Pangeo Coffee began with almost being arrested in the Addis Ababa airport with contraband coffee.
Well, not exactly, but there’s a story…
We’re dedicated humanitarian aid workers, helping some of the poorest villages of Africa, Asia and the Middle East with sustainable development. We’re also coffee nerds. We work with GHNI.org and help villages learn how to transform themselves out of severe poverty. We help them acquire good development knowledge and techniques. That way, they can finally get for themselves things like clean water, enough food to grow and eat, dramatically reduced disease and death, small businesses they dream up and launch, schools they help build with their own hands, and so on. It’s exciting work.
Now, to the story…
Just like the villages, we also have to be self-sustaining. We have to secure our own personal means of funding to do this work.
As we prepared to head to Ethiopia again for a trip in February of 2011, a friend and supporter of our work gave us an idea. “You guys will be in the world’s most amazing coffee country,” he said. “Let people pre-order bags of the famous Harrar coffee to fund your airfare, then get the coffee when you’re in Harrar and bring it back.” In fact, Steve decided to come with us as a volunteer on the trip.
Being eager to fund our airfare, and not too bright, we jumped on the idea. We put out a quick email, and in record time 200 bags of coffee were spoken for by supporters, friends & family.
So we went to Ethiopia and took our volunteers to help work in our villages near Harrar for the week. We saw great progress and enthusiasm in the villages.
Then we went to one of the most reputable local coffee dealers, bought 200 bags of coffee, and loaded them into our truck. But then the thought fully hit us, “We have to get 200 bags of coffee HOME!” (That’s TWO HUNDRED half-kilo bags… we looked like drug dealers.)
So we filled SIX massive duffle bags with the coffee, and said the famous airline-security-kindness-please prayer.
We split the duffles between several of us, and amazingly we checked-in trouble-free.
Until just before the airplane boarded.
Over the departure lounge speaker came an official-sounding voice: “Mr. Jeff Power, Mr. Jeff Power, please come to the counter.” Who, me? An airport security official then grimly walked me down several floors, through multiple security doors, into the bowels of the airport. Luggage was being whisked by conveyors at high speed in every direction.
He marched me over to a screening station where one of my duffles had been pulled aside. A scowling Baggage-Screening-Woman-Official was awaiting me.
I thought fast on my feet… I know a little Amharic (the Ethiopian language) so I greeted her in the feminine evening singular. She cracked a tiny smile.
“What’s in the bag?” she demanded.
“Coffee,” I said. “A lot of coffee.” OK, that was stupid. “It’s for the friends and family who support me in my work with poor villages.” OK, yeah, I played the “humanitarian aid worker” card.
“Open it,” she said.
So I did. Yep, there was A LOT OF COFFEE inside. Basically I had put one pair of jeans on top and 40 bags of coffee under it. Smart.
She scowled again (I think she also grinned a bit) then sent me away with a wave of her hand. Mr Security Man led me back upstairs. “She must like you,” he said. “Why do you say so?” I asked. “Because you’re only allowed to take four bags out of the country,” he replied.
OK, I knew we were probably pushing the limit, but… OH. MY. WORD!
The flight home was filled with relief, and we cleared US customs fine because we were under the price limit, and we delivered the coffee to the gracious supporters, friends and family who had basically paid for our trip by drinking it.
And the idea for Pangeo Coffee was hatched on the spot.
Oh, and the name? It’s the name I gave my blog when I started this job:Pangeo.us (pan=across, geo=the world)
So… we invite you to deliciously join with us in our village work (and help keep us out of jail) by purchasing Pangeo Coffee through this website. We import (legally) the truly finest coffee beans in the world from where we work in east Africa and Asia. Those beautiful beans are fresh-roasted by our roaster here in Denver, and instantly shipped to you for your uninterrupted coffee pleasure (every month, if you’d like). And when you drink it, you’ll know you’re directly supporting our village-transformation work in some of the poorest places on earth.