A Sustainable Elixir

Pedro Sierra, barista de Virgen Coffee / SOPHIE FREEDMAN

For some years now, more and more businesses in Spain have been looking to offer their customers sustainable products that can be enjoyed without damaging the environment. Pedro Sierra, owner and barista of the organic coffee shop, Virgin Coffee, in Seville brings his clients the experience of enjoying the best coffee, while transmitting his passion for coffee and knowledge of how to enjoy it with ecological awareness.

The tiny shop hides in a discreet corner in the shadow of the Setas de Sevilla, as if only wanting to deliver its treasures to those deemed deserving: seekers with a careful nose and a passion for a product of the best quality. Inside, the barista carefully adds milk to the reporter’s coffee, crowning it with a classic design in the foam. Above, he is surrounded by containers of organic coffee from a dozen countries: Brazil, Kenya, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Cuba … His calm movements and gentle speech give the place a relaxed atmosphere.  Pedro Sierra possesses a secret wisdom he employs to make each client’s perfect coffee, a sustainable elixir that has given rise on TripAdvisor to more than complimentary comments: “the best coffee in Europe.”

The reporter has ordered a Regina cappuccino, a cappuccino with syrup, and the barista, after making several suggestions, falls silent to concentrate on the coffee’s preparation. The coffee cup is compostable and lacks a plastic lid. Pedro gives it to her upon completing his filigree in the foam.

 “You drink your coffee freshly made, but not too hot, so that you don’t miss on the flavour.”

The reporter tries the coffee, and her taste buds burst with happiness from the mixture of sweet and intense flavors. She doesn’t add any sugar. The coffee in Virgin Coffee never needs it. It is the best coffee she has tried in Seville. It leaves a subtle mustache of foam.

The product Pedro Sierra prepares is not only of great quality, but it is also organic. The requirements that must be met to classify a coffee as organic are numerous; among others, the Ministry of Agriculture establishes that everything that bears this label must have been cultivated without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides or other additives. Likewise, Pedro’s coffee is governed by the laws of fair trade, which guarantee that all the people who have participated in its production have done so legally and have received a decent economic compensation. Fair trade activities are endorsed by various organizations, such as FLO-CERT or Fairtrade Seal –certificates that guarantee fair trade–, or Euroleaf –the EU’s logo that ensures that the product is organic–. These names are familiar to business owners who, like Virgin Coffee, work with sustainable products and seek to raise awareness among the members of their communities about the benefits of consuming them. Concern for the environmental impact is also fundamental for Virgen Coffee. In Pedro’s business, all packaging is eco-friendly.

With the hot cappuccino between her hands and the taste of the first sip still on her tongue, the reporter’s gaze travels along the international coffee packages. Pedro usually describes to his clients the process by which each one of them arrives from its homeland to the store. “Each product has its history, its process, and here, we always try to know them in detail and tell the consumer. Transparency is fundamental.” On Virgin’s website, it’s expressed in this way: “We love sharing the journey our beans make until they reach your cup.” It is not a simple trip. As Pedro explains, organic coffee is more expensive because its processing is more complex than non-organic coffee and, therefore, much more expensive. Unlike non-organic coffee, which is planted in large coffee plantations in full sun to accelerate its maturation, thus obtaining several harvests per year, organic coffee is grown in the shade, which respects its natural needs, but results in a more limited production of one or, at most, two harvests per year. The harvest for organic coffee is more time-consuming, which also account for the difference in price between organic and non-organic coffee. For organic coffee, the beans are harvested by hand, one by one, and a careful selection is made so that the customer gets only the best quality. For non-organic, on the other hand, all of the grains are collected. Non-organic coffee uses 250 pounds of chemical fertilizer per acre. These toxins are bad for our health. The pesticides used are connected with prostate cancer, Parkinson’s, and miscarriage. They are also bad for water, land, ecosystems, and the local air quality.

The reporter goes outside to enjoy the rest of her coffee. Four international tourists sit relaxed under a tree with the hot elixir in their hands: there is no room inside for everyone, so they have gone out to look for a place in the sun to drink this perfect coffee. The reporter sits in a small chair that has opened up. A second sip of coffee, bitter and powerful notes now, with hints of spices and chocolate. The aroma that floats on the other side of the door intensifies. The milk tastes sweet and fresh.

Virgin Coffee is located in the tourist epicenter of Seville, in a square near Las Setas. For that reason, most of its customers come from abroad, and for that same reason, Sevillians do not usually come close to trying this organic coffee. Its price, in itself, is higher than normal coffee. For many inhabitants of the city, it is almost a luxury product, which can only be consumed occasionally. Pedro is aware of this. “At the same time, I consider it my responsibility to offer my clients, along with the best possible experience, a coffee that is sustainable.” It is so important to Pedro to give his customers a positive experience with organic coffee, that he confesses to getting nervous every time he prepares one. He acknowledges that Spain is on the right track: 87% of its inhabitants feel worried or alarmed about global warming, which makes the country the fifth most aware in the world in terms of the threats of climate change. Perhaps over time, this attitude leads to a lower but more responsible consumption of coffee and, in this way, organic coffee ceases to be a product consumed mainly by tourists.

The freshly  ground grains from the bottom of the cup fall onto the reporter’s tongue with a deep earthy flavor; the last sip is the most delicious. It’s time to pay: two euros fifty for a toxin-free experience, rich in antioxidants and respectful of the environment. And exquisite.

 “No, no, it’s okay.”

Pedro denies the money, gesturing with his hand as goes back to work; there are some customers to attend to. The reporter returns her money to her purse. There is something equally important for Pedro Sierra as his passion for the best sustainable coffee: transmitting that passion to others.