Will Forsman spent two weeks in Africa in January to see where the coffee he serves at Cafe Steam comes from.
He did not return with otherworldly wisdom.
The few days he spent touring coffee-growing and coffee-processing operations did not teach him everything about the rich cultures of the places he visited.
"I’m no coffee guru," said Forsman, co-owner of Cafe Steam.
Forsman is almost reluctant to talk too much about the trip.
"I don’t want people to misinterpret my reasons for going," he said.
He joined other coffee shop owners and distributors for a tour of 16 washing stations and coffee farms in Ethiopia and Kenya.
The reasons include seeing firsthand where the coffee he serves comes from and learning what he can do to better support those producers and suppliers.
It was also a chance for him to meet someone he has long admired — Tesfaye Bekele, owner of Suke Quto, a sustainable coffee producer in Ethiopia.
"He’s someone I’ve idolized," Forsman said.
Suke Quto growers use environmentally friendly growing practices, including offsetting their harvests by planting grasses and trees in the region where the coffee is grown.
"These are people making something you enjoy every day of your life and taking care of the habitat and their environment while they do it," Forsman said. "And, they’re doing so in an area that’s resource deficient."
That deficiency was apparent, Forsman said.
"It’s very eye-opening," he said.
Tools and materials we take for granted are often scarce in some areas. In Ethiopia, improving economic conditions haven’t filtered to some of the regions he visited.
"When you can’t allocate those resources, you see poverty," Forsman said.
However, Forsman noticed another pattern.
"You found the less people had, the more they’re willing to give," he said.
"It made me realize how guarded we are here — with our resources and our emotions," he added.
Forsman watched the production process, toured farms and enjoyed traditionally prepared coffee.
Traditional Ethiopian coffee is triple brewed in urns and served with either butter, sugar or salt.
"The flavors are really intense," Forsman said.
What Forsman wanted to learn is what he can do to help provide suppliers with the resources they need and to help them offset the carbon footprint of coffee production.
"The simplest answer is: Pay more for coffee," he said.
Buying organic, fair-trade coffee is a start. It can cost more, but it helps the environment and the people growing the coffee.
"We receive the benefits of what they do," Forsman said.
He said supporting sustainable practices will take time.
"You have to make the conversation itself kind of organic," he said. "Nobody wants to go into a coffee shop and have a lecture thrown at them."
Forsman is working to continue that conversation and share some of the traditions he learned.
After returning, he restarted a monthly series of coffee education classes at Steam. At the classes, participants learn about different types of coffees, how they’re prepared and how to compare their flavors. They also try their hand at making espresso latte art and learn their role in helping producers.
The class mixes education with tasting and fun, he said.
Classes are capped at about 12 people.
"We want it to be more tactile and intimate," he said.
The next class is March 28. Information on upcoming classes can be found on Cafe Steam’s Facebook page or at the four downtown Rochester Cafe Steam locations.
What:Coffee Class: Origin, Brewing, Tasting When: 2 to 5 p.m. March 28 Where:Cafe Steam, One Discovery Square, 201 4th
St. SW How much:$35
What:Coffee Class: Origin, Brewing, Tasting
When: 2 to 5 p.m. March 28
Where:Cafe Steam, One Discovery Square, 201 4th St. SW