June 10, 2016

Like the amazing, inspirational and iconic speaker of freewill, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, born and bred in Atlanta, had a dream -- a dream we could treat each other with respect, admiration and live as equals, no matter the color of our skin.  The city of Atlanta is a city like no other -- a city of tremendous culture, southern hospitality and the common decency of those around you.  Both Ron Cortez and myself single-handedly felt and witnessed the utmost respect, honesty and love not only from those who were part of the SCAA (Specialty Coffee Association of America), but more importantly, the individuals in our general surroundings.  Whether you're for or against the SCAA, there's one common connection that brings those who are part of or attend the expo -- a passion for coffee, people and community -- not to mention the dedication to further educate those interested in learning about the craft of coffee.  

Photograph of a photograph courtesy of Jonathan Warren Carroll (MLK with wife Coretta Scott King, photograph hung at the MLK Historical Site in Atlanta, Georgia)

Each and everyone of us has a dream.  Perhaps it is to be a better human being everyday we are alive, to abide by the Golden Rule, to treat people the way they should be treated -- to never judge a book by its cover.   Our dream revolves around coffee and community and it took us on a road trip that we will never forget thanks in large part to MLK, the city of Atlanta, coffee culture and the strength and courage it takes to start and run your own small and independent coffee shop.  There are quite a few of us that don't have the financial means to start a business, to fight for what we want or apply the necessary skills for making a start-up business work.  Obviously, these are important factors and potentially imperative to run a successful small business.  However, these aren't enough reasons to give up or quit, especially if you're an individual who strives to do whatever it takes to fulfill your dream (whatever that is). There are other ways, resources and generous people who assist in turning dreams into realities -- it just takes persistence, patience and hard work to pursue it.  

Photograph courtesy of Jonathan Warren Carroll (interior of Mylo Coffee in Little Rock, Arkansas)

Our journey to Atlanta, Georgia began on Tuesday morning, April 12th, 2016.  We picked up the rental car and drove from Tempe to Atlanta in roughly 28-30 hours.  To give you a better understanding, it's roughly a 26-hour drive, but we knew we'd be stopping at various coffee shops along the way (not only to check out what other local shops were doing, but we desperately needed the caffeine pick-me-up).  We stopped at a few local spots in New Mexico (Epiphany Espresso + Trifecta Coffee Company), followed up by Elemental Coffee in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Next, we travelled to the amazing city of Little Rock, Arkansas, where we found a gem -- Mylo Coffee.  Our next stop before Georgia was Memphis, Tennessee.  We grabbed a few cappuccinos at Tamp & Tap.  After filling up on caffeine and gasoline (in the car, not our stomachs), we hit the road again, this time landing in Atlanta, Georgia.  For a few days, I took it upon myself to check out the local Atlanta coffee scene.  Here's where I went:  Octane Coffee (Grant Park), Taproom Coffee, Condesa Coffee,  Brash Coffee, Spiller Park Coffee, Revelator Coffee, Aurora Coffee, Amelie's French Bakery, Dancing Goats + Hodgepodge.

Photograph courtesy of Jonathan Warren Carroll (Octane Coffee/Grant Park) in Atlanta, Georgia

Photograph courtesy of Jonathan Warren Carroll (Taproom Coffee) in Atlanta, Georgia

Photograph courtesy of Jonathan Warren Carroll (Brash Coffee in Atlanta, Georgia)

Considering I am a die-hard Braves fan (weird considering I'm a born and bred Phoenician), the fact of the matter is that my father was a huge "Hammerin' Hank" (Hank Aaron) fan, not to mention a Boston to Milwaukee to Atlanta Braves fan.  He basically raised us (my older brother and I) on Atlanta and TBS (Turner Broadcasting System) and turned us onto America's Pastime -- baseball.  It was a real treat to see Turner Field in-person (where the Atlanta Braves play) to take photographs and spend $5 checking out the museum, but it also made me appreciate all that I have in life (my triumphs, heartaches and everything in between).  I never imagined baseball would make me feel the way I do, but perhaps it wasn't baseball at all.  Perhaps it was Atlanta;  its beauty, spirit and culture that woke me up to realize how appreciative and thankful I am to everyone who's been around and supported me throughout the years.  It's these life experiences that we cherish and change us for the greater good.  It happened to me.  

Photograph courtesy of Jonathan Warren Carroll (statue of legendary Hall of Famer and one of the greatest ballplayers on the planet, Hank Aaron at Turner Field in Atlanta, Georgia)

It was rather difficult leaving Atlanta -- considering the new memories that were embedded in my brain for life, the great coffee shops I experienced, the great coffee professionals I met, socialized with and exchanged numbers in an effort to keep in touch.  I believe the most difficult thing was leaving behind the hospitality.  People were incredibly thoughtful, warm, caring and considerate.  Maybe it really is a "southern" thing, maybe not.  Either way, it's certainly apples to oranges attempting to compare Phoenix to Atlanta -- they're just vastly different in all aspects.

Photograph courtesy of Jonathan Warren Carroll (at a post-SCAA party)

Photograph courtesy of Jonathan Warren Carroll (with the wonderful Matti Foncha, founder of Cameroon Boyo, his daughter, Emile (Azie) and her mother, Cynthia)

Regardless, the week-long experience changed me into having more appreciation for people, the lives they live, their hopes and dreams, their willingness to strive for something better. We should all want a better life, but you have to fight for it.  Never settle.  NEVER allow someone to make you believe you cannot accomplish goals and dreams -- ultimately turning those accomplishments into success.  It's a wonderful thing to have a support system in place (family/close friends), but the truth of the matter is that you and only you can believe in yourself and what you're capable of accomplishing in life.   Cherish the memories.  Live life to the fullest.  Treat those around you with respect and love and great things will start to happen.  

Photograph courtesy of Jonathan Warren Carroll (Amelie's French Bakery in Atlanta, Georgia)

As I left Atlanta around 7:15pm (Atlanta time) on Sunday, April 19th, again, it was hard to leave, but easy to focus on all of the positive things that had occurred, yet exciting to head back to Phoenix, my family and friends (even if it was only a week).   I ended up reaching Dallas, Texas around 10:30am and knew I desperately needed coffee, so I stopped at Houndstooth Coffee (had purchased a full pound of Octane's "White Lighting," a few days prior and asked the baristas to grind some of the beans so we could taste it.  I also ordered one of their Ethiopian pour over coffees.   After spending an hour there (half asleep) and editing photographs I had taken days earlier, it was time once again to hit the road.  I only had 14 more hours to go.  Although I wanted to stop at a few shops in Fort Worth, Texas and a few in El Paso, Texas, I wanted to save my energy for taking naps at rest stops -- I just wanted to get home to my own bed.  I think we all feel the same way.  Sometimes, we just want to get back to normalcy --  HOME.  

Photograph courtesy of Jonathan Warren Carroll (Houndstooth Coffee in Dallas, Texas)

All in all, it was an amazing experience.  26 hours is nuts.  I can't imagine I would drive home alone on the next venture, but sometimes we all want our independence.  It felt like an eternity, but through a few hailstorms, what looked like an actual tornado in Texas (ended up not being one), driving through sheets of rain for seven straight hours (at night) and nearly hitting animals on the highway, it was one week I will never forget.  

Photograph courtesy of Jonathan Warren Carroll (Cappuccino at Brash Coffee in Atlanta, Georgia)

Now I'm home.  It's time to drink some coffee.