As the lockdown around the world continues, with no end in sight, you might be sitting at home wishing you could travel to some exciting location. But, with just a coffee grinder, a mug, and some fresh filtered water you can be transported to Brazil, Colombia, or Vietnam. Enter: Coffee Tasting. Like wine tasting, this experience encourages you to dive deeper into the body and depth of the coffee, and learn how to taste its origins. This “travel” is available to almost everyone and can be done in the comfort of your own home. Coffee tasting is a wonderful way to take a pause and savor a moment to yourself, and here you can learn how to prepare your coffee, the different flavor profiles you can taste, and how to taste where your coffee originated.

Coffee tasting, or cupping as many industry professionals call it, only requires a few things to participate. Firstly, a coffee of your choice, preferably whole coffee beans, rather than ground coffee or instant coffee. Next, a freshly cleaned coffee grinder. You don’t want to have any remnants of the last coffee you ground remaining that could affect your tasting profile. You’ll also need fresh filtered water, a brewer, and a spoon. Lastly, you will need a ceramic mug. A ceramic mug is crucial because it doesn’t soak up any flavors, nor does it pass on any flavors into the coffee.

So how do you begin? After grinding and preparing your coffee, there are several steps involved in the coffee tasting. The starting steps involve your sense of smell. After pouring your cup, let it sit for around 4 minutes to let the flavors “bloom.” Once the 4 minutes are up, sniff your coffee by bringing your nose to the mug and inhaling, and note what you smell. You want to bring your nose to the coffee, rather than bringing the coffee to your nose so as to not disturb this top layer of smells. After this initial smell, take a spoon and dip it into the coffee, which releases another round of aromas. Take a sniff again and acknowledge the different notes you smell. Following these rounds of smelling comes your tasting. Get a spoonful of coffee and sip it, allowing it to coat your entire palate.

There are 3 questions you should ask yourself while you are tasting your coffee, according to Blue Bottle Coffee Lab: 1. How does this taste?

2. Why do I like it?

3. Or, why do I not like it?

Answering these questions each time you do a coffee tasting will help you develop your “sensory spectrum” and your palate. The more coffee tastings you do, the more you will be able to pick out the individual flavors. These flavor profiles fall into 5 categories:

1. Sweetness

Can you taste any sweetness or sugary-like quality in the coffee? Does it remind you of a specific type of sweet, like honey or syrup or vanilla? Or maybe it’s a type of sugar, like brown or white? Try and parse out what the sweetness is reminiscent of. You can even get out these different sweet products and taste them side-by-side with your coffee.

2. Body

The body of the coffee is how “weighty” it feels in your mouth. Does the coffee feel thick or thin in consistency?

3. Acidity

When you taste your coffee, does it taste bright? That is the level of acidity. It can be positive or negative depending on the person, so savor the taste and see if you like it. Compare that acidity to a lemon, a lime, or something else that is bright and sharp.

4. Flavor

This is where you can really dive deep and compare the taste to different foods or drinks you have in your flavor memory. Is it florally like a rose? Is it fruity like a berry or citrus? Maybe it has a similar profile to a wine you’ve had or a liquor. There are so many different flavors that it can be difficult to sift through. That’s why The Specialty Coffee Association of America created a coffee wheel that breaks down the basic flavor you’re tasting and helps you narrow down the precise taste in your coffee.

5. Finish

This is the final impression the coffee gives you right as you swallow. Concentrate and see what type of flavor remains in your mouth. Is it sweet? Dry? Lingering? Process what is left.

As you taste coffee more and more, you will begin to discover the unique flavor profiles that come from the origin of the beans. There are many different components that influence the taste of your coffee, including whether it’s an Arabica or a Robusta species of coffee bean, the climate where it is grown, and how it is prepared after harvesting. All coffee is processed, but depending on the region, coffee is processed differently after the initial harvest. Some coffees allow the cherry that encases the bean to dry and shrivel before removing the bean. This leaves behind a sweet, complex flavor. Others wash the cherry off immediately because it is quicker, leaving a bright, acidic taste.

For example, a coffee from Central America is more acidic and has an apple profile because of the way it is processed, whereas Columbian coffees are less acidic, with more of a caramel sweetness. Brazilian coffees have a chocolate taste. Ethiopian coffees are the most difficult to identify because they use two different processes to prepare their coffee. In Ethiopia, If the cherry is dried around the bean before the bean is removed, then the coffee has a flavor reminiscent of a berry. If the cherry is immediately removed from the bean by washing it, the coffee is more jasmine-y and lighter. There are many more individual regions that produce coffee that you can try, but these regions are some of the biggest producers in the world, so it’s likely you will have a coffee from one of the places mentioned.

Hosting a coffee tasting or participating in one yourself can be a wonderful way to experience the unique tastes and flavor profiles of different regions in the world. Each region has its own processes that produce a specific and distinctive bean. One critical component to consider while doing a coffee tasting is whether your coffee is certified fair trade. Having the certification ensures that your coffee is coming from a farm that performs environmental sustainability and fair labor practices. There are so many resources out there that can help you continue to enhance your palate. The more you sample and analyze coffees, the easier it will become to identify individual tastes and flavors. Have fun cupping and traveling the world through your coffee!


Photo credit: Diana Bermudez

What comes to mind when you hear the term Indigenous Peoples?

Is it thoughts of long-vanished, ancient cultures? Perhaps the kind of civilizations that you can only read about in history books or study the remnants of at museums?

Or does the phrase bring to the surface feelings of admiration and empathy? Maybe it even activates treasured memories of experiences with living, breathing, persevering human beings with a rich heritage and wealth of wisdom.

If you’ve been tuning into our social media over the previous few months, we hope your answer to that question is closer to the latter.

On the heels of a tsunami of knowledge spread on Indigenous People’s Day (and magnified by Native American Heritage Month in November), we’ve sought to raise awareness about the issues faced by the descendants of those who survived massacres and the scourge of colonization. By amplifying their knowledge and experiences, we’ve been allies in shedding light on crucial social issues such as: the epidemic of missing/murdered Indigenous women, land theft, and cultural genocide through whitewashing and appropriation.

Now, in this new year of opportunity, it’s a great time to reconnect with the Native causes closest to our hearts and create a plan of action for allyship. Here’s a recap of 3 things everyone should know about Indigenous Peoples.

1. “We’re Still Here"

How would you feel if people spoke as though you no longer existed?

Especially while you were living, working, and fighting for all the world to see.

Aboriginal Australians, Native Americans, Indigenous African tribes and other Indigenous Peoples..they’re not mythical relics of a bygone era. They all continue to live and persevere despite all that’s been done to them over the centuries.

Photo credit: The Meraki Story

For example, here are some staggering stats from The Meraki Story:

  • Indigenous women face murder rates that are 10 times the national average

  • In 2018, there were 5,712 known incidents of missing Indigenous women but only 116 registered with the DOJ

  • Homicide is the fifth leading cause of death for Indigenous women

  • Suicide rates for Native American women in 2019 were up 139% (USA Today)

  • Native Americans are three times more likely to have diabetes and having a life expectancy that is 5.5 years less than the US average ( US Department of Health)

And yet, the knowledge of their traditions and awareness of their struggles for basic human rights has continued to progress. In spite of generational trauma, the destruction of their homes, theft of their land, pollution of their water, and the continued killings - they persist. Their distinct cuisines, customs, music, dance, art and stories have a worldwide reach.

2. Thanksgiving Is A Colonizer Holiday

There’s a familiar saying: “History is written by the victors.”

But can we agree that there’s no victory in a series of massacres? No honor in the theft of lives, land, and natural resources? No gratitude in the cleansing and burying of entire histories and traditions? Because that’s what Thanksgiving was and is a continuation of in the eyes of First Nations.

Thanksgiving wasn’t the genesis of unity between settlers and the Wampanoag people. Nor was it the focus of some mutually beneficial cooperation between the invaders and natives. In fact, some Native American tribes consider it an official Day of Mourning. A reminder of either a celebrated genocide or evidence of the willful indifference to the truth of those times.

Indigenous voices say it best. Project Native Hope shared this quote from the United American Indians of New England:

"Thanksgiving day is a reminder of the genocide of millions of Native people, the theft of Native lands, and the relentless assault on Native culture. Participants in National Day of Mourning honor Native ancestors and the struggles of Native peoples to survive today. It is a day of remembrance and spiritual connection as well as a protest of the racism and oppression which Native Americans continue to experience."

Lastly, giving thanks (regularly, spontaneously and w/o obligation) is a central tenet of many older civilizations. It is a decidedly more sustainable and rewarding tradition than a whitewashed and commercialized Thanksgiving holiday.

3. Land Loss & Land Defenders

How much land has been stolen from your family? From your people, country, or even you individually? For First Peoples the world over, being dispossessed is a common (even expected) narrative. Generations of their children are born into this fight and are raised to continue reaching for what’s rightfully theirs as stipulated by numerous treaties.

This struggle to reclaim what was taken and hold on to what remains affects all of us. Why? Because the deeply ingrained lifestyle of harmonious, balanced living with the environment makes them among the best stewards of the natural world. From the Amazon Rainforest to Native reservations across the United States, communities organize to keep both countries and corporations from extracting resources from the land in a way that harms our habitats for the worse.

Mind-altering fact: One-third of the world’s remaining intact forests are found in Indigenous regions, according to Amazon Frontlines. So, as true defenders, they have a vested interest in preserving the land itself along with their legal rights to it. Those efforts protect us all during a time when our planet is facing a climate crisis. The original inhabitants are defending land and helping the world avert environmental disaster.

What Now? From Awareness To Action

Change is happening.

Battles are being fought on countless social and environmental fronts.

How can we be silent now that we know the scope of what’s at stake and how many lives are tied to these causes? In closing, here are a few guidelines on how to get started:

  • Be more aware of the history of your home, the land it’s on, the people who were there before.

  • Find out (directly from Indigenous sources) what’s specifically being advocated for in your area and how you can help.

  • Listen to those who live everyday with the fallout from centuries of heinous, unrectified wrongs that are continuing on a daily basis.

  • Let’s use our power of privilege. In our homes, at work, and through socio-political organizations in order to affect real change. Speak up and be an active ally.

Join in solidarity with Native causes. Through education, empathy, understanding, and actions we can transform their struggle into our fight.

“Speaking for myself, travel has changed me as a person. It’s made me more aware of my privilege and how to utilize it.”

- Catarina Rivera, Co-Founder

With a deep passion for exploring the less Instagram-able path, co-founders Catarina Rivera and her partner Remi Oguntoye recognized a crucial need for a more meaningful approach to travel that addresses sustainability and social justice. The end result: ExplorEquity. Eden Flaherty of Catalyst took the opportunity to interview Catarina in spring 2020 as part of the CATALYST Travel and Purpose podcast series, which interviews global travelers who have had social impact experiences.

Since that time, the pandemic has brought our signature small group trips to a pause. On top of that, the vast destruction wrought in Honduras by Hurricane Eta has cost many lives and left hundreds of thousands without the basic essentials. We hope this interview feeds your wanderlust for Honduras while also reminding us all of how critical our support is at this very moment!

We’ve included a link to the audio and some top highlights from our interview which shed insider insights on ExplorEquity’s mission, our personal journey in Honduras, and how we can all be a part of this enriching movement as we adventure.

Interview Highlights:

Eden Flaherty: How did you choose Honduras both as a country to visit and as the site for your next trip?

Catarina Rivera: The exciting thing about that is - we were contacted by a company called Choose Honduras (CH). They reached out to us because they saw a trip we’d done in Puerto Rico (2018) and they loved our model! They invited us to come and check out Honduras – a country which hadn’t even been on our travel radar. But, my partner and I decided to go on a research trip there, partner up with CH, and see what they were doing regarding sustainable travel.

Long Story Short: We absolutely loved it! Discovering so many different parts of the country, authentically connecting with the locals, and learning all their stories was amazing!

EF: You’d mentioned CH reaching out to you because of (EE) business model. Could you tell us more about your company and its approach to social issues while on trips?

CR: EE creates authentic experiences that support local communities while connecting travelers to REAL social justice issues like food sovereignty, climate change, and sustainability. But, what’s really special about our mission is – we’re building on a theme with each and every trip as we center the experience on substantial conversations with local people and indigenous cultures.

To have that built into an itinerary is a rare find because you need to do a lot of personal research, curation, and building face-to-face relationships. For example, in Puerto Rico, we spent many months building a network with like-minded natives who ultimately hosted our travel adventures. We noticed and were fulfilled by the fact that it was normal for conversations with them to be lengthy and in-depth. All of us would group together, truly engage and ask questions. There was gradual depth of learning throughout the week. Especially regarding shared values.

On the flip side, ExplorEquity’s purpose also includes high expectations for our travelers to enter the process being conscious of their own privilege. Coming to learn… Focusing on listening… And most certainly recognizing the locals as the experts they are. This is everything to us.

We’re not trying to create photo-ops or pretty (but superficial) opportunities. Depth, authenticity, and doing something unique – those are our central directives/pillars. We know we can’t cause radical change overnight or in a brief explorer experience. However, by focusing on social and environmental causes we can awaken an awareness that leaves travelers with a better understanding of a place and its people.

EF: Earlier, you said that Honduras had not been on your radar; which I’m sure that’s the case for many of us. Could you enlighten our listeners a bit about the country as a whole? Culture, landscape, history…

CR: It’s the 2nd largest country in Central America. Honduras is bordered by Guatemala, Nicaragua, and El Salvador. It touches the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. There are lots of mountains with peaks above 9,000 feet and interestingly, it’s the only country in Central America w/o active volcanoes.

There are connections to the Mayan civilization and many other Indigenous people. Many of which have a strong presence and impact to this very day!

The land was under Spanish rule for a long time like many Central and South American countries. A part of that colonization involved forced Catholicism – which is still evident today in this majority Roman Catholic populace.

EF: Which parts of the country did you visit?

CR: We initially landed in San Pedro Sula, then ventured south to an area called Lake Yojoa which had a wonderful community that built their lives around it. This is one of those small town places that reminds us of the wealth of knowledge and joy to be gained from connecting with the local community. It was great to experience how they work to preserve their culture and also generate new streams of income through community-wide cooperation. They’ve got cabins for ecotourism, nature walks, and hiking trails dedicated to educating their young about the environment. There’s also coffee farming and other local food production.

After that we went further south to La Esperanza. It’s a must-visit small city where cultural roots are strong. Then further south to Marcala – a place well known for their one-of-a-kind coffee and proprietary preparation methods.

As much as coffee is loved for its flavor, texture, and other benefits…it’s actually a solid starting point for important conversations. That’s why it has been a privilege to shed light on their particular blend and how it ties into social equity issues. (Check out the podcast for more!)

EF: Taking things from a broader perspective, I understand that homicides are a major problem in this country. Could you tell us more about that and how it affects prospects of bringing groups of travelers into Honduras?

CR: [Our partner Choose Honduras provided us with the following information.] As is the case in every country, there are homicides. Honduras is suffering from a bad PR issue. Any lingering reputation this country has regarding the murder of tourists is undeserved, unfair, and inaccurate. Look at the data…

It’ll tell us that the majority of victims are citizens, not foreigners. The State Department keeps track of these things. Over a 12 month period (July 2018 – June 2019) far more Americans were killed in Mexico (60) than Honduras (3). Jamaica and Colombia are major tourist destinations and they also recorded 3 Americans murdered but don’t carry the same stigma.

Plus, group travel changes things. Besides the old adage of safety in numbers as a deterrent, you’re exploring with local guides. People who are intimately acquainted with their own communities and neighborhoods. Our trips include custom designed itineraries and routes that negate such concerns. At the end of the day, the community-based tourism of the Honduran people is ready to welcome explorers and deserves much more support from the global community.

EF: As someone with a solid grasp of the travel industry, do you think sustainability and community-driven experiences are areas we’ll see grow in the near future?

CR: Absolutely. The truth is: It has to. It’s the only way forward. Without sustainability as a central pillar of tourism, we’ll eventually have nowhere to go. People are more aware of their cumulative footprint, overtourism, and how it pushes local families out of their homes.

Plus, explorers are actively searching for genuine connection and a better way to travel.

Due to knowledge of tourism leakage spreading worldwide, they value the knowledge of exactly where (and to whom) their money's going.

And most reassuringly, there’s a welcome shift toward trips focused on cultural understanding through community, conversation, and cooperation; not just eco-tourism or volunteer tourism. Travel is evolving.