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Column: Behold the World’s Best Shoes for Traveling to Origin

by Daniel Humphries

Daniel Humphries, “The Coffee Scholar,” is a specialty coffee educator based in Seattle and New York. He consults with farmers, millers, exporters, importers, roasters, and coffee shops in North America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Latin America. www.coffeescholars.com.

shoes for coffee

Daniel Humphries’ favorite shoes

(Note: Neither Daily Coffee News nor Daniel Humphries has any affiliation with the ECCO brand)

In the past five years I have traveled to origin 30 times, to the best of my recollection. That’s about 6 trips a year, spread over 12 or 13 countries, mostly in Latin America, but also in Africa and Asia.

On all but one of those trips, I have taken the same pair of shoes. Not the same brand — the exact same pair of shoes. These shoes set me back about 65 bucks, if I recall. I’ve worn them in Ethiopia, Puerto Rico, Honduras, Panama, PeruEl Salvador, the Philippines, and more.

The one time I didn’t bring these shoes, it was purely by accident. It was my first trip to the Philippines, and I was apparently so excited by the prospect of white sand beaches that I forgot to pack sensible coffee farm shoes. Ironic because some of the roughest terrain I’ve encountered in my coffee travels was on that trip, in the tribal lands of Mindanao. I had to hike the whole slippery mess in thin-soled tennis shoes. My friends showed me infinite patience as I fumbled around helplessly in the muck and mire. (Hi Zee!)

Anyway, I come from Seattle originally, where people wear mountain-climbing gear to formal events. It’s actually become a point of pride for me to wear snazzy city shoes whenever possible, just to stand out from the NorthFace and New Balance. But when you’re hiking a real, functioning coffee farm at the peak of harvest, style somehow takes a back seat.

The shoes I have are from ECCO. I think they might have discontinued the exact model I have. They’re somewhat similar to these, but low top and less space-age looking. I like the ones I have because if you dust them off and spit-shine ’em, they don’t look too bad in a city setting. But the main reason I like them is because they are as tough as nails, but very comfortable. I’ve abused the ever-living hell out of these shoes and never once replaced the laces or even thought about them. I just toss them in my bag when I’m headed to origin and then inflict the pain.

Here’s a mash-up video of my most recent trip to Ethiopia and a trip I made to Honduras in 2011. In the first part (grainy, sorry) I am stepping on a rural road between two farms, on my way up to the waterfall at Wondo Genet in Sidamo. I started filming because I was amazed at the thin crust that overlaid the two inches of powder-thin red dust that made up the road. It felt like walking on the moon, except it was about 100 degrees and the sun was brutal. In the second part, as you can tell from the angle of my legs, I’m stumbling down a very steep, very muddy and slippery hillside in Honduras. Same shoes, two years and half a world apart.

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