April 29, 2019

Telefono numero 1

I snapped this picture when visiting Montecarlos, the coffee farm on a volcano in El Salvador. If you’ve had coffee at Clover in the past few years chances are you tasted Montecarlos. George Howell (roaster) invited Christopher Anderson (head of food at Clover) and me to join him on a trip down there. I’m going to share more about that trip in upcoming posts. There will be 1/day for the next week or 2.

I’m going to talk a lot about coffee trees and flavors and smells and details of how coffee is grown.

But I’m starting with this phone. Telefono numero 1.

My memory of the trip is vivid: spectacular vistas and rising mist, juicy coffee fruit, the genuine openness and kindness of our hosts and farmers, and George Howell’s company. There were also many armed guards. The first we encountered at a gas station convenience store. Yup. A large weapon crossing the chest of a guard at a convenience store. It made me appropriately uncomfortable while I bought $1.87 sunglasses and $0.32 chips that looked like Doritos but had a dragon blowing fire on the bag. There were guards at the farm. Fences. Gates. Bullet-proof vehicles. Guard dogs. I heard the word peasant used. Accurately I guess. But it felt surprising.

It’s a complicated mix of emotions. And confusion. I understand some of what I’m seeing, but not all of it. It’s not my country.

It’s obvious that Carlos, who runs the farm, thinks deeply about his country and the future and is very conscientious. El Salvador is a poor country. Good jobs are scarce. Today there is a rash of crime related to drug trafficking.

Carlos comes from a family that has been in El Salvador for a long time with considerable property and influence. Many people who have his background have left El Salvador. Carlos didn’t.

Carlos went to school in the US. In the 1980s he was responsible for trading more kilos of coffee than anybody else on Earth. He was working as a trader in NYC. But he came back to El Salvador to try growing his own coffee. His family had some land that used to be a coffee plantation. They were the first to grow Pacamara coffee, a big deal in the industry. Over the years he has grown his farming operation substantially. He pays his farmers far above the wages of surrounding specialty farms. He invests capital in improving and growing the farm, and as a result his coffee sells at a higher price than the commodity market. That’s a good thing because the commodity market is at $1.00 right now and production alone in El Salvador costs $1.75/ lbs. More on that in later posts.

So back to Telefono no. 1. This was Carlos’ grandfather’s phone. His number was number 1. Which I can only guess means he was the first in his town? county? to have a phone! Carlos returned to El Salvador to restore a farm that had been in his family for 6+ generations. If Carlos hadn’t done that, there would be a lot of coffee jobs that wouldn’t exist, we wouldn’t have this beautiful coffee to fill our cups. And the virgin forest in the caldera of the volcano, one of the few left in El Salvador, may not have been protected.

We have simple questions we try to answer when we visit suppliers. How are things being done? Is the food being taken care of? Do I trust this person? Do they share our values? Are they caring for their land with a long-term vision? Are the people working here happy? Is this the best person for me to get Clover’s customer’s $ to?

Visiting El Salvador isn’t like visiting a farm in Western Massachusetts. It’s much more complicated in El Salvador. I had to ask a lot of questions to get to answers. And to be honest I don’t think I have perfect understanding of everything.

Carlos was great. I’m glad he’s doing what he’s doing and was deeply honored he shared it with me. His coffee is delicious. And coffee is intertwined with poverty and power, opportunity and history and global politics. These facts exist side by side in every delicious cup we drink.

George Howell tells me about coffee. But I’m distracted by the large gun behind him.

Recent Posts

March 27, 2024
Every year, just after Valentine’s Day, we start getting the same question in from customers: Will there be a Passover Box this year? Sometimes the pleas are more direct, sometimes more colorful. The glories of the vegetarian Chopped Liver are a common theme. This year, Sarah, an NYC-based friend of mine said she’s spent so much time thinking about the emails describing last year’s box that she’s DRIVING UP TO BOSTON to claim one!
February 15, 2024
We have a new sandwich out everywhere today. It’s a take on a Buffalo Chicken sandwich. We use celery root, aka celeriac, this nobbly, gnarled joy of a winter vegetable. We cut it into planks, batter it with panko, and fry it. We’re getting ours from Norwich Meadows Farm, a farm in NY state that’s known for creating really flavorful organic veggies using a cool irrigation system. 
February 7, 2024
For the week of Valentine’s Day, we’ll be delivering these Making Whoopie (Pie) Kits 😉. They have everything you need to make whoopie pies — more specifically, Chris’ favorite oatmeal cakes with beet buttercream frosting. You’ll also get a scoop for making the perfect size pie, and a roll of sugar cookie dough for more sweet fun.
January 18, 2024
Pull out your plaid and cue up the bagpipes because it’s Clover’s third-ever celebration of Burns Night, an introduction to Scottish food/drink/music/poetry and a reason to raise a glass during this dark and cold month! You may be asking yourself, what is Burns Night?
January 17, 2024
Chances are you’ve tried the new Clover Bowls. We’ve been running them since the Spring. After a few tweaks, we landed on a roster we love: the Mediterranean Bowl, the Verde Rice and Bean Bowl, and a Rotating Seasonal Bowl. The bowls have transformed our menu – Josh, a Kendall customer, recently wrote to us, “The beet poke bowl is the best new item I’ve tried at Clover in years. I love the freshness and bite of the mix of flavors.” We’ve also heard some very good suggestions about how to make them even better…
January 3, 2024
Meet the Veggie Monster Meal Box! Some of you are subscribers to our Friday newsletter about plant-based cooking. Now… that newsletter has spawned a meal box! Pack your fridge with everything you need to make an entire week of vegetable-based meals. Think hearty pot pies; sweet and spicy maple-roasted squash tacos; bowls packed with…
December 20, 2023
New Year’s Eve is no time to be buried in the kitchen, so we pack our NYE Box with Clover fan favorites that come together fast and encourage a night of Finger-Food Feasting. Can you think of anything better than digging into bubbling hot Brussels Sprout Cheese dip on a freezing cold Boston night? Or scooping up our bright nutty Romesco sauce as the clock ticks to midnight?  And our breakthrough Carrot Lox (probably the best thing to come out of our food dev in 2023) will have you resolving to spare more salmon in the year ahead.
December 19, 2023
Stop by Clover today (Tuesday 12/19) and when you order a Brussels Sandwich on the app, we’ll give you $1 off our new chocolate chip cookie! It’s a gift from King Brussels, on his final day in the Clover Kingdom. Use this link to get yours!
December 16, 2023
Are you looking for the perfect gift for a friend who loves Clover? We have online gift cards! You can specify a time that you’d like the card to hit their inbox – and there’s a new feature that lets multiple people pool money to send a card to one person. Pretty cool!  
December 10, 2023
What would we serve if we had all of you over for Christmas dinner? This (epic) box, available only for Christmas, is an homage to the holiday traditions of our Clover staff. And like all Clover boxes, it supports our hardworking Massachusetts farmers, millers, bakers, and cheesemakers. This box is designed to feed you and keep you properly festive throughout a week with different meals/snacks, and can also be laid out all together on a holiday table as one big feast.
December 4, 2023
These sweet potato latkes date back to early days on the Clover food truck. They’re so yummy and the sweet potatoes lend them such a fun golden color. They’re probably the most popular item in our Hanukkah Meal Box, which you can get delivered on December 7th. Inside the box you’ll find: 
November 29, 2023
I’m writing to share some news: we’ve decided to permanently close CloverROW, our outpost in the Assembly Row neighborhood of Somerville. The closure of this restaurant is part of the whole company’s focus on reaching financial sustainability and positioning us for future growth. These decisions are really hard, but they’re necessary steps for us to simplify Clover. And, happily, all the amazing staff at CloverROW, including the manager Joe, will be able to move into other Clover restaurants. The math is straightforward…