Grounds for delight

My name is Hanson Harribans and I’m a coffee-lover, not a barista.

People call me “Handsome” Harribans all the time. I don’t know where my parents got the name “Hanson” from. But I like it. It works as a conversation starter. When people get tied up, I say, “Just call me Hans”.

My last name is spelled Harribans, not Harribance. People confuse me with the fortune-teller guy (Sean Lalsingh Harribance). He’s no relation but I could probably try some predictions. Like that I might make it with this coffee thing.

I have this hairstyle now, which is called, “not much hair”. But I’ve had dreadlocks and clean cuts.

I’m from Cocoyea Village, San Fernando, just past St Joseph’s Village. Heading to the roundabout.

I get told I look lots of things from Indian to mixed to Arabic, South American, red and Italian. Somebody saw me selling Ethiopian coffee and told me I looked Ethiopian but they clearly don’t know what an Ethiopian looks like.

I went to Presentation College, not just the best school in the South but the the country. Pres tries to develop their boys as good all-round students and I’d like to think they were successful with me.

My attention span is about 14, 15 minutes. I try to watch movies and certain movies will hold me. But, a lot of movies, if it’s not going to look bad if I get up and go, I get up and go.

I did well academically but the layout of the curriculum really wasn’t for people like me. About six months before he passed, I asked Brother Michael Samuel, my principal, “Bro, why didn’t Pres have a channel for somebody like me, who ended up in woodworking?” He told me he had always pushed for mechanics and woodworking but the parents didn’t want it. They wanted scholarships in particular fields.

You leave school at 17-18 years old, not necessarily with things earmarked for your career. After A’Levels, I went to London for a year. And went from physics & maths to information technology and ran an IT company for 11 years. Still running it, but in Trinidad now.

My parents grew coffee and cocoa to sell, together with fig and provisions. But they left the countryside to become teachers and taught for 30 years each. I’ve come full circle: I went in to IT and now I’m back selling coffee, just like my parents.

There was just my elder sister and me as children in the family. She’s just moved from Haiti to Pakistan and I get coffee from wherever she goes.

My wife Shalimar and I don’t have children yet. She came from a strong Muslim background and I was baptized and all that. But, the more I grew in faith, the more I grew away from religion. I’m now more spiritual and less religious.

Coffee is my passion but I also do woodworking. The IT was able to finance the tools for the woodworking. It made me independent. And, all this time, years of extensive research, the coffee was bubbling in my head. Now I’m afforded the time to do my own roasting.

I run my own company and have the best employee, ever, the boss. My wife.

The physics and the chemistry I did gave me an excellent base for understanding coffee. It’s not about the piece of paper you get with whatever grade, it’s what you gain from the education process.

I drank tea growing up. Doing the Microsoft certifications in IT, I needed the coffee. Wasn’t much of a choice. Loving coffee as an adult really came when I was in London, working at Subway, where they had a proper coffee machine with Italian coffee. And then going to Rome.

I’m not ashamed to say I’ll drink instant coffee. I’ll drink any warm beverage and coffee is coffee. I do appreciate an exquisite, high-end coffee more. But, if I come by your house and you only have Nescafe, I’m going to drink it and enjoy it! They’re incomparable, really, but I’m a very diplomatic coffee person.

I started blending coffee in 2013, trying to recreate the freshly-roasted taste I’d had in Europe, to suit my own taste; coffee for me to drink. I realised I’d have to do it myself: roast my own; develop my own profiles for the roasting, based on the particular bean. I think I have a couple of good ones now but it’s always a work in progress.

I began blending for myself and for friends and family. But I knew, from the start, that there was a market for it.

I’ve done years and years of research into coffee. All that’s missing now is the barista certification. The barista thing is not a marketing ploy, it’s very serious business. That takes three to six months but I really want to do it in Italy.

Owning a café is my long-term passion but I’m not sure I want to do it in Trinidad. I was a victim of robbery at gunpoint at least four times. At Carnival time, at business places, big-big robberies, homemade guns, whatever, you name it. So I’m a bit hesitant. It’s a prolific problem internationally, not just in Trinidad.

Because it’s happened to me four times, wherever I go in Trinidad, I always look for my exit routes. I’ve seen just how quickly a situation could escalate. It could be perfectly okay now but the shit could hit the fan in ten seconds.

It’s reached the point where I was calm to be robbed at gunpoint. The first time, it was so surreal. Bandits came to rob a store at Carnival. I was filling out some forms and didn’t even know there was a robbery going on. I heard a guy shouting, “Give me the money! You want your child to live?” He was talking to a pregnant cashier. I slowly turned around and they pointed the gun at me and said, “Don’t try anything!” I literally tried to disappear. I didn’t look at them – was I being disrespectful to them by not looking? – but, if I don’t see them, I can’t identify them and that might work in my favour… But, luckily, they weren’t interested in the patrons, but in a sum of money they fully well knew was going to be there. The police station was five minutes away and the first police response took about 20 minutes.

What can security really do? The security guard is probably one of the lowest-paid jobs in the country. To have this idea that a security guard is going to lay down his life for you is a joke.

What I’m doing has to have a lot of education backing it because Trinidad has a different coffee culture. We're accustomed to burnt coffee – in my opinion, of course – but we have a lot of people who’re travelling and coming back knowing fresh-roasted coffee.

There are good coffees in Trinidad but they keep changing up the origin of the beans. So it’s never consistent. I try to buy fair trade and organic beans but it’s very hard to certify.

My coffee is a luxury, high-end market. However, it’s the same price as luxury coffees in the supermarket. And I have the benefit of fresh roasting, which is immensely better than stale, grocery shop coffee. “Fresh-roasted” for me is roasted in the last week. Different beans have different optimal windows but within a month is usually fine. And I use zip-sealed packaging with degassing valves.

The best part of selling coffee is interacting with coffee lovers, hearing their stories, where they enjoyed their cup of coffee, what memories they have. The bad part might be the long hours.

A Trini is not somebody you could paint with a broad brush. But a true Trini wouldn’t hesitate to give you a hand.

To me, Trinidad & Tobago is a place with immense potential. I think we need to be pressured even more for the people to respond, prosper and thrive. Because we work incredibly well under pressure. People say we wouldn’t be able to cope with natural disaster but we have it too easy. So the shit needs to hit the fan. Some situation, hopefully not that critical, that could make us reboot.