Inspired by our recent launch of The Mierisch Project Box Set, we took a trip down memory lane with Amanda Byron, Joe’s first Director of Coffee, to learn more about the origins of our relationship with the Mierisch family. To explore these early beginnings, we would be remiss not to first introduce you to Amanda. Not only was Amanda Joe’s first Director of Coffee, she was employee number one, helping our founder Jonathan Rubinstein open Waverly Place. In those early days of specialty coffee in New York City when latte art was still a novelty, Amanda was our go-to pourer of latte art, which meant that at first, our Waverly cafe hours were built entirely around her availability. During her 13 years at Joe, Amanda became a vital part of our growing company, touching nearly every part of the business, including getting our roasting operation off the ground in 2012.
Our relationship with the Mierisch family, who is deeply intertwined in the Joe Coffee story, spans several countries and many years, but can be traced back to meeting Steve Mierisch in New York. We first met Steve when he worked in sales and customer service for our coffee provider at the time, Ecco Caffe (which later became Intelligentsia). Steve, whose family owns Fincas Mierisch in Nicaragua and Honduras, eventually went on to open the Pulley Collective, a shared roasting space at the Liberty Warehouse in Red Hook, Brooklyn. It was here in this 19th century waterfront warehouse, and thanks to Steve, that we got our start in roasting.
The Beginnings of Pulley Collective & Joe Roasting
In the days when we were purchasing coffee from Intelligentsia, Amanda often traveled to Chicago to visit their roastery. On one such trip, she can recall sitting in the booth of a dark bar with Steve and other folks from Intelligentsia when he told her about his idea to open a co-roasting space in New York. Although she’d never heard of such a thing before, she had a feeling it could be a good fit for Joe. Making the move to roasting our own coffee was something that had been at the back of Amanda and Jonathan’s minds for some time. “Once we got to a certain number of cafes, it just made sense to take production like this in-house,” she explains. “I don’t know how things would be if Joe didn’t have that as a stepping stone.”
From Pulley Collective to Sourcing From Fincas Mierisch
Once we got going at Pulley, it was only a matter of time before we began sourcing coffee from Fincas Mierisch and got to know the rest of the family. Although our first “Joe” coffee wasn’t a Mierisch coffee (it was actually from our partner Wilmar Guarnizo), our sourcing relationship began soon after we began roasting all of our own coffee. Amanda recalls, “When we first started roasting, we only did 10% and the other 90% came from Intelly. But once we started roasting 100%, my guess is that a Mierisch coffee was on that menu very early on. It was also the first relationship we had where we traveled to the farm to select lots.”
When asked if she has any favorite memories from her sourcing trips to Nicaragua, Amanda says, “So many! I just remember thinking it was truly one of the most beautiful places I’d ever seen. I felt so lucky to be able to see the entire coffee process as it happened and to do that with the Mierisch family was really special. I loved riding in the back of the pickup truck, I loved the food (and the Flor de Cana!), I loved wandering through endless coffee trees and tasting coffee fruit. My understanding and love of coffee deepened and grew so much during those trips as did my relationships with the people who I got to travel with.”
Setting the Tone for Future Partnerships
Visiting the Mierisches in Nicaragua every year has become an integral part of who we are, and this foundation of friendship has truly set the tone for how we’ve evolved as buyers of green coffee. “There’s a certain legitimacy of having real genuine relationships with the people who are producing your coffee. It takes you to a different level,” Amanda says, “It not a ‘direct trade’ that’s just for show.” As we’ve grown and forged new partnerships around the world, we’ve held on to this as an important example of what a sourcing relationship can and should be. Importantly, as with any relationship, we believe that the value in our sourcing relationships must flow both ways.
In this pandemic climate where coffee producers are shouldering an even greater share of the risk, it has been an opportunity for us to experience how we can share risk more equitably and a good reminder of how important it is to be honest business partners. That’s why we were eager to collaborate with the Mierisch family on The Mierisch Project Box Set, to provide a sales outlet for this special trio of coffees which were grown, processed, imported, and roasted (at Pulley Collective!) entirely by the family. Shop and learn more about this collaboration here.