anna brones

writer + artist

Posts Tagged ‘coffee

Phyllis Johnson

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“Walking down a pathway of doing something you have no earthly idea of what it will bring–that’s called faith.”

-Phyllis Johnson

Phyllis Johnson is a powerhouse in the coffee industry. The founder of BD Imports, she sits on the board of the National Coffee Association and for two years served as the Vice President of the International Women’s Coffee Alliance.

Johnson works tirelessly to advocate for women in coffee as well as on diversity issues, which is essential in an industry that is predominantly white and male. Coffee comes with a complex, and often dark history, and the industry that keeps us caffeinated daily is still fraught with those complexities. Johnson believes in facing them head on. As she wrote in an article about diversity and representation in the coffee industry, “when we continue to ignore and normalize the effects of racism and inequality within the industry, we cannot expect positive outcomes.”

Through her work, Phyllis ensures that the people producing coffee are respected, paid and honored for their work and that women and minority communities have a seat at the table. A couple of years ago, I interviewed Johnson about race and coffee, which ended up being one of my favorite interviews that I have ever conducted, mostly because the conversation challenged my own thinking. So of course I wanted to include her in the Women’s Wisdom Project.

Johnson and I discussed her work by phone, and the interview has been edited for clarity.

Who is Phyllis Johnson?

I’m someone who cares deeply about a lot of things, I’m someone who is extremely optimistic. I’ve been blessed to be around people who were always encouraging, from the time I was a young child. So even now, there’s always that shadow of someone, either physically or no longer there, that kind of sits over me and says “you can do this, keep going.” I think that I’m very optimistic and one of the things that I always try to do is to be optimistic to other people. As I have gotten older, I can see the optimism in things but I can also see the other side of the things. I’m trying to understand even the simplest thing as a whole instead of coming to a quick decision on how you believe, or what you think about something.

When I think about who I am and I think about my, my past and my present, I’ve always tried to align myself with individuals who are not thought of as being the ones to have the answers. For most of my life, there are places that I walk in where I think people look at me as a positive figure. So I’m often trying see the other side of it and see what it’s like to not be heard. There are situations where I am totally not heard at all, don’t get me wrong. I know those moments in those times in my life when I have an invisible being, so I’m always thinking about that invisible being because it is who I am as well.

When we’re fighting the fight and we have our issues, we can lose sight of the humanity in each other. That’s something that I’ve always hoped to hold onto; even though we might disagree, there’s some message that you have for me and I have for you.

What does the word wisdom mean to you?

When I was younger I would think of wisdom being housed in older people who have struggled, the struggle is on their face, they learned from their experiences, that’s what wisdom kind of meant. After starting a company in my mid 30s, I remember a biblical verse that came to me when I felt that I was trying to do something that I had no idea what I was doing: “wisdom belongs to God.” For me, growing up with a Christian background, that gave me equal footing. It was like, “wow, wisdom doesn’t have to be held inside of me, it’s something that I can ask for and I can look for and gain insight from and it’s not relegated to certain people or race or gender, it’s out there. Then I have a chance at it.” As a younger person that verse resonated with me and even when I’m talking to a younger person who’s trying to find a way that’s something I always say to them because, you know, we always think that someone else knows how to do something better, or that they have the answer. I think that’s part of being a human being; we think that there’s a super human out there, someone who is smarter, brighter. But the ability to gain what they have isn’t impossible for you. There’s an equal opportunity at gaining wisdom and insight through different mechanisms, either experiences, or in conversations with people who share their experiences. It’s available, and it’s available at all ages.

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Written by Anna Brones

July 15, 2019 at 08:01

Swedish Cinnamon Buns (with Apple Filling) to Celebrate Kanelbullens Dag

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Swedish cinnamon buns are so iconic that they get their very own day: October 4th. That’s right, today is the official Kanelbullens Dag. And you know what you should do to celebrate? Make a batch of cinnamon buns and invite a friend over for fika.

I don’t make kanelbullar very regularly, so when I do it’s a special affair. (Quick Swedish lesson: kanelbulle is singular, kanelbullar is plural.)

For the uninitiated, kanelbullar carry a lot of importance in Swedish food culture. It’s a staple of fika, and baking them at home is a special affair. Thinking about kanelbullar and my own connection to them makes me think of this passage from my friend Sara Bir’s book The Fruit Forager’s Companion:

“It would be wonderful to make and eat pie every day, but that is unrealistic for most of us… As it stands, I do not make pies for special occasions, but allow the pie itself to be the occasion. That way, if someone asks me how I am, I can simply say, ‘I ate piece today,’ and they know I am well.”

The way Sara feels about pie is how I feel about kanelbullar. You don’t need a special occasion to make them. Instead they turn an ordinary day into something much more exciting. Baking kanelbullar is an act of celebrating the everyday.

While I certainly enjoy the pure, unadulterated version, I often enjoy experimenting with different flours and fillings. My current favorite is to make them with whole wheat flour (I use hard white wheat from Bluebird Grain Farms) and let the dough rise overnight. I find that this slower rise makes for a slightly more interesting taste. To take full advantage of the fall season, these kanelbullar are filled with grated apple. You can certainly go classic and make it without that addition.

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Written by Anna Brones

October 4, 2018 at 08:45

Welcoming the Darkness

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It’s so easy to complain about the lack of light this time of year, particularly after we have set our clocks back and the afternoon succumbs to darkness even earlier. Yet with that darkness comes a beautiful quietness and stillness that’s hard to find at other times of year.

The Scandinavian way to enjoy this is to bring in lots of candlelight. I’ve been lighting candles both in the morning and the afternoon, a way to welcome the darkness instead of falling prey to it. In Finnish, “kaamos” is the world that refers to the time of year when the sun doesn’t even rise, yet there is still a magical lightness that covers the winter landscape. It doesn’t matter if you live in a place of pure winter darkness or not, candles and a pot of tea or a cup of coffee always help.

So in the coming weeks, invite a friend over and have fika by candlelight. (Here’s a recipe for sourdough cardamom buns, if you are in the mood for a little baking)

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A couple of Scandinavian classics featured in the papercut above: the Kivi candleholders from Iittala and a teapot and mug in the Unikko design from Marimekko. Kivi means “stone” in Finnish, and the candleholder is a gentle nod to the fact that so much of Scandinavian design is influenced by nature. The Marimekko Unniko design dates back all the way to 1964, when the company’s founder Armi Ratia declared that the company would never print a flower pattern again. Designer Maija Isola thought otherwise, and came up with this iconic poppy print that is still used today, over half a century later.

 

Written by Anna Brones

November 9, 2017 at 10:44

Empowering Women Coffee Farmers

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“To rebuild the spirit of a woman is to rebuild the spirit of a country.” That’s part of the mission statement of Rebuild Women’s Hope, an organization based in Bukavu, on the edge of Lake Kivu in the Eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo. It was started by a local Congolese woman and the organization works to empower local women coffee farmers. It’s one of many initiatives around the world focused on empowering women coffee farmers.

I wrote an article all about the topic that was published this week on Sprudge. Here’s a short snippet:

As part of that agricultural web, coffee is an industry dependent on the work of women around the globe, making gender equity an essential part of the sustainable coffee supply chain. “Most of the obstacles faced by women coffee farmers are the same as those found across the agriculture sector,” says Nick Watson, a coffee-sector adviser with the International Trade Centre, who has an initiative focused on women in coffee. “Social norms often discriminate against women in rural areas leading to disproportionate land and asset ownership; household and income decision making; time and labour distribution; access to information and training; and participation and leadership in rural organisations or as registered suppliers to agribusinesses.”

Despite these obstacles, it’s often thanks to women that the coffee production happens in the first place. “Women are on the front lines when it comes to our beloved cup of coffee. They serve as the primary labor force on roles that most affect quality, from picking the ripe coffee cherries off the tree to sorting beans throughout processing. Despite their significant role, most earnings go to men who own the property and manage commercial deals,” says Phyllis Johnson, president of BD Imports.

You can read the full article here.

Image: Glenna Gordon courtesy ITC

Written by Anna Brones

March 17, 2017 at 09:41

This Week’s Stories: Paris Coffee + Natural Dyeing

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Another week, another list of stories, including one I worked on last fall before I moved from Paris, and which finally made it out into the real world. In a print magazine!

Paris Coffee Revolution – My story on the specialty coffee scene in Paris is the feature in this month’s Fresh Cup magazine. But you can read it online too.

Are Self-Cleaning Fabrics in Our Future? New Research Says Yes – Did I say self-cleaning fabrics? Oh yes, I did. You might not have a self-cleaning t-shirt tomorrow, but research is leading us in the right direction.

Planting a Dye Garden to Make Your Own Natural Dyes – Kristine Vejar, author of Modern Natural Dyer and owner of A Verb for Keeping Warm, helped me put together a post on natural dyeing and five great plants to put in your garden that you can dye with.

Rice Pasta, Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Hazelnut Parmesan – Another adventure-friendly recipe over on Adventure Journal. Super easy and perfect for warmer weather outdoor cooking.

Images: Kristine Vejar

Written by Anna Brones

April 22, 2016 at 14:19

Paris Coffee Revolution: Buy the Book

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Paris Coffee Revolution the Book photo by Jeff Hargrove

What makes an “artisan” an “artisan”? What does it look like when you try to do business not as usual? What happens when you challenge the status quo? What does a “passion job” look like?

These are some of the questions that we tried to answer in the book Paris Coffee Revolution, which was just released in October. It’s a book telling the story of the growth of the Paris specialty coffee scene through profiles of some of the city’s main “coffee revolutionaries” who helped to kickstart that growth.

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Written by Anna Brones

December 11, 2015 at 21:55

How to Pair Pumpkin Pie and Coffee

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Just in time for Thanksgiving, my latest column on The Kitchn is devoted to learning about pairing coffee and pumpkin pie. Coffee pairing essentials include: complimenting, contrasting and layering. So think about what flavors you love in pumpkin pie (the spices!) and what flavors in coffee you can either contrast, compliment or layer with those.

Because chances are, you’re going to make a damn fine pie, and you want a damn fine cup of coffee to go with it, don’t you?

Read the full column here

Written by Anna Brones

November 25, 2015 at 23:23

Posted in Coffee, Food + Recipes, Portfolio

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At Last You’ve Learned How to Make a Perfect Cup of Coffee

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“What makes you so happy this morning, George!”

“Because at last you’ve learned how to make a perfect cup of coffee. This is delicious!”

“Oh, it isn’t me, it’s the brand. This is the Sultana!”

I have a thing for vintage coffee ads, and this one via the Boston Public Library is rather hilarious. Certainly indicative of gender roles at the time – we all know that women shouldn’t be the sole ones responsible for the kitchen, cooking and coffee brewing duties – as well as the increasing interest, and obsession, with coffee.

Written by Anna Brones

October 22, 2015 at 10:04

Posted in Coffee

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Preorder a Copy of the Book ‘Paris Coffee Revolution’

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Paris Coffee Revolution Promo Image v 2

For the last two years I have been covering the specialty coffee scene in Paris. For a long time, Paris was a place that was known for bad quality coffee and not much else. But in the last few years, this has changed, and nowadays there are a handful of local specialty roasters and a long list of cafes where you’re sure to get served a good cup.

Last year photographer Jeff Hargrove reached out to me. He had been bitten by the coffee bug and as a portrait photographer, he wanted to self-publish a book with portraits of the “coffee entrepreneurs” in Paris – the people who helped to change the coffee scene. But he wanted more than portraits, he wanted a story. And so I came along to help write that story: Paris Coffee Revolution.

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Written by Anna Brones

September 10, 2015 at 10:12

Video: Coffee Outside

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Surrounded by a lot of talented filmmaker friends, I have always been attracted to the power of visual storytelling. But enjoying visual storytelling is one thing. Making it yourself is another thing entirely.

A little over a year ago I told a couple of filmmaker friends that I wanted to invest in a camera so that I could try my hand at filming. “Do it!” was the resounding response.

Sure, I had played around with iMovie a few years ago, putting together a few clips into something coherent, but nothing more than that. Maybe it was time I challenged myself. So I got the camera, and took a lot of nice photos with it, entirely intimidated, in fact, nearly paralyzed, by the thought of trying to do video. Where would I even begin? What if I failed?

Having talented creative people around you is a really good thing. Imagine if you were surrounded by a bunch of boring, mediocre individuals? No thank you. But there’s a flip side to being surrounded by all this talent; while they’re happy to encourage you, you also have very high standards to live up to. And so, I found myself unable to jump into the world whose waters I wanted to test. I was nervous, stricken by the idea that I might make something that wasn’t up to par.

And then it struck me: this is your first film. If we all listened to the voices in our head that told us we were going to fail before we even started, we wouldn’t get anywhere. Failure is just another form of fear. Because what is failure? The definition is up to us entirely, and in the case of wanting to try something new, the only failure I could really come up with, was not doing it at all.

So I set out to make a short film. Super short. Turns out, it’s hard. But it’s also fun, and I can see why all my filmmaker friends are so addicted. There is power in storytelling, whether it’s a short love letter to something we love, or if it’s a feature-length documentary tackling important subjects that we believe the world should know more about.

This video came out of a love of coffee and the outdoors. At the end of July, I spent two weeks hiking in Northern Sweden, and I knew that with a place so visually stunning, I should at least get something on film. This is what it became. This short video isn’t going to change the world (that will be a film later down the line, thank you very much) but maybe it will change how you think about your coffee routine. And maybe this story will inspire you to try something new, something you have never done before and that you’re scared of. Because quite frankly, there’s nothing better.

Written by Anna Brones

August 24, 2015 at 18:27