By Kara Witherow, Editor
In the heart of Coffee County, Ga. a dentist and a part-time local pastor are helping make disciples and transform a small part of the world, one cup of coffee at a time.
What began with a short-term mission trip to El Salvador nearly six years ago has grown into El Camino Coffee, an artisanal coffee company that specializes in single-origin brews.
Rev. Chris Calhoun, pastor of St. Mark United Methodist Church in Douglas, and Dr. Griff Lindsey, a dentist and member of Douglas First United Methodist Church, started the coffee roasting company to raise money for mission trips and to support the missions and ministry efforts of the community they work with in Ahuachapan, El Salvador.
They were looking for a sustainable, year-round fundraiser and way to support the El Salvadoran community. Coffee made sense: Ahuachapan is in the center of an agricultural region that produces primarily coffee, and Rev. Calhoun and Dr. Lindsey, like many others, enjoy a good cup of coffee.
In the four years since they started El Camino Coffee, Rev. Calhoun and Dr. Lindsey have raised thousands of dollars for missions and have had countless opportunities to share their faith and witness to customers, suppliers, and anyone interested in their venture. They are eager to share that El Camino means “The Way” in Spanish and that Jesus is the way to salvation.
“Coffee opens the door for conversations about faith and gives us opportunities for evangelism,” Rev. Calhoun said, telling stories of suppliers who ask about the origin of the name and how and why the company was started. “It gives us opportunities to tell people about the mission and the gospel. For most people one of the most difficult parts of being a Christian is witnessing and evangelizing because it can be uncomfortable, but this makes it easy to start that conversation.”
Not only does El Camino Coffee make a difference, it tastes different. Roasted just a few days before being purchased, brewed, and enjoyed, it tastes better, connoisseurs say, than the basic store-bought brew. Rev. Calhoun and Dr. Lindsey buy 150-pound bags of green coffee beans from growers in El Salvador and roast their coffee in small batches. It’s fresher and more flavorful than the coffee found on supermarket shelves because it’s usually less than a week old instead of months or years old.
“Coffee is like food. Anything that is fresh is better than something that is old and stale,” said Rev. Calhoun, who started roasting green coffee beans in a hand-crank Whirley Pop popcorn popper before his wife banned him from roasting in the kitchen after he burned the first batch. Back then they could only roast about half a pound of coffee per batch and it took more than a month of nightly roasting to have enough coffee for one fundraising event.
Today they roast their coffee beans in an antique Royal Roaster roasting drum. Made in the early 1900s, it can roast 20 pounds of coffee per batch, which greatly increases their production. They also recently expanded to include a Columbian roast in their coffee lineup. Unlike most store-bought varietals, their coffees remain single origin, meaning that the entire one-pound bag of coffee is sourced from a single producer, crop, or region in either El Salvador or Columbia.
They have roasted nearly 1,000 pounds of coffee beans, using the hours together as opportunities to bond and strengthen their faith, relationships, and connection to one another.
They also feel a connection toward the El Salvadoran people and community through the coffee. The community they have traveled to and served with since 2011 is deep in the heart of coffee country, so buying El Salvadoran coffee beans seemed a good way to stay connected to the people and country they had grown to love.
“I feel like every time we roast coffee we are helping someone a little bit, either by selling the coffee and raising some money and going on mission trips … or by supporting the coffee growers in El Salvador,” Dr. Lindsey said.
Interested in learning more about El Camino Coffee or in making a purchase? Visit their Facebook page or their soon-to-be-launched website, www.elcaminocoffee.org. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (912) 381-6970.