Someone pulls out plastic chairs, and we sit in the office and sip beers. Tigeorges introduces me to Frankie, Remy, and Wilson, a few of his local associates, who are helping with the coffee business. They dont know much English, but thats okay. Tigeorges is a great conversationalist, and his strong personality carries the room.
Currently, he says, the business ships two bags a month out of Haiti, each 150 pounds. Tigeorges divides the first bag into one-pound allotments, which he sells for $16 each, and the rest is served in the restaurant. Eventually, he would love to export up to 50 bags a month.
Haitian coffee has a long history that dates back to 1734 -- and at one time, around 1790, the country produced half of the worlds coffee supply. The primary growing areas were in the cool, wet mountains.
By the early 1950s, Haitis economy was strong. The country had tourists coming from all over. Mining and agriculture were profitable. Tigeorgess father was a coffee grower and a coffee speculator, and he owned the mill to process coffee. He sold primarily to European countries, which favored the smooth, rich taste -- particularly France.
Some processors use chemicals to remove the layers of the coffee fruit that surround the seed, which is the coffee bean. But Georges Laguerre Sr. used a more delicate method, one that involved fermenting the coffee and then caramelizing it in a secret mixture of ingredients.
You will have bees and flies flying over it, Tigeorges allows. The fermentation, thats what brings the quality.
Tigeorges still uses this method today, even though its slower. Its an eyeball process, knowing when to add the ingredients and when to remove the coffee.
As we talk, children drop by with their mobile phones to leave them overnight for charging. The Western Union office down the street charges a fee for this, but Reginald doesnt have the heart to ask them for money.
When the bottom fell out of Haitis coffee business in the 1960s, Tigeorgess father was forced to abandon his coffee operation, and he reluctantly moved his family to America. Afterward, local villagers simply moved onto the neglected Laguerre hillside property just outside Anse-à-Foleur, and they have lived there free ever since. When Tigeorges returned in the 1990s to find his roots, he realized he had to resolve the situation.
I still allow them to live on the land, but gradually Im letting them know there will be development there, he says. And every now and then, one has to leave. Theyre okay with that. Im also using them to work there too. So, therefore, it is beneficial to them.
Part of Tigeorgess plan includes paying the coffee farmers upon delivery. In the past, coffee producers would pay the growers a year in advance, but often the growers would take the money and never deliver. Tigeorges says this is very common in Haiti. You see buildings all over the country that are half finished because they were abandoned once the contractors received advance payment.
I think thats probably what created the failure of Haiti, Tigeorges says. That was an ongoing thing. Many Haitians still live that way. They hunt for today, but they never hunt for tomorrow.
To Tigeorges, merely giving people money or food isnt necessarily the best solution to Haitis problems. Theyll just expect the same thing to happen tomorrow. Instead, he believes Haitis people need help in a way that gives them confidence. Thats why for the past few years, hes commissioned street signs for Anse-à-Foleur and brought them in from Los Angeles. As is the case in most of Haiti, the villages streets and houses are unmarked.
You must have an address, he says. A society that does not have a direction, you do not know where youre going. People are not going to be able to communicate with you. Having a street address, its communication. If you allow other people to see you, theyd be able to see others.
Tigeorges is also importing portable propane stoves so that people dont use up the vanishing supply of wood. But he knows that everything he does, from the coffee business to other projects, must be done slowly.
I think we have too much character, he says. Theres no shortage there. Emotions. The ego. A guy doesnt know where hes gonna get his next meal, but hell stand up in a way where he would rather die of hunger. Pride is good, but then again, you have to know when to use it.
We finish our beers and say our good nights. I walk out onto the porch to look at the sky. The streets are completely dark except for the beam of a flashlight from someone walking back home.
At the Port-au-Prince airport, waiting for our flight to Miami, Tigeorges and I check out the Haitian coffee in the gift shop. His coffee is not yet available here. His competitors packaging is cheap -- one brand doesnt even list an address or contact information. Tigeorges looks at this and shakes his head, as if to say, Come on, guys! Not even a phone number?
In a sense, the Haitian coffee renaissance has already begun. Coffee is now Americas largest food import, and Haitis product is excellent quality -- and a good value compared with the more expensive coffees of Jamaica and surrounding areas. Plus, the profits made from Haitian coffee help support the local economy in places like Tigeorgess base, Anse-à-Foleur.
We watch American church volunteers standing in line to check their bags. I will always want to buy coffee only from my back door, Tigeorges says. [Its where] I grew up, and I feel obligated to really help -- and pick up where my dad left. This is something that is in my blood. He thinks a moment, then adds, This is something my dad would have enjoyed.