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Coffee Is My Soul

Coffee Is My Soul

Coffee is in my soul. Coffee is community. To me, coffee is the entire world coming together in a single cup. As many of you may be aware, Mike has been in and out of the hospital for over a month now. As I sit here by his bedside I think about how coffee has changed our lives. I think about how it has supported us and continues to do so, and most importantly I think about how it is never, ever boring. Over the last 12 years, coffee has changed my life in ways I never thought possible. It helped me come out of my shell and become a more compassionate, better person. It continues to improve my life to this very day. Coffee brings people together from all over the world. When you drink your first cup in the morning, you not only support the community you live in, but you also support a community somewhere else in the world, often a place you may never even have heard of. Knowing that this drink brings joy and happiness to so many people gives me peace. It fulfills my need to learn about and work with other cultures and peoples. When I was younger I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life. I knew I wanted to see the world, but I was shy and afraid to take chances as many young people are. I needed to find a travel companion too, but didn’t. I worked in restaurants to get by after college for a few years. By the time I was 26, I decided to take this desire to travel too see the world and try using it to give back. I signed up for a volunteer program in Costa Rica. The program was going to a coffee-growing region to help build a community center. I started to learn about coffee from the locals. I spent my days picking coffee with the families we were staying with. I thought I might never be able to experience something like that again. The families were very grateful for our help. I started learning about coffee processing as well. I had no idea what I was looking at. I sure as hell know now! I’ve definitely had more than a few other opportunities to pick coffee. During my time in Costa Rica I had the first cup of coffee that rocked my world. I couldn’t get enough of it!


Fast-forward four years to 2001 back in New York, and I met the love of my life, Mike Love. Everything changed. Both of us had spent years working in the restaurant industry, and we wanted to be our own bosses more than anything. We dreamed of owning a coffee house and roasting our own coffee. Mike was a chef in an upscale restaurant at the time, and wanted to transfer his culinary knowledge to coffee roasting. With the help of a friend of ours, we were able to find a space for our coffee shop in Tarrytown, NY. Tarrytown was definitely not what it is today, but I really wanted to put the shop there. I felt that there was something about the town that had potential, and I wanted us to be a part of that. We found the space we are in right now by chance. A friend of ours walked into a realtor’s office on Main Street and asked if there were any retail spaces available in the area. They said yes, this one! That day 7 Main Street began its transition to what it is today, our home! We knew that we were putting everything on the line with this new venture, and I wanted it to be everything that it could be. The community is the backbone of any good coffee shop, so I wanted Coffee Labs to be a part of the community from the minute it opened. We have always used local products where possible and leave the smallest carbon footprint we can. Coffee is a drink that people meet over, talk over, tell good news over, and tell bad news over. People share their world with each other over a cup of coffee. Coffee is ever present in people’s lives. When coffee labs opened I was an introvert, but being a business owner necessitates that you reach out. It turns out that we were right to choose Tarrytown as our location. We always tell people, even potential barista candidates, that we have the best customers and community we could possibly hope for. We always try our best to give back and almost never say no when someone in the community asks for a donation, whether it be a mug, a box of coffee for an event, or a gift card. If it is for a good cause, we will do our best to help. It’s through this community involvement and commitment that we were able to slowly build Coffee Labs into what it is today. Mike and Alicia

Mike and I in 2003, after opening Coffee Labs

Over the years our life became entwined with the community, and we realized how much people really cared about us here. Things have not always been easy. Mike and I lost a child, and I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I learned that being transparent was important, and that the community really cared about us. Mike and I made a deal to always tell the truth and be forthcoming in our work and with our customers. This policy has served us well over the years and the community has always been incredibly supportive! Caring words of support come pouring in every time! Whenever someone is in need in Tarrytown we come together. It is amazing to see. I knew this town was special when we moved here, but I didn’t realize what a huge impact it would have on my life. We initially connected to this wonderful community by giving a few urns of coffee to an event here and there. It was clear to me that the general mindset of the people in this community was just to help their neighbors as much as they could. It is through this bean, through this simple drink that I have been able to connect to this community. As I write this I’m sitting in the a hospital room with Mike in the bed next to me, constantly answering texts and calls from people in the community asking how he is. Coffee did this for me. I share my life with people over coffee. Coffee opened up my soul. We wanted to bring the same sense of community to the farmers we work with. We wanted to be transparent, connect, meet, and most of all form mutually beneficial relationships. We learned the fair trade really isn’t enough for true sustainability. Many farmers can’t even afford to pay to use the fair trade label. Fair trade is the bottom of the sustainability ladder for coffee. For this reason we have worked very hard to form direct relationships with farmers so they don’t need to pay for a third party label in order to earn a living wage. Coffee Labs believes true sustainability comes from quality first. Without quality, it’s difficult to form long-term relationships. I can remember the first direct relationship with a farmer we had. It was life changing. We worked with her for 5 years, and watched her farm grow in the process. We negotiated the price together with her, not a third party.


Mexico in 2005-on the farm with farmers & Coffee Labs Customers Hal and Lynne, along with former roaster Doug Wray

 We broke bread with her and her family. They were a part of our lives, and we were a part of theirs. Committing to work directly with a roaster means unique job security for a farmer. They can improve their farm without worrying about how they are going to be paid next year. New techniques can be used, new equipment can be invested in, they can employ more people, etc. Farmers can make improvements to their homes & have a higher standard of living in general. When I say that I don’t mean they’ll be able to put in a new kitchen, I mean they can put in an indoor plumbing system, or wire their house for electricity. Direct trade allows farmers to live in a way we all take for granted.


Me in Peru, teaching chefs at Le Cordon Bleu about being a Barista.

Quality farming and direct relationships also have a ripple effect on the community around them. If one farmer has quality crop and a direct relationship, other farmers in the area may strive for the same goals when they see the benefits. I’ve seen this happen first hand. A roaster working with a farmer just has the potential to do more. As Coffee Labs thrives we hope to help coffee farmers thrive around the world. The relationships we form are strong bonds. We try to travel & visit every year. It is important for us to keep connected to our farmers. Just like it is important for us to keep connected with our customers and with our community.

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