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The World Outside of the World - Life in B.C. (“Before Coffee”)

I think we can skip the preface this time and get right into the heart of today’s story.  We’ve talked about my daily routine, but I think it’s best if we let the author share her experiences instead.  (If the men reading this can’t wait, you can skip down to the story of the heroine below.)

Believe it or not, I’ve recently picked up a new hobby!  When I want to be active, I’ll try pole-dancing, aerial gymnastics, swimming, diving, spelunking, and night gym (the kind with loud music).  In my quiet time, I prefer to work on floral arrangements, create art prints or graffiti, practice yoga, read, cook, and the list goes on.

I’m a curious person by nature, and even though I may not be great at any of these hobbies, I enjoy them a lot.  I feel that we should all do what we love, we should feel alive in each and every moment, and champion a healthy body and mind.  So I also don’t recommend or partake in unhealthy hobbies, like drugs or smoking.  

Recently, I even learned about “meditation” by accident!  What is meditation?  I used to think this was just something that monks did, sitting cross-legged somewhere, perfectly still and at peace.  But I learned that meditation is actually a hobby that all of us can benefit from.

To me, meditation is divided into many different levels, but the most basic form is to “empty your mind”.  But then, what does this mean?

Think about this example:  you go to work in the morning and maybe you find something you’ve done wrong, or some task you didn’t complete yet and your boss is sending reminders.  And on top of this, your manager might assign more work for you to complete by the next day.  When all these tasks pile up, it is easy for your mind to feel weighed down, and the numerous tasks can make it difficult for you to focus on any single task.

There is a simple and effective way to deal with this feeling—sitting and relaxing, and doing nothing.

What?  You might ask, isn’t this what I’m already doing?  Yes, maybe, but there a different levels of meditating.  You must put yourself in a meditative trance.

So how can you do this?  We need to use some creativity and imagine that we are outside the world.  If you don’t believe me, we should just move on to the next topic.

So let’s jump into the world of Coffee Voyager Hou Ye!

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Aside from the author:

Wait, we nearly forgot—Hou Ye hasn’t introduced herself yet!  She is quite humble, so I will her with that instead.

Hou Ye is currently the Coffee Director at Torch Coffee.  She is a small girl from a small city (by China standards) called Kunming, the provincial capital of Yunnan.  She may be small but she has a big heart, and is always looking for a way to help people whose lives have been affected by poverty, disease, or other difficulties.

However, after spending some time with Hou Ye, I found her to be quite easy-going.  She drinks and eats most anything and is never picky, and is an indispensable friend at a party.  And after she shared her stories and experiences, I felt that she would not only make a great party friend, but has had a very colorful life.  

So let’s get into her story now… 

The World Outside of the World—Life in B.C. (“Before Coffee”)

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After I graduated from university, I joined a non-profit organization based out of the Tibetan area in northwest Yunnan.  I spent most of my time in the village of Deqin, near the border of Yunnan and Tibet.  

The area sits at an altitude of over 3,000 meters and is surrounded by mountains and the Lancang River runs through them and down into Southeast Asia (where it becomes the Mekong River).  

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It is another world for the average Chinese person, as Tibetans speak, read and write in a totally different language.  

Every day we would eat “zanba”, buttered tea and pancakes.  When we would travel to another village, we would need to go by horseback, or else hike over a few mountains along the way.

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During my time in the mountains, I suddenly realized that the world was so diverse—one year in this remote Tibetan area had opened my eyes.  My curiosity and desire to explore was irresistible!

After that, I followed the Lancang River down into Thailand, where I would continue to study and earn my Master’s Degree.

While I was studying in Thailand, I joined an international non-profit organization as a volunteer.  

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The organization was made up of activists and scholars who worked together to help the ethnic minority tribes near the Thai-Myanmar border who were affected by the environment. 

Usually we would visit the villages along the border, conduct field surveys, brainstormed for solutions, and organized different events to raise public awareness and raise funds for our projects.

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It was during this time that I had my first real and lasting impression about coffee.

We would buy a lot of coffee for each team meeting, all sorts of coffee drinks, such as the dark roast with milk or condensed milk.  I noticed that coffee wasn’t consumed because it satiated people’s hunger, but rather it was almost a necessary stimulant that connected our team.

After I completed my studies in Thailand, I join an American non-profit organization that sought to help AIDS-affected groups get more effective social assistance.  I was always traveling between Southeast Asia and the United States.  

My Thai and American colleagues were constantly caffeinated—from the moment they woke up, and every afternoon at 3:15 they need their coffee fix.  

During the afternoon coffee break meetings, the team would stop working, have a coffee and chat together.  I was “forced” to start drinking coffee every day, and it gradually became a habit for me.

However, I had no idea at that time that coffee would become such a huge part of my life.

What can Coffee do?

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While working in non-profit organizations, I found that the gaps and misunderstandings between people can be very deep.  This conflict took root in my heart as well, and I hope to change it, but felt it was such a difficult thing to change.

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Every now and again, I would meet up with one of my barista friends.  She taught me how to make a cup of coffee.  I was so fascinated by the process, and it was here that my career in coffee began to sprout.

I began my journey in coffee as a barista.  Every day, my job was to adjust the grinders and make coffee for customers.  I began to research different latte art techniques, and really loved this part of the job.  

Customers would sometimes compliment my latte “art” or express their pleasure with a pour over I had made, telling me their coffee today was “awesome”.  

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Through countless cups of “black water”, I developed friendships with many of my customers.  This was a new experience, and one that my previous work had never brought me.

I also began making friends with true “coffee lovers”—those who indulged and delighted in a great cup of coffee.  Every day we were talking about coffee, became excited when we tried a new bean, or were happy to simply extract a “perfect espresso”.

I remember one day when a friend brought coffee beans that had been prepared by an overseas roaster.  

I was so excited that I took my friends to another coffee shop to cup the beans.  We used all the most precise measuring equipment available to us, precise weight, grinding, water ratio—this was such a happy and exciting time for us that we could even feel our heart beats speed up.

Coffee is a magical thing.  It’s simple, but powerful.  It brings strangers separated but unimaginable distances closer together.  It allows you to find those with similar passions quickly, regardless of your background.  When you have a great cup of coffee, you feel a rare sense of happiness and satisfaction.

Tracing the Roots - Going Back Upstream

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Torch placed me upstream in the coffee chain.  We did training and education in Pu'er, Yunnan, which is the largest coffee origin in China. A large part of our customers were the local coffee farmers. 

Although Pu’er’s economic conditions and infrastructure are well-developed compared to other coffee origin areas, coffee farmers are still full of confusion regarding the industry chain and the market. 

The traditional concepts and planting methods have caused them to face many challenges in the current market environment.

So, my colleagues and I started with the simplest and most practical action we could imagine: provide a free morning cupping service for farmers every week.  Farmers submit their coffee samples and we invite them to participate in the cupping together.  

Together, we discuss the quality of each batch, analyze any issues, and discuss how to improve the next batch.

We have provided farmers with these cupping services for the past three years.  In the beginning, there were only a few farmers who we running big farms that were interested in cupping.  I had never heard about farmers from small villages that came to participate.  

Nowadays, more and more people have the knowledge, experience and confidence to innovate new methods to improve their coffee yields.  The word "empower" in English means that when you realize that you are powerful, (not just passively accepting what comes) then you really have the power to make changes.

These processes and experiences have also helped me to grow up quickly.  I have seen both the humble origins of coffee upstream and the high-end equipment and refined lifestyles downstream.  At the same time, I have seen coffee become an effective tool for empowerment, and a vessel to bring happiness to more and more people’s lives.

What will happen if everyone stops drinking coffee? Why?

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I look forward to see what the next “super beverage” will be.  However, I think coffee is a very interesting thing.  Once, I listened to anthropologist/coffee expert Manuel Diaz talk about coffee history.  

I thought it was simply just a small part in the development of human history, but now I believe that as long as coffee can be grown, there will always be demand for it.

What do you like to do in your leisure time?

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After working became my biggest hobby, I found my time outside work has become boring. When I finish working, I enjoy hiking, rock-climbing, and cycling. There are many amazing mountains and forests in Yunnan. 

I feel so happy for these coffee voyagers who love coffee.

I know that no matter how much a person loves something,

We might give it up because something irritable, tedious, or cumbersome arises in our journey. 

However, after doing some deep soul-searching and we can recall our inner feelings about what we love.

Those memories are an indispensable, spiritual pillar that reminds ourselves to continue life in the form of words.

The meditation mentioned in the foreword can be explained in the following way:

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Try to imagine you are sitting in a prairie,

Raise your head and look up at a blue sky,

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Adjust your breathing, slowly breathe and slowly inhale. 

Does that feel good!

The blue sky is like your heart, a vast array of thoughts and a blank canvas.

It is filled with thoughts, feelings, and experiences. 

Just like white marshmallow clouds floating in the sky.

Maybe we don’t need to care about where these clouds are appearing,

Just let them float …float…

This is a peaceful and joyful state of mind.

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However, not everyday will be sunny.

Dark clouds will appear. Even storms will strike.

You will feel fearful, nervous, and worried. It reflects that you are concerned about those dark clouds and are stressed,

And it causes us to forget the existence of a blue sky.

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When you are in a plane, the blue sky stays quietly there.

And it never leaves. Should you forget about it? 

In fact, it never leaves. 

Meditation will remind you of its existence.

It allows you to calmly face dark clouds and storms, and make decisions for a better way!

So what's your world outside of the world? See you next week!

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