When looking for ways to stay warm on a cold winter day, lots of people reach for a hot cup of coffee. But if you really want the good stuff, you may want to forget about those national chains and look closer to home.
A company right here in Tulsa is not only winning national awards, it's helping lead the industry in a new business model. For the Topeca Coffee Company, it's all grounded in love
At a small downtown Tulsa warehouse, a raw winter morning gives way to a tropical harvest 35,000 pounds of coffee, fresh from the mountains of El Salvador.
The first crop of the year for a Tulsa company with a story as unique as its brew.
When John Gaberino took a bride from El Salvador, Margarita; he had no intention of running a coffee plantation. But when a plunge in worldwide coffee prices threatened to wipe out a 150 year old tradition for Margarita's family, they stepped in.
"Coffee has been a family business for generations for us," said Margarita Gaberino. "The people who work there, are the sons of the sons of the original employees there," said Margarita.
A new business was born, one that stretched from Central America to Tulsa.
"They were going out of business and we hit the streets and tried to change the business, cut the middle guy out and make it profitable, make it sustainable," said John Gaberino.
The notion of specialty coffees, grown by farmers paid a sustainable wage, may be fairly commonplace these days. But 12 years ago, this was new territory and the Topeca Coffee Company helped blaze the trail.
"It's really been a journey for us as well as for Tulsa and I think the United States," John Gaberino said.
Topeca's Director of Coffee, Ian Picco said, "Typically on average now we pay about 300 percent more than what the market price is.
And in exchange for those higher prices, the Gaberinos demand higher quality.
To introduce the public to the world of specialty coffee, every month at its warehouse, Topeca hosts what's called a cupping. Think of it as a wine tasting with coffee.
Visitors are educated about every step of coffee production. Starting with how the coffee is grown and harvested in El Salvador to Tulsa, where the beans are roasted and immediately packed for sale.
Each step of the way, from the varietal to the growing conditions, to the proper harvesting and roasting technique, is essential to producing what connoisseurs would consider the ultimate cup of coffee.
"If all those processes fall into place, then you get a coffee that is going to taste really unique. Taste different from what our normal thought of coffee is," Picco said.
Topeca has come close enough to the mark to win several national awards, including one just last month in San Francisco.
But for newbies, the exotic world of coffee can be a little strange, and intimidating. To really test a coffee, first you sniff, and then you slurp.
"You want to slurp vigorously, hard as you can without choking. if you don't choke at least once today, you're not slurping hard enough," said Picco.
The quest for the perfect slurp, or even the perfect brew, may not change the world; but in their farms, their roaster, their wine and coffee shops and their new bakery on Cherry Street, the Gaberinos stick with a basic plan. And hope that in Tulsa, like El Salvador, they're building a business that will flourish for generations to come.
"We're just trying to keep it together with tradition and family," Margarita said.
If you're interested in checking all this out for yourself, you can go to a free cupping. Sign up at Topeca's website.