Chow Town

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Topeka coffee company helping Colombian coffee farmer struck by bandits

06/05/2013 11:10 AM

06/05/2013 11:10 AM

At our house, coffee is a reliably comfortable way to kick-start the day. It’s easy to forget that many of the people who grow it live in rugged, remote and sometimes dangerous parts of the world.

That last hit me after reading Jeff Taylor’s

recent post

about Armando Benavides of Finca Santa Maria, a coffee farm near Buesaco, in the mountainous, coastal region of Colombia.

Taylor, who co-founded

PT’s Coffee Roasting Co.

in Topeka in 1993, was on his way to visit Benavides’ farm in May, but bad weather delayed his flight. Taylor and his wife, Maritza, arrived a day late and found the farm in ruins.

Armed bandits had broken in the night before, locked Benavides’ family in a closet, stuffed his farm manager in the trunk of a car and proceeded to rob the farm. They stripped the house and buildings of furniture, supplies and equipment and even took bags of coffee from the warehouse and beans drying on the patio.

Benavides wasn’t there — he was in town waiting for the Taylors’ flight to arrive — and his family and farm manager were released unharmed. But everything that wasn’t bolted down, and some things that were, was gone.

“They took everything they could find,” Taylor blogged. “They took everything except Armando’s and his family’s spirit.”

In some ways, I’m not surprised. Colombia, El Salvador, Kenya and other coffee-producing countries are currently under travel warnings from the U.S. Department of State. Just reading the headlines from those places makes them seem less-than-ideal tourist spots.

Taylor’s no tourist, though. He’s a coffee roaster dedicated to developing relationships with the growers, exporters and others who guarantee his access to quality beans. In 2012, Taylor spent almost eight months traveling in Latin America and Africa, often with Maritza, who’s a native of Colombia.

They’re not naive about potential dangers. Traveling to origin isn’t like going on vacation in south Florida, Taylor told me last week. But they also know those places are filled with generous, hardworking, good people.

“The overwhelming majority of people I meet in my travels are wonderful people who open their homes to you without any questions,” Taylor told me last week. “After ten years of traveling to origin, this is the first time anything like this has happened.”

It couldn’t have happened at a worse time for Benavides. There is no insurance to pay for repairs, and coffee harvest is underway.

“He can’t process coffee now,” Taylor says. “This hampers his ability to make a living.”

So, PT’s is helping. The company advanced Benavides funds to replace the motors thieves took off his processing equipment. And it’s donating $1 for every bag of Finca Santa Maria coffee it sells retail back to the farm.

Customers can also donate outright to the effort by visiting Taylor’s

recent blog post

. Taylor’s goal is to raise $1,000 to help his friend, but it’s not a hand-out.

“Charity is good, but this is not about charity,” Taylor says. “This is about giving (Armando) a leg up.”

As for the rest, Taylor’s pragmatic.

“Bad people do bad things. You can’t stop them,” he says. “We got lucky that we weren’t there. But it could have happened anywhere.”

Anne Brockhoff is an award-winning spirits writer who writes a monthly column for The Star’s Food section, as well as food features. She blogs at food_drink_ life.wordpress.com .

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