Don't know about you but one thing I've learnt about life (without wanting to sound deep, trippy and hippy), is that the secret buzz in living is in the giving!!
I remember way back in 2005 when I went on my very first ever coffee farm tour. That farm was in Byron Bay, NSW Australia. To see and touch a living and real coffee tree...what an experience!
I remember feeling so enriched by the experience with this pioneering euphoric state of new found knowledge and wisdom!!
From that trip, I established my first ever Direct Trade relationship with Emu Tree Paddock Coffee Farm.
That beautiful relationship with Mark Bullivant and his family continues to this day and whenever we head to the Byron region it is a must visit coupled with beer and dinner!
From there, the seed was sown.
The farm to cup philosophy became all consuming.
It was in 2010 whereby I had the very pleasure of first meeting Pathy of Elephant Hills Coffee, India at a coffee conference.
Our philosophies and dreams were in sync.
Pathy invited me to visit his family farm at Thalanar Estate, Southern India and in 2011, I took the plunge into the unknown and decided to pursue that farm to cup dream and it was there that I realised that DT is not only a real concept, but a very do-able, transparent, open, philanthropic way of doing business whilst establishing real relationships.
The so called developed and modern business model of faceless, contract based, transactional e-relations, simply was not at all in any way shape or form, steaming my veggies!!!
In fact I began to clearly see that on order to have AOE survive as a family business based on its core beliefs of ethical and sustainable practices, we needed to work on face to face relations.
Don't get me wrong, e-relationships certainly work for certain type businesses, but I firmly believe that in my business, real relationships IS everything!
Understanding and embracing the real relationships philosophy is a commitment based on the ingredients of love, respect, empathy and giving.
Just like our family relationships between mums and dads, children, co-workers, employer/employee, friendships etc... The key secret ingredient to the success of that relationship is in the giving.
That first trip to India back in 2011 solidified and firmly planted the roots of my beliefs in every day.
I felt blessed to have been chosen by the universe to experience, meet and embrace this very unique, historic, spiritual and colourful culture.
I experienced and witnessed a third world culture more in tune with itself than any so called developed country.
India was tolerant, accepting and beyond belief....happy!!!
As a token of our respect to the workers at Elephant Hills, AOE donated raincoats to the workers and children at Thalanar Estate.
The local community shut down early that afternoon and we were treated to a full Hindu ceremony of gratitude and thanks.
The folk wanted to show us their total appreciation for putting food on their table and assist in educating their children.
It was there and then that I realised ....wait a minute....these sweet folk...my brothers and sisters....are in fact also putting food on my family table ,helping me clothe and educate my children, giving me opportunities to share their work with you and in turn putting food on your table.
My eyes were opened fully, my soul experienced clarity, and my being became enlightened.
I decided at that very moment of spiritual bliss, that I cannot simply continue to do business as AOE in that current "developed modern faceless" formula that I was feeding blindly believing.
Let me say this coffee lovers, when you meet, shake hands, hug and cry with sweet souls that you cannot communicate with due to language barriers, but understand each other just from the warmth of the raw emotion experienced,....brothers and sisters who are paid $2 a day, children who eat only one meal a day, deeply spiritual souls who smile and bow constantly and regard you in awe.........the feeling is incredibly humbling and mind blowingly raw.
Upon my return home, I recall clearly walking back into AOE at 35 Main Street.
My enthusiasm, my inner peace and love for my work and the brand that Gabrielle and I lovingly established way, way back in 1999, was not only renewed, but renewed with an all new sense of knowingness, understanding and clarity of purpose.
In fact, we updated our website and reintroduced the brand AOE with a vision that now reads..." We believe in a better way"...
Faceless contracts and transactions became a thing if the past!
Customer visits became a frequent occurrence out of respect and care, more Direct Trade relations began to develop organically, barista training incorporated a new enlightened angle with the introduction of coffee origin appreciation and a deepened respect for the bean and our Mother Earth...not just how to pour a correct caffe latte.
It was after this special trip that "Human Bean 4 Peace" was founded and became a reality and just as importantly, an integral part of the AOE brand, culture and philosophy.
HB4P became the in-house initiative that supports and endorses a philanthropic approach to our business whether through Mental Health programs, Direct Trade relations, ChildFund Australia programs, support of local charities and school educational programs, all with a non-denominational, non-discriminatory and ethical approach.
In November 2016, I was touring the AOE relationship gospel via a Kombi/Meet the Roaster tour with wholesale customers.
It was during this tour that I had the absolute pleasure of meeting Kristen Briggs.
Kristen and I connected immediately via our common interest and passion for the Direct Trade model and sustainable, ethical approach to doing business in this very competitive modern world.
Kristen, together with her business partner, Belinda Shillcock, founded and started "Soulful Concepts" via a cross pollination of their passions.
Backed with a combined 2 decades of experience in travel and not-for-profit sectors, they understand the importance of connecting travel and philanthropy especially with like-minded businesses such as AOE.
Together they have worked with over 70 Australian and International charities and mentored more than 1000 people to help raise over $1.5 million for charity.
I know deep in my heart that I had met the right people.
After having had many a coffee and chat about our HB4P/Direct Trade/ AOE philosophy and culture, Kristen and I decided why don't Soulful Concepts and AOE collaborate and prepare an origin trip to Thalanar Estate in India?
So sweet peeps, AOE has partnered with this new age dynamic travel company, Soulful Concepts, to bring to life the "Farm to Cup" trip for you all.
This trip will be open to cafe owners, friends and industry professionals looking to take on a light insightful and educational, cultural travel experience and proactive steps towards the sustainable coffee movement.
This short tour will give you an opportunity to connect with the farmers and families who grow and produce our beautiful coffees.
It will also give me personally an opportunity to showcase our supply chain from plant to cup and create transparency about our ethically sourced coffees.
You will have the opportunities to interact with local communities, learn and experience about sustainable coffee harvesting and coffee production processes.
The India Origin Tour will take place in February 2018.
To avoid missing this amazing opportunity, click on to this LINK https://soulfulconcepts.com/index.php/trips/coffee-trails-sustainable-coffee-tour-india/ to register your place.
The link will guide you step by step until departure to India.
You will also have the option to add further to your trip if your personal time and budget allows.
That choice is entirely yours but available through our Soulful Concepts link.
More importantly, by participating on this very limited number tour, $200 pp will be donated directly to Conservation International thus contributing to the sustainable framework for sustainable coffee farming for the future.
I want to take this opportunity to send out a sincere and genuine heartfelt THANK YOU to Kristen and Belinda for hopping on board with AOE/HB4P and for their dedication n preparing this tour together with Pathy and his family in India.
Kristen was most caring, patient and obliging in keeping open contact with Pathy and myself.
Her commitment and attention to detail in the tour preparation was truly incredible.
Having read the tour program and schedule, I was thrilled beyond belief!!
Soulful Concepts professional approach in preparing this first Origin Tour together with us was nothing short of outstanding and I can in all honestly say that this could be the beginning of many future Coffee Origin tours!!
I thank and congratulate these very special ladies for agreeing and for making this tour a reality
much love and respect to you both.
There's a saying.."It is in the giving that you receive.."
I believe that.
I also believe that there "is a better way"
...and as the great father of India, Ghandi also said..."Be the change you want to see"
My heart hopes to see you join me on this very special spiritual coffee tour.
With deepest thanks and respect to you all.