Coffee house delivers environmental message with gourmet brew

October 27, 1994|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Staff Writer

The aroma of brewing coffee can mean welcome in any language. It fills the air, beckoning visitors to sit and sip for a spell.

Starting today those familiar, flavorful scents will greet visitors to the Serrv International Gift Shop in New Windsor. A small corner of the shop is now a coffee house, where shoppers can take a break and leisurely savor a steaming cup of freshly ground gourmet coffee.

A few sets of tables and chairs surround a coffee bar and encourage buyers to linger over several flavorful brews. The gift shop manager hopes there will be an inquiry or two.

"We want to show a product and educate consumers," said Linda E. Kjeldgaard, gift shop manager.

She hopes the conversation over the cups may drift to how and where the coffee is grown and why the center is selling it.

"People just buy coffee and drink it without thinking about where it comes from," she said. "They don't realize that this is a product that supports people."

Most of the coffee the center will sell is grown naturally in Central America and marketed by Equal Exchange. The Massachusetts-based trading company is supplying the shop with organically grown coffee, in bags printed with information on how the purchasers are helping poor farmers and saving the rain forests.

The company trades directly with small farmers' co-operatives in Central and South America and pays them a guaranteed minimum price, despite large fluctuations in the coffee market.

"Coffee farmers deserve a guaranteed minimum price that meets their basic human needs" is printed on each bag. Last year, Equal Exchange paid $200,000 in premiums to farmers' cooperatives. The company also encourages organic agriculture.

"The coffee is certified organic, which means the farmers haven't used pesticides for several years," said Ms. Kjeldgaard. "Equal Exchange pays a premium to farmers who grow coffee without pesticides and use sustainable farming methods."

Coffee also needs shade trees to grow properly, she said. By helping the small farmers, buyers keep the trees intact.

"Those trees are where our birds go every winter," Ms. Kjeldgaard said. "Without trees, they would have no place to nest."

For 75 cents a cup, buyers enjoy time in a coffee house, a small-scale replica of those found in Seattle or San Francisco.

The bright colors of a tropical jungle decorate napkins and trays, made in Haiti. The chair seats are covered in matching fabric. Pictures of brilliant green, red and yellow parrots hang on the walls next to photographs of Costa Rican farmers and coffee plants. American Indian flute music trills softly in the background.

Instead of doughnuts, the coffee house offers for dipping: chocolate banana truffles or Rain Forest Crunch, a mixture of cashew and Brazil nuts coated with a choice of chocolate or butter.

"We are already our own best customers," said Ms. Kjeldgaard, who admits to crowding her own freezer at home with bags of several varieties. "I never want to run out."

A few varieties of teas are also available.

Shoppers can take the coffee experience home with them. Several roasts and flavors are available by the pound, either as beans or ground to personal specifications.

New Windsor Mayor Jack Gullo, on one of his frequent gift shopping expeditions there, called the coffee house "a great idea for a place with good coffee."

Town residents don't have to travel far for the international experience, he said.

"We can be cosmopolitan without leaving home," said the mayor.

Ms. Kjeldgaard hopes sippers stay to shop, too. The store is undergoing a minor face lift just in time for the holiday shopping season.

"We haven't lost any merchandise to the coffee house," she said. "We have just moved it around. We have so many small spaces to fill."

Once a personal shopper for customers at Macy's, Ms. Kjeldgaard has found the job she came to six months ago challenging and satisfying.

"It is very satisfying to know the people, who make the products we sell," she said. "As far as basic emotions and needs, people are the same all over the world."

The coffee house is open along with the International Shop. Holiday hours now are from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays through Thursday, until 6:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays. Information: 635-8711.

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