We talk to the co-owner of Pacific Coffee Research in Hawaii about growing up in Southern California, falling in love with Hawaiian coffee, and more.
BY CHRIS RYAN
BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Cover photo by Lauren Thormodsgard
Madeleine Longoria-Garcia thought she was destined for a career in the nonprofit music industry. However, during a post-college period of restlessness, she caught the travel bug, which took her to Hawaii, Australia, and beyond, and then back to the Big Island, where she currently lives now, as a co-owner of coffee education center Pacific Coffee Research. In the first section of our two-part conversation with Madeleine, we talk about her path to discovering coffee and working in Hawaii.
Chris Ryan: Can you tell us a bit about your background? I understand you were born in Los Angeles; what was your childhood like there, and what did you study/plan to pursue professionally before you got interested in coffee?
Madeleine Longoria Garcia: Growing up in Los Angeles was dynamic—I was born and raised there. It’s a crazy place and I was very ready to leave when I did, taking the first opportunity I had to live somewhere else when I moved away for college at 17. Once I left, though, I realized how lucky I was to have grown up there: I was constantly exposed to different languages, foods, music, art, and people throughout my entire childhood. In college, I was suddenly interacting with people who had a very different childhood than mine. I think it taught me a lot about embracing diversity in every sense of the word.
I went to school at the University of Puget Sound and graduated with a degree in Business & Leadership and minored in Latin American Studies and Music. I interned with music festivals for two summers and had big plans to work in the nonprofit music industry, either in development or events management. During my senior year, though, I realized I really didn’t want to work in a 9-to-5 office job. So, while all my friends were getting jobs at tech companies, consulting agencies, and accounting firms, I was trying to figure out how to avoid that path for as long as possible.
How did coffee enter the picture for you?
I had worked in our university’s café for most of my college life and ended up being one of the managers there. I found that I really enjoyed it and I got to attend barista trainings with a couple of local roasting companies. Once I graduated, I was jobless and really uncertain of what I was going to do for the next year or two. I ended up moving to Spain for a few months and traveled around, too. When I got back to the United States that December, I was broke and sick and sleeping on my mom’s couch. I needed a job ASAP and turned to coffee. As I told my mom: “I like working in cafés, I’m good at it, and I can walk away from it at any time.”
Back then, I thought I was just going to do this for a year or two before shifting back toward the music industry. Well, that never really happened and I definitely ate those words! I’ve now worked in coffee for nearly 11 years.
Can you describe how that decision eventually led you to Hawaii, and why you were interested to work in coffee there?
(Laughs) I honestly don’t know if it was coffee or naive restlessness that led me to Hawai’i. (Ed note: Madeleine uses the technically correct spelling of the island, with an okina between the last two letters.) When I got that first full-time coffee job after college, I was living in Silicon Valley and I was miserable. The Bay Area was not for me and I was looking for every opportunity to leave. I also had this major travel bug. One night, I was up late and applied for a Work and Holiday visa in Australia. To my surprise, it was electronically granted to me by the next morning and suddenly I had a deadline—I had to enter Australia within the next 365 days if I wanted to use that visa. If I didn’t, the opportunity was gone forever (you can’t reapply for this visa once it expires). At the same time, my dad had connections with a woman in Hawai’i who happened to grow coffee on her land. We thought Hawai’i could be a nice stopping point for a few months before moving to Australia—plus, I’d be able to learn a bit about coffee farming! A month later, I packed up and got on a plane to Hawai’i.
What started as a three- to four-month plan in Hawai’i, ended up being extended to nine months as I transitioned to a full-time café job once harvest season was over. And, even then, I didn’t really want to leave, but I also didn’t want my visa to go to waste. After a year and a half of living and traveling in Australia and Southeast Asia, I really missed Hawai’i. I thought about it all the time and how much I missed coffee here. I still worked in coffee in Australia, but I missed the opportunities working in coffee in Hawai’i presented. I mean, when I lived here that first time, I was harvesting coffee in the mornings and then working in a café in the afternoons. It was awesome. I missed being that close to it all—harvest season, processing, flowering season—while also working as a barista. So, I moved back and then left for Central America six months later, and then moved back again. It was a lot of bouncing around; like I said, I had (and still do have) this insatiable desire to travel. Hawai’i has now officially been home for the last 3.5 years.
We will continue our conversation with Madeleine next week.