Society Notebook: Women in coffee from around the world converge in Portland

Following the Specialty Coffee Expo in Boston, Coffee by Design hosted 28 members of the International Women’s Coffee Alliance in Maine for a 2½-day stay that concluded with a community dinner at Grace in Portland on April 12.

The dinner was an opportunity for visitors from nine coffee-producing countries to mingle with about 70 Mainers, including immigrants from many of the visitors’ home nations. Guests included Andre Nzeyimana, co-owner of Burundi Star Coffee; Burundi native Ninette Irabaruta, board president of the Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center; Papy Bongibo, president of the Congolese Community of Maine; and George Badagu Makoko, the Congolese publisher of Amjambo Africa newspaper.

“I wanted to show the diversity and power of Maine and how it takes all of us to raise one another up,” said Coffee by designer co-founder Mary Allen Lindemann. “Yes, it is about coffee but, as the second most traded commodity globally, it’s about far more.”

Alina Spear, a 17-year-old barista whose parents co-founded Coffee by Design, said, “It was so beautiful to hear from all these strong women who care about gender, racial and economic equity and bringing that to the product of coffee .”

On their first day in Maine, the global coffee contingent met with local small business owners Roxi Suger, who serves Coffee by Design products at Suger Bole in Biddeford, and designer Ebenezer Akakpo, whose laser-etched drinking vessels are sold at Coffee by Design.

The next day was focused on coffee and providing constructive feedback on samples that farmers had brought with them.

“This experience was about meeting new potential sources for our coffees,” said Coffee by Design employee Madeline Weber. “As someone who can’t drink coffee, it was interesting to see the whole world of it all.”

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“The best part was meeting people from the farms and getting that full picture,” said Phil Hurley, who works in production.

Throughout their stay, coffee industry reps enjoyed meals prepared by women-owned businesses: Sur Lie, Sisters Catering, Suger Bole and – for the dinner at Grace – Seas Catering.

Coffee by Design first hosted this event in 2019, with 25 people attending from six countries – a slightly smaller contingent than this year.

Also in 2019, Coffee by Design roaster Julien Langevin competed in two qualifying rounds for the US Coffee Championships Cup Tasters event, which requires tasting, smelling, concentrating and recalling taste differences quickly.

After a two-year postponement because of the pandemic, Langevin was able to resume competition at the Specialty Coffee Expo.

“In the national competition, there were four rounds where I had to taste six sets of triangulations in each round,” Langevin said. “The triangulation is a sensory test where three cups of brewed coffee are placed in front of the competitor: two cups are filled with an identical coffee, and one is different. The test is to see if you can identify the odd one out.”

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Competing against 22 other coffee aficionados, Langevin won the US title.

“The experience was amazing and overwhelming,” said Langevin, who was admitted to being amped up on caffeine and excitement the first few days after his win.

He will compete in Milan, Italy, for the World Cup Taster title June 23-25.

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer and photographer based in Scarborough. She can be reached at [email protected].


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