Today, a photo from Australia, where one of my personal favorite items carried in the Authentica shops arrived recently. A guest purchased it, we shipped it to his wife, and she kindly confirmed that it arrived safely.
Two years ago, when the pandemic had shut down the airports in Costa Rica and we had no clue how long that would last, we wondered how the artisans and the farmers who supplied our recently opened Authentica shops would fare. We had to ask ourselves what we were going to do with the roughly 7,000 pounds of coffee beans we had contracted to buy from that year’s harvest. The most obvious move was to start roasting in the USA, so we could deliver to customers who had bought from us in Costa Rica and wanted to continue buying.
Cold brew coffee was a brief experiment at the time, but with sufficiently robust results to convince us that when travelers returned we would offer samples. The time has come.
Last week I read an essay explaining the allusive power that human-made objects can have. It got me thinking about St. Kilda. Reading four years ago about that place and its people spurred my imagination sufficiently that the following year I committed to a challenge. The challenge was created by the speed of change impacting travel culture, and the tendency of travel retail to homogenize over time.
Local artisans all over the world were finding their goods displaced in shops oriented to travelers by things made in faraway factories.
Specifically, the commitment was to support local artisans by creating a venue for selling their goods to travelers. Perhaps utopian is a concept too big to apply to this commitment; anyway, maybe the word quixotic is more apt. Authentica offers human-made things for travelers to take home with them, within the context of a travel-retail complex that operates with very different resources and intent.
We understand why the replicas are made, and why people buy them. We refuse to confuse understanding with acquiescence.
The scoop and the bird clip in the image above, two such things I also wrote about two years ago, are examples of local culturally relevant artifacts that we hope will not be outsourced to a factory in another part of the world. The coffee in that image is another example, with a twist. What I like about coffee as a memento is that it is at the intersection of tangible and intangible. It is quintessentially Costa Rican, but once you enjoy the entire bag you no longer possess that thing. As you consume it, it tells you something about Costa Rica. When it is finished you possess a memory of the coffee, and of Costa Rica.
Much more important for the planet as a whole, and for all humanity inhabiting it, is spending, or rather investing, that can have truly global impact. Robinson Meyer, a staff writer at The Atlantic, and author of the newsletter The Weekly Planet, has this useful guide for citizens of the USA:
Climate-concerned donors should focus on helping to pass climate policy, not offset their emissions, an advisory group says.
On a dollar-for-dollar basis, where will your money do the most to fight climate change? Continue reading
How can you gift in a way that does not generate waste, that reduces waste, or that regenerates ecosystems? Sara has a fun and practical list in her Yale Climate Connections column, which I have linked to below. It got me thinking of what I would add to her list. Yesterday I reached back to a couple of posts from two years ago when we were preparing to open the Authentica shops, mentioning products we carry from artisan groups that recycle heavy plastics, in one case, and wood in the other. We have other products made from recycled materials, but our best selling product is Organikos coffee, all of the proceeds of which are invested in ecosystem regeneration. Laura’s question about gifting toward climate action is one we all should be asking:
Holiday cheer that’s good for the planet, too.
I’m trying to find a gift for my mother for Christmas, and I like the idea of gifting toward climate action. Might you have recommendations?
Thank you for your time
Sure thing. Here’s a list of climate-friendly gift ideas for every budget.
A board game, puzzle, houseplant, or other item from your local “Buy Nothing” group (Price: Free)
Why it’s climate-friendly: Manufacturing stuff requires consumption of energy and natural resources, so it’s better for the climate to reuse products rather than buying new. Continue reading
It is clear to me now, after two years of our two Authentica shops offering products made from recycled plastic (among other recycled materials), we will need to be at this for a long time to make a dent. Of all the amazing capabilities we humans have, our ability to generate plastic waste is among the most remarkable. Our thanks to Tik Root for reporting on this finding:
Scientists reveal the U.S. role in the ‘deluge’ of plastic littering the world’s oceans in a congressionally mandated report
The United States ranks as the world’s leading contributor of plastic waste and needs a national strategy to combat the issue, according to a congressionally mandated report released Tuesday. Continue reading
The base of the lamp at my desk is a ceramic bird that serves as a year-round reminder of Thanksgiving. And the ceramic coffee artifacts on my desk serve the same purpose, reminding me each time I sit to work that there are constantly plenty of reasons to give thanks.
We opened two Authentica shops in Costa Rica on Thanksgiving weekend 2019. Sophomore year for both Organikos and Authentica was mettle-testing. We passed. If flying colors were not evident enough in how we passed, here they are in the label for our newest coffee. First introduced last month to a group of students at Cornell University, whose tasting notes we have appreciated receiving, as of today it is available in our shops in Costa Rica.
So, thanks for all that.
We have just placed these books on display in the two Authentica shops in Costa Rica, one at Marriott Los Suenos and the other at Marriott Hacienda Belen. The author, Isabel Campabadal, has been an author and chef for nearly five decades, and is a perfect fit with one of our aims as merchants: respect traditions and respectfully update them with all that the modern world offers.
After completing our work in India and transitioning home to Costa Rica in late 2018, two properties came back to the forefront of my attention. The property above is set on a coffee estate in the Central Valley and the one below is set on a Pacific beachfront property that is 90 minutes from the Central Valley property. I knew both properties during their original construction and opening phases and ever since then believed that these were among the most special Marriott properties in the world.
They were going through renovations that started in 2018 and were to be completed in late 2019. My attention was drawn by a creative new focus on sustainability, the tiniest of examples being this one. Another example was that they invited proposals for how the gift shops in both hotels might be managed differently going forward. We submitted a proposal–with a focus on locally produced and design-forward products–and it was chosen for implementation. The rest is history that I have written about plenty in the last year.
Authentica has started its second year of operation, and Costa Rica has just re-opened its borders to receive international visitors again. These two Marriott properties have transformed operations to ensure maximum safety in response to the global health concerns. Our shops have transformed accordingly, and yet our original intent is as strong as ever: come in and sense the place.
Organikos coffee, our best-selling “taste of place” product, was joined in both shops last week by another way to sense the terrain of Costa Rica’s various regions. Pollen Keepers is a small family business whose bee colonies are placed to capture unique characteristics of a location. One of those is a coffee farm, and the honey produced there is unlike any I have had before. I am still learning the vocabulary for tasting notes for honey, which we have been sampling in recent weeks at home, so will keep it simple: Cafetal is my favorite, so far.
At the end of my freshman year I quit college and went to work as a blacksmith’s apprentice. By the time I realized I did want formal education after all, I had left the smithy behind, spent the next year in Greece studying the language of my mother, and finally was ready to apply myself. Sophomore year was not the year I returned to school, but the year I left it behind, to recalibrate. And it was important, to say the least.
Yesterday was the last day of Authentica’s freshman year. Today, as we start sophomore year, another recalibration. It is not obvious what the new better will be for Authentica. The photo above shows where I have spent time in recent months, planting trees and prepping for coffee planting to get Organikos ready for sophomore year. We know that freshman year is over, and that for both Organikos and Authentica sophomore year is the time of recalibration. Apart from that we know that the sun still rises in the east. That is something.
Organikos had a life before Authentica, but when Authentica opened one year ago the context was different. The Adriatic island and the outpost in India were temporary homes where we were launching projects for clients. Costa Rica is where the entrepreneurial conservation work began, so now we were coming home to stay and build a platform of our own. The logic for Authentica? Several million visitors per year had become the norm for the country over the last couple decades. And for Organikos? On average one million bags of coffee went home in the luggage of those visitors each year, mostly to the USA. Authentica’s location in two of Costa Rica’s most successful hotels would allow Organikos coffee to increase that flow. Good logic, no question.
Until now. This year international tourism is a fraction of that norm, and next year is likely to be similar. It would be easy to see the glass as less than half full, but instead we are looking for ways to refill the glass. We want those million bags of coffee to reach all the people who have either already fallen in love with Costa Rica, or are yet to.
Particularly for those people who have come, or want to come to Costa Rica to support its conservation commitments, our goal now is to provide an alternative way to lend that support. With our coffee as a taste of place alternative while travel is on hold, we have set up a platform for roasting and delivering 4 of our 12 coffee selections in the USA. And we continue to commit that 100% of the profits from the sale of these coffees goes to bird habitat regeneration initiatives in Costa Rica. Our first such initiative is in progress, but we want to expand our conservation outreach. One way to do this might be by partnering with conservation NGOs in Costa Rica. We are starting to explore this option.
La Paz Group, having sponsored and administered this site since its inception, was the name up top until yesterday. Now the name Organikos makes more sense up there. For those of you who have been following us for any length of time, this probably does not come as a surprise. We have been talking about Organikos more and more frequently in the last two years. In late August, 2019 La Paz Group opened two Authentica shops in Costa Rica and that is when and where Organikos started selling coffee. As Organikos prepares to sell coffee in both the USA and Costa Rica with its own virtual shop, sponsorship of this platform makes sense. The themes–entrepreneurial conservation especially, and you can see the others on the right column–remain the same. Thanks for visiting.
The 12 selections of Organikos specialty coffees had enough time on display at the Authentica shops, prior to current circumstances in Costa Rica and everywhere else, to establish the organic selection as a top seller.
During those months–the shops fully opened in late November and until early March were nonstop full of guests–I had hundreds of conversations with travelers.
I got excellent feedback on our original coffee packaging. Briefly stated, the recurring message was that people wanted to “see more Costa Rica” on the package. They also wanted to know more about what our 100% Forward commitment meant. We have used the time since travel halted to work with our graphic designer to begin addressing that feedback.
We also have used this time to prepare a virtual approach to the business, focused on coffee at the outset. We will start with the organic, due to its performance during the shops’ peak operations. We will offer this for home delivery in the USA soon…
Authentica was conceived as a shop that would constantly be renewed by the creative forces surrounding us in Costa Rica. Artisans who shape wood in a way that we consider to be quintessentially Costa Rica, or sourced in a way we consider to be more virtuous. Ceramic pieces that evoke Costa Rica. Foods and beverages that offer a taste of place like nothing else. Today we have a new set of products to talk about, starting with the one in the photo above. Known here as ojoche, but in other places as ramon, or especially as Maya nut; known in Latin by its botanical name as brosimum alicastrum. There is a story to tell, too long for one post but it started for me in Belize. A new plot line…
It started as an experiment a few weeks ago. Small wooden odds and ends, leftover pieces from one of our toy producers, placed in the tumbler, produced what we saw as handfuls of nature. We placed them in the tub above.
Would people buy these instead of the magnetic stones offered in other gift shops? We have our answer.
Is the tub half empty, or half full? Perspective is everything.
When we moved to Costa Rica in the mid-1990s one dimension of my work required analysis of the handicrafts sector as part of the nascent tourism industry. That led to my getting to know one of the country’s pioneering wood turners, Barry Biesanz. We have been friends ever since, and as we started planning for what is now Authentica, a range of Biesanz wood products were the first we committed to.
Above is a bowl not currently on display in Authentica, but it is a favored part of our home collection. Last year one of the old trees behind our home came down in a storm. Barry sent a few of his workmen to help clear it away. Months later this bowl was gifted to us, one of many bowls he had been able to craft from the wood from that tree. In the sign we have placed with his work, note the reference to defects. You can see those in the bowl above. During the last year Barry also introduced us to other Costa Rican artisans, and we have featured their work alongside his in the two shops.
Pia is one of Costa Rica’s talented ceramicists. She is also a friend, thanks to an introduction from a mutual friend last year. The mutual friend had studied with Pia and when learning of our plans for Authentica to feature local artists and artisans, the fix was in. Before long, we had something of our own (middle picture, upper shelf, small green cream pitcher) from her collection. We chose a small selection of her work to feature in the shops.
To make the best use of the citrus in your life, visit Authentica and find this item. You may already have a fancy electric gadget that can perform the same function as this juicer, and it may seem self-evidently superior.
I beg to differ. First, on the experience: the mix of metal, plastic and/or glass of the electric juicer, designed for speed, eliminates any inherent satisfaction that either the fruit or the tool might provide. Holding this wooden juicer made by our friends at Ceiba Design Collective is a form of time travel. It resembles one I first saw in 1969. And that one likely resembled juicers in use in that village for hundreds of years, typically made of olive wood.
Secondly, I beg to differ on utility. Electric juicers may get the job done quicker, but this juicer gets another, more important job done. Its carbon footprint is a tiny fraction of the electric one, starting with construction and finishing with the use of electricity. And this is made by a group of craftsmen in Costa Rica who work with wood that has been recycled from previous use–timbers or railings from old homes–or wood from trees felled by storms. Experience + utility + sustainability = an authentic Costa Rica takeaway.
Authentica opened the first of its two shops last week, and this post is a quick statement of what occurred to me while looking across the shop once all the displays were set up. Back in early June I thought that two words simultaneously riffing off the concept of creative destruction, and our two decades of practicing entrepreneurial conservation, was enough of a tag line for saying what we are doing.
But now three more words seem worthy of adding to the mix. Because across this room it is clear that the pursuit of creative conservation is contextual and very specific; we are doing this all for artisans. I do not mean that just in the sense that we are completely motivated to do what Authentica is doing, for the sake of artisans, though that is true. The variety of items on display–colorful totems of Costa Rica’s culture, design-forward textiles, sensuous ceramics and turned wood objects, specialty coffees and artisanal chocolates–made clear now that Authentica should be more explicit. Say clearly that all proceeds from every sale in Authentica get reinvested back into building a better economy for artisans. Maybe it can be said in fewer than five words, the way 100% Forward says all that Organikos needs to say. Brevity is the soul of wit, and wit is a powerful currency. I will work on it in the days to come.
In the photo above, the view is from our home up to the home of a friend who grows coffee in the upper reaches of Escazu. He is an agronomist whose foremost specialty is bananas, which he has helped farmers grow more effectively throughout Latin America. I mentioned his coffee at the start of this year when we were meeting farmers, chocolatiers, and local artisans, knowing we would launch Authentica, and its sibling venture Organikos sometime this year.
We ended up not choosing that particular coffee as one of our 12 offerings, but every tasting, every artisan meeting, every event we have attended to find things that offer “taste of place” and that look and feel like the essence of Costa Rica–all have been helpful in establishing our product line.
Escazu, where we live, where the idea for Authentica started and also where Organikos is situated is an ideal location for what we do. The festival of masks, organized by the community, is an example of why: local pride, sense of place, sharing with others.