The root of my love for coffee is not straightforward. Sure I love the routine each morning; grinding the beans, the smell as it brews, and the instant smile it puts on my face, but my passion for coffee goes much deeper.
To me coffee is synonymous with community and I believe community is what gives us life, purpose, and happiness. It’s human nature to strive towards inclusion, to want to be connected to someone or something with a common interest, and to me coffee culture is where all of my communities collide.
I spent countless hours in libraries and coffee shops, nose deep in my textbooks with that cozy cup of coffee always at my side. Those days coffee was a study crutch, a necessity, and just about the only way I could keep up. There’s no community quite like a highly caffeinated gaggle of students, huddled in front of a white board, repetitively drawing and erasing chemical equations until all hours of the night. I have coffee to thank for getting me through the Kreb Cycle, through retrosynthetic analysis, and through more chemical reactions than I ever want to relearn.
Coffee culture and cycling have deep roots and there is no denying the kind of community that is formed on bunch rides that start or end with a good cup of coffee. The best memories I have with teammates past or present have been on our “coffee spins”: highly anticipated recovery rides that end with a cup and great conversation.
It was on one of these “coffee spins” to my favorite local cafe in Mill Valley that I met a woman who changed the way I saw a cup of coffee forever. Helen Russel is a beaming ball of light and energy. Helen and her partner Brooke McDonell are badasses. They started Equator Coffee & Teas 21 years ago, roasting beans for wholesale out of their garage in Marin County. Its fair to say they have come a long way, having built a successful high impact coffee company focused on quality, sustainability, and social responsibility. This spring they won the National Small Business of the Year award, the first LGBT owned company to do so. The relationship I’ve built with the two of them, has been an expansion for me into the LGBT community. Yes technically I have always been a part of that community (being married to a women and all) but being connected to such strong women who have built something so incredible, and who have always been open and proud of that aspect of their lives changed something for me. It made me proud, it made me feel connected, and it made me want to make a difference.
Being openly gay within professional sport has been an admittedly interesting and sometimes tough sociological experience. If I had a dollar for every time someone said something along the lines of, “are you sure you are gay? It’s just that you don’t ‘look’ gay” I’d be rich! When I first came out people assumed it was a phase, a product of being a female athlete, some strange byproduct of too much time with other females as if the duration of time spent with a certain gender directly impacts how physically attracted you are to them. I didn’t really care, I tried to laugh it off because I knew who I was, I knew that I loved Olivia and that it was the kind of love that is forever. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit anxious or annoyed by people constantly trying to figure out my situation, to make sense of it, as if it were one of the chemical equations I’d worked through in college rather than the simple math of merely loving another person. All of the anxiety I ever felt from the chitter chatter around me faded when I began to receive messages from other women out there who had been touched by my story, women who had found courage because I was out, proud and I didn’t fit the usual mold. These messages made me realize that this is where I could make a difference, this was the community I could impact. Coffee brought me here. Love made me stay.
Communities give you a sense of self and the people within in them provide inspiration. Being around Helen, Brooke and the other folks within Equator, literally makes me feel like anything is possible. Want to be an Olympian? You can do it! Want to run your own business? You can do it! Want to be the president of the United States? Hell yes you can do it! I’ve always been a bit of a feminist; girl power, equal rights, the whole deal. I’ve always wanted to inspire women to break the mold and follow their dreams. In my community, surrounded by strong, confident women with superhero like qualities, I now have the tools to make it happen!
Coffee is amazing, and its easy to connect superficially to cycling, to a lifestyle. But to me it means so much more than just your average morning wake up. Coffee is the place where all my personal communities brew together. Where my love of these small roasted beans meets my passion for cycling, where the blending of the two offers a platform to connect with the people around me. It’s a buzz that lasts well past the half life of caffeine. It’s a delicious daily connection that charges me forward.
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