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What's in a Name? Getting to Know Free Bird

  • by Joshua Millman

What’s in a name? I’m getting that question a lot these days, as people seem to want to get a better understanding of where the names come from. Simply put, the names of our coffees are not only the titles of songs that I love, but also tend to be a reflective commentary that takes me back to the exact moment when I first tasted the coffee or the state of mind that I'm in when roasting or drinking it. And we’ll get to that in a moment, but first I want to tell you why I love this coffee so much and what served as the impetus for bringing it into the Passion House family.

What first captivated me about this coffee was that it was 100% Typica varietal and that sealed the deal. One of the most culturally and genetically important C. arabica coffees in the world, with very high quality in Central America, it is very well-adapted to the coldest conditions, and the more I think and reflect on our program, I really have a thing for beans grown at high altitude. The cold weather and thin air creates an environment perfect for developing wonderful natural acidity in the beans, and in my opinion, is a very important factor in creating a balanced coffee. Acidity is also something I love in coffee, and it has become a foundational hallmark in my roasting philosophy. In the end, acid wins.

This was the first time we ever bought coffee from the Covadonga farm, and it set the stage for what has turned out to be a fabulous relationship. Covadonga is a small estate located in the region of Antigua, and has been a family owned enterprise for over one hundred years. The Finca Covadonga coffee farm is composed of dedicated farmers along with a vast knowledge and passion for coffee. The estate has been evolving and experimenting over the years with different shade and planting strategies as well as working with various varieties of coffee. At the farm they composted nearly 40% of our pulp from the harvest to later apply on the soil and also distribute to other small shareholder farmers that are up on the Volcán de Agua on the San Juan del Obispo side. The picking of this farm is among the most impressive we see every harvest, and the sorting is impeccable. Antigua is nestled within three volcanoes, and I have to admit, there’s something I personally love about saying we make a coffee that is ground a land of fire.

On the cupping table (this is the expression for when we pour and taste the coffee), this coffee stood out beyond all the rest with how complex it was. Roasting a single varietal is easier to roast than a blend of varieties, and when that variety possesses all the things I love about coffee, I get excited about its potential. This coffee fits perfectly within our lineup because it’s both extremely complex and very approachable. Super sweet, really nice body and just a pleasure to drink. Even though it’s freezing in Chicago, this coffee is a burst of light for me. I can picture myself on a warm afternoon, sitting on the porch in the mountains, taking my time sipping this coffee and pondering the yonder. I consider myself to be a free spirit and with this image in my mind and this coffee in hand it makes me feel free as a bird, and that's the initial reason I chose the name. 

The song itself is more about being free, and was dedicated to Duane Allman, from the classic Allman Brothers who died in a motorcycle crash. And much like this coffee, nobody will ever forget that guitar solo. This song almost never saw the light of day, because Ronnie Van Zant (the lead singer of Lynyrd Skynyrd) felt he couldn’t write lyrics to the the chords of the song. With the tenacity of the other band members, it finally clicked with Ronnie and the rest is history. Much like how PH started out as a dream, and through grit, drive and tenacity, we are working to inspire other people to be free as a bird and pursue their own passions. I am sure you have heard people yelling out at concerts, “Free Bird!” Well, we want you to feel the same for this coffee. 

The first stanza of the song has always resonated with me:

If I leave here tomorrow,

Would you still remember me?

For I must be traveling on now

‘Cause there’s too many places I’ve got to see

I’m so lucky to have the opportunity to do what I love and follow my dreams. I wouldn’t be here without the support of my wife, children, friends and family, and I feel it’s this internal need to be free that has helped me carry on this path amidst the ups and downs that comes with running a business and building a community full of mutual respect and love. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, and it’s that free spirit and experience of traveling the world that inspired me to begin this journey and continues to inspire me every day.


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