must have called ahead because they were already set for a cupping, but I wanted to order a double espresso. It had been a while since I had let one pour across my tongue. I also had a hankering to check out the roasting, so I slid over while things were still getting set up and watched a few batches drop. They were taking that day’s roasts pretty dark, and I noticed right away that they were not quenching, something I prefer, and understood that it was a little easier to do considering the size of their Probat. Our machines back home were doing closer to 500lbs a batch, and when that volume of coffee dumps, it’s gotta cool fast.
By time I had poked through all the corners of the café Teija had us all set up to cup our Living Hope coffee, another Zambian varietal, and a Ugandan coffee that she represents. They took the Living Hope to about a Medium Dark and I was reassured that it played so well on the tongue. I could taste that it belonged in our lineup.
The other Zambian coffee was delightful, too. But the Ugandan was out of this world funky good. I told Teija that that it was a definite winner and I needed to know more. For me finding great coffee is not that hard, but finding great coffee that treats both the planet and the people well is a trick. In the end there was no social mission for that coffee, but Teija was confident that she could find me what we were looking for. I knew we had built trust, even though it was such a short period of time. But I think that’s the way it has to go when you’re out there on the edge: one has to develop almost a sixth sense of detecting opportunity. We agreed that I had to come back to Living Hope, and when I did, she would arrange to take me to some new origins and opportunities in Africa.