Eleane Mierisch is the dry mill manager, head of quality control, and producer of our new release, Nicaragua La Escondida, from Fincas Mierisch. She’s also a Cup of Excellence head judge, and served as a panelist at the inaugural Women in Coffee Project panel event, founded by our Director of Roasting, Amaris Gutierrez-Ray.
Eleane was born into a coffee farming family in Nicaragua. Her father, “Doc” Mierisch, is a third generation coffee grower, and even though he pursued a career in gynecology he maintained a passion for the cultivation and innovation of his family’s coffee farms. During the political turmoil of the 1980s, however, the Mierisch coffeelands were seized by the government and they were forced to leave their home in search of a sustainable future elsewhere. This brought them to Tennessee. There, Eleane learned English, and after several years of living in the U.S., Mexico, and the U.S. again, she started studying nursing. She completed her bachelor’s degree and went on to get her nurse practitioner’s certification, all while paying her way through by working at her father’s OB/GYN practice.
When it was safe to return, her parents reverse emigrated to Nicaragua. A few years later, Eleane followed to care for her mother during the final stages of her battle with cancer. She describes this as the hardest time in her life. Staying there with close family, and spending a lot of time with her father who had a renewed vision to rebuild his coffee farms, took her on a slow journey to find peace, and, after a time, to find her future in coffee.
In 2010 she was asked to translate for the Cup of Excellence (CoE) in Nicaragua, and she began learning how to cup coffees. Her first experience cupping included 540+ coffee samples, at which point she knew she had found her passion. The following year, she took the calibration test, which she didn’t pass, but she took it again the following year and her hard work paid off. She’s now a Head Judge for CoE and has served on three international juries.
She also stepped into a position of leadership at the Beneficio Don Esteban dry mill, which is owned by her family. She wanted to do it right, so she worked her way through every role in the organization, from raking and piling the coffee at different times of day to drying it on the patio, to rotating coffees on raised beds, to managing space and inventory of lots in the bodega throughout a harvest, to distinct lot separation, to cupping in the lab for quality control, to setting aside time to spend with visiting clients, to exporting lots in shipping containers after sales.
Management and creativity took over, and under her leadership, over 25% of the coffees yielded by Fincas Mierisch are now specialty. She works hard alongside her team to learn something new every day, values becoming more specialized, and prioritizes facing the future with a positive mentality. Her openness is reflected in all parts of her life. She is an openly gay woman working within a conservative culture, and her drive for professional growth—for herself and her whole team—in a male-dominated industry is inspirational.
When asked if she would be interested in sharing her story with us, she was immediately enthusiastic.
How did your relationship with Joe Coffee begin?
We began a direct relationship by selling coffee to Joe in 2013 when they began roasting at Pulley Collective in Brooklyn. The team at Joe is engaging and reliable, super supportive of Fincas Mierisch, and practices conscientious purchasing. We’ve hosted them for a week every year at our farms ever since—Joe feels like family.
What do you like about the friendship?
We’ve built a solid working relationship that doesn’t feel like work at all! I believe our friendship now goes beyond that, it’s more like family. Thank you for inviting me to be a judge the Northeast Roaster Forum competition and also to be part of the Women in Coffee Project. I applaud Joe on how engaged you are in the roasting community and educating others—inspiring.
You came out a few years ago. Can you share a little bit about your experience and how you have navigated your personal life in a relatively conservative county? Has it ever been an issue?
During my youth, it was really difficult for me to accept myself. When I was growing up, being gay was not socially accepted, and gender roles were strict and narrow. I moved to the U.S. when I was 11. I went to middle school, high school, and college in Texas, and moved back to Nicaragua in my mid-thirties. Spending my formative years in the states helped me come out, even though I grew up in a conservative area.
Still, I was worried how people would perceive me when I moved back to Nicaragua. But I remained strong, and firmly held to my thoughts, convictions, pride, and sense of self. You have to. Someone very important to me, very special in my life, motivated me to defend myself, and little by little things have changed.
I can’t deny that when I first came out that I had doubts, and felt that people would not respect me. Personal acceptance is what gave me confidence and kept me going. I fully invested in myself and my career, grew professionally and personally doing what I love the most. Growing up in a conservative town, in a conservative culture was difficult, but also defining, and made me stronger. It’s what taught me resilience.
Everything I have lived (the good and bad and in between) has shaped me and made me the person I am today. Cultural and social mentalities have evolved over the years, and each new generation is stronger and safer. Each new generation leans more towards a new society of free minds, without prejudice.
Will you celebrate Pride in any way in Nicaragua or anywhere else?
I celebrate myself everyday. I am always proud. In Nicaragua Pride is not customary, it’s a fairly small celebration in comparison to the U.S. Also, in these difficult times, freedom of expression is repressed and forbidden. It is risky to raise your voice, because the LGBTQ community does not agree with the current government, and has suffered persecution.
Read more about Eleane’s career path in her full interview with our Director of Roasting for the Women in Coffee Project series on Daily Coffee News.
To celebrate Eleane and La Escondida, Joe will distribute $1 from each bag sold to the Audre Lorde Project in New York, the Attic Youth Center in Philadelphia, and Colectivo de Mujeres in Nicaragua, an organization based in Matagalpa which supports the LGBTQ community, as well as the rights of women and children.