A Taste of Island Time

This local coffee roaster adds a dollop of love to each cup.

By Katherine Withers Green ~ Photos By Siri White

Things move slowly in the Islands. Folks don’t have that same urgency that city dwellers do. Sometimes it feels like the earth spins just a little slower this side of the Atlantic . . . it’s that Caribbean vibe. So if you want to get something done here — like run a successful business — you have to work really hard at it and never give up. One lady who understands this better than most is my mother — Victoria Turner — “The Coffee Lady.”

TCI Coffee Roasters is a family-run business.

It’s more than energy from having a steady supply of caffeine readily available — my mum works harder than most anyone I’ve seen. And after over 30 years living in the Turks & Caicos, and nearly a dozen being the Islands’ only coffee roaster, she shows no signs of slowing down.

It all started as light-hearted dinner conversation one night sitting under the stars. “You just can’t get a decent cup o’ Joe in these Islands!” ranted a New York friend. “I’ll sort that for you,” replied my mum. And though we all chuckled that night, the seed had been planted. A few months later, mum was off to Rockville, Maryland to learn the tricks of the coffee trade with Mayorga Coffee Roasters.

It was this fortuitous meeting in 2002 with Martin Mayorga, president and founder of Mayorga Coffee, that instilled in my mother the ethos which is fundamental to TCI Coffee Roasters. At first glance, you would not think the two of them had much in common, but Mum and Martin soon discovered they were kindred spirits.

She: Born on a farm in the Cotswolds, England, Victoria grew up alongside the fruit-picking itinerant workers. These were gypsy crews who moved through the farming communities in England in the 1950s working the land, harvesting, providing for their families. She was no stranger to the passion for cultivating the land. It comes as no surprise then to learn that just out of university she married a tropical agriculturalist and, as wife of the newly appointed Agricultural Officer, arrived in North Caicos in 1979. The subsistence farming community of Kew brought her full circle back to the soil. She thrived in the hard work, patience and pleasure of labour rewarded by fresh, wholesome foods grown with love to feed and support your family.

He: Born in Guatemala, Martin Mayorga grew up in Managua, Costa Rica, witnessing the strenuous efforts necessary to plant, cultivate and sort high-grade, shade-grown specialty coffees. He too was moved by the passion that coffee farmers and surrounding communities put into the process of growing great coffees.

There are a number of distinct blends. The coffee is roasted in small batches and delivered within 24 hours.

Martin explained to my mum that he had developed Mayorga Coffee with the goal of creating a collaborative partnership between farmers, communities, roasters and consumers. “Each member has a necessary role and set of needs. Roasters should focus on being craftsmen with distinct profiles. They deserve the opportunity to compete through quality, value, sustainability and honest messaging.” As a roaster, my mum is part of the chain from coffee-growing plant to the final customer who tastes the brew. From the soil to the sip, each person involved is of value. She is part of a global coffee producing family, and she owes it to the family to keep the faith.

TCI Coffee Roasters was launched at the Arts & Crafts Fair on Providenciales in 2002. Mum started off small and to this day, although we’ve grown, we’re still a family-run operation. My younger brother Daniel and I were quickly put on grinding and bagging duty to earn our pocket money. We would happily measure, scoop and distribute into the correct bags the perfectly roasted, expertly blended little beans that came from all corners of the world. We learned our geography from the map on the coffee bagging room wall, where coloured ribbons marked the journey of our beans to Providenciales from Nicaragua, Sumatra, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Brazil, Kenya, Costa Rica, Peru, Honduras, Haiti, Panama, Colombia. Wherever high-quality, specialty-grade, organic Arabica coffee beans are grown, Mum has sought them out. Each with their own distinct and sometimes hidden characteristics that she has learned to coax out.

Soon, it became more than just a business idea — it became a passion and an art. Mum grew to know the beans personally, to bring life to the hard green nuggets, to bring happiness and fortitude to each cup they brewed. And our customers are grateful for it. It took awhile but slowly, as word got out about how good it tasted, local businesses and resorts started to understand the Mayorga vision of collaboration, realizing it was good for the community to support a locally made product. We were reliable, honest and we put a lot of love into each of those bags.

Each of our blends has a local name, ranging from the “Grace Bay,” and “Blue Hills Breakfast Blend” to “French Cay Roast” and “Governor’s Choice.” My mum also makes unique blends for local chefs and resorts, and we specialise in custom labeling for these clients. Our latest success is one-of-a-kind wedding coffees that are personalised for the bride and groom.

But it hasn’t been all smooth sailing. It’s not easy to compete in a market that is flooded with cheaper, ready-roasted, imported coffees that don’t have the many overheads that producing a high quality product on-island has. I know my mum at times has thought it would be easier to import already-roasted beans and give up on trying to create something truly “Made in Turks & Caicos.”

Then she reminds herself that the amazing odyssey of the Arabica coffee plant was possible only because of its stubborn botanical self-reliance. The Arabica plant has remained extraordinarily true through five centuries of plantings around the world. From Ethiopia to Yemen, sometime in the sixth century, to India in the mid-1600s, the spread of coffee across the globe would not have happened if people gave up at the first hurdle. And I have yet to see the day when even the largest of hurdles could stop my mother.

I believe people can taste the hard work and determination my mother and the rest of our family put into each carefully crafted bag of TCI Roasted Coffee, and that’s why once you’ve had a sip, you can’t go back to the pre-roasted generic blends that now fill the shelves here.

Green beans are imported from around the world and roasted on-island.

The beans are roasted in small batches and packed and delivered within 24 hours of ordering, to preserve the fresh aroma and essence of freshly roasted coffee. As well, we buy organic fair trade beans (rain forest and bird-friendly), and support Grounds for Health, a charitable organisation supporting coffee pickers and workers around the world.

So, whether you’re waking up in your Seven Stars penthouse to a cup of our breakfast blend or enjoying an evening “de-caf” at Grace’s Cottage or savoring a cheeky eclair and a mug of café at Caicos Bakery, we’ll be there with you, sharing our family stories with each sip you take. We grew up smelling of coffee, with chaff in our hair and dreams in our hearts. Now that I have my own son, I hope that he, too, will grow up with a little Caribbean vibe and a little caffeine in his veins, because it really is the perfect blend.

For more information, visit www.tcicoffeeroasters.com. You will find a list of locations where you can purchase the products.

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Aysha Stephen is Grand Turk’s newest artistic sensation, renowned for her iconic “Cool Donkeys” paintings. Her creations are quite the hit with visitors to TDB Fine Arts Gallery. It recently opened within the Turks & Caicos National Museum on Grand Turk and is dedicated to showcasing art “Made in TCI.

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