The following story is from Aldea Co-Owner, Jeremy Miller. It has been edited and stylized by our good friend Heather Peters (thanks Heather!). It centers around a new coffee that we are bringing on from Tanzania. However, with everything we do, it is about far more than the coffee itself. Instead, this coffee represents people and a story. It represents feelings of connection, depression, and a path to the future through these challenging days.
It’s hard to believe we are over two months into these uncertain times. We miss your faces and the day-to-day interaction with all of you. So we wanted to take this time to check in and share a personal story that feels especially relevant right now.
This is a tale a few of you may already know, taking us back to Jeremy’s first trip to Tanzania in 2001 -- a time in his life when his wanderlust was at its peak, dragging him to distant corners of the world. He spent nearly the entire month of July that year in Tanzania—a country in east Africa known to most as home to Mount Kilimanjaro and the Serengeti. For Jeremy it was an experience that forever altered the way he views humanity. He describes it as the “juxtaposition of so much of my life up to that point.”
“Distance that is all too common in our daily lives – it was the opposite,” he said.
He thinks back to the intricate details of everyday life there, including public transportation. He can’t help but smile when thinking about it.
Pictured above: Mary Super
“It was children on your lap, livestock under your seat. It was hot and uncomfortable, “ he said “and lots of interesting smells. It was hours and hours on a bus. It was a connection I saw that was present there – or not present with my experience prior – and it would come to define the new trajectory I was on. I was sweaty, and I loved it.”
The trip was so memorable that Jeremy still recalls the sights, the “electric sounds” and most importantly, the interaction he had with people he met along the way. He misses lifelong friends that resulted from the trip, the unexpected kindness of strangers who made him feel welcomed and comfortable. There isn’t a day that goes by that he isn’t affected by the memories.
He fondly recalls the Rastafarians with whom he lived for weeks on Zanzibar, the pleasure of eating at “Khan’s Chicken and Auto Parts” in Arusha, and the time he was smuggled from Mwanza across Lake Victoria to Uganda aboard a cargo vessel. (No, really-- that actually happened.)
Fast forward to 2019, and Jeremy had the opportunity to return to Tanzania, this time for business. He sought out to find Tanzanian AA, a high-grade speciality coffee which is difficult to find in the U.S.
While there Jeremy befriended a Tanzanian support staff who were integral in sourcing the coffee. He visited over a dozen co-ops and individual farms in addition to three processing facilities. He met with the Tanzanian Coffee Board, a non-profit development organization and went to a cupping facility created by Starbucks. Logistically he accomplished all that via plane, on motorcycle, public bus, pick-up truck, motorcycle taxis and, of course, on foot.
Pictured above: Mary Super, Mary Heinemann, Freddy, Ismail Matipa, Jeremy Miller.
He felt so much nostalgia.
“Seeing the coffee growing regions in the southern highlands in Tanzania, I felt like I was back in Honduras, the roads and landscapes and skies,” he said.
But after a productive and memorable second trip, Jeremy’s experience took a devastating turn on the very day he was set to depart.
It all still haunts him to this day.
While waiting to board his Boeing flight from Tanzania to Ethiopia at the end of his two-week trip, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 had taken off from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on that Sunday, March 10, 2019, heading for Kenya. Six minutes into takeoff, that flight crashed, killing all 157 people on board.
You may remember the news coverage: Chaos and unanswered questions the world had about the second Boeing flight that had plummeted to Earth five months after the first.
It was surreal.
Jeremy got wind of this shortly before he was set to board his Boeing flight back home. While the news began trickling in through media and phone calls, he remembers how he felt as he boarded and took his back row seat on that 737 MAX amongst the sea of numb faces.
Pictured above: Jeremy boarding his flight.
There was an ache in his chest he had never felt before as his flight departed from Dar es Salaam to Addis, the first leg on his return trip to Chicago. He will never forget the gentleman from China seated next to him, wearing the same expression of fear and sadness; two men grappling to make sense of the situation. After their tears of grief and fear overtook them and the inevitable conversation began, Jeremy learned the man was flying to retrieve the remains of his best friend who had been on the doomed Boeing flight. Though it only meant scooping a bit of dirt from a hillside, the cultural significance of having something to bury back home so the family can properly grieve and pay respects was his mission that evening.
Jeremy stared directly into the eyes of the flight attendants who just learned of the deaths of their colleagues and friends, yet were prepared to force smiles and accommodate strangers sitting in the rows before them from a sense of duty. Upon landing, he absorbed the gut wrenching sobs coming from the galley just behind him as the flight taxied to the arrival gate, bellowing from the depths of these brave, stoic women dressed to perfection in their pressed, green uniforms. He felt their grief and their grief became his.
“I didn’t know how much anxiety and fear there would be with passengers and crew. I could feel it with everyone on the plane. When we landed, it was a feeling of conflict between relief and fear because you just got on a plane and successfully made a leg where the crash occurred, on the same make and model of airplane.”
Call it ‘survivors guilt’ or post traumatic stress, Jeremy continues to struggle with the remarkable events of that day, especially now.
He is aware how old wounds when agitated tend to reopen. Like so many, he has good days and bad.
This is part of the reason why Jeremy and the Aldea family feel it is important to continue providing the community a place of peace and familiarity. We believe it’s the right thing to do: To remain strong and not allow current events to dictate our service to you.
As part of that, we are proudly introducing our latest coffee-- a fruit of Jeremy’s experience in Tanzania, only made possible with the support of the team on the ground in Tanzania, and the rest of the Aldea crew here in the U.S. The first shipment of Tanzanian AA has arrived, and it’s been roasted, ready for you to enjoy. For us, it represents hope during uncertainty. Let’s face it, we have all experienced trauma and hurt on some level, and the fallout from this pandemic hasn’t made things any easier.
Pictured above: first roast of the Tanzanian coffee.
Thus we feel our mission statement at Aldea has never resonated more:
“Together, through all we craft, we emphasize quality and value in every interaction. We believe the Earth to be an inspiring place, and we empower each other to explore, enjoy, and preserve it.”
Though our interaction with you might look different for a while, the value has not changed. It is more important now than ever to check in and support one another, and simply be there for a phone call or a physically-distanced cup of coffee.
We are here for you and want to thank you for continuing to “show up” for us. We appreciate your support more than you’ll ever know.
The Aldea Team