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This One-Woman Coffee Venture Could Give a Child a Home

Coffee companies are often built around a strong mission, but rarely is the mission this singular and personal. Marlee Benefield last month introduced a micro roastery called Chasing Mercy. The mission: To adopt an orphaned child and give it a permanent place in Benefield’s home.

The project suits NorCal-based Benefield professionally. She’s worked in and around coffee since college, got her full-time professional start with San Rafael, Calif.-based Equator Coffees & Teas and now works as a consultant and marketing specialist with Boot Coffee (disclosure note: Daily Coffee News has an existing advertising relationship with Boot Coffee).

(related: U.S. Importer/Roasters Lead Effort to Save Antigua’s Finca El Valle)

(related: This Insane 1,400-Mile Bike Tour is Good for Coffee)

marlee benefield coffee

Marlee Benefield

So the answer to the question “Why coffee?” is an easy one, but the questions and answers related to the personal nature of the venture are far more complex.

As Benefield explains in more detail on her website, the primary motivation for adoption is first the desire to be a mom, followed by a sense of Christian duty to “take care of the orphans and widows in their distress.” Asked why international adoption, and Benefield replies, “Literally millions of orphans are living with, and dying from, treatable diseases, malnutrition, abuse and neglect. There simply aren’t enough local organizations or families who can provide adequate care for all of these children.”

We recently caught up with Benefield to ask about the roasting operation and what it’s like to publicize such a personal endeavor.

First off, for our readers who don’t know you, can you describe your life in coffee?

Sure! I was first introduced to the world of coffee in college, when I became a barista. That’s how it always starts, right? Later, in graduate school, I did a summer abroad course in Indonesia and that really opened my eyes to the vastness of the coffee industry. After graduate school, I spent time in Uganda and Turkey — both countries with distinct coffee cultures.

When I came back to the US and began looking for a job, I was hired by Equator, due in part to my media and marketing background. Equator did a great job of letting me explore true specially coffee for the first time. After working at Equator part time, I began working for Willem Boot at Boot Coffee. My job has changed and grown over the 4 years that I have been a part of the Boot Team. As I have honed my roasting and cupping skills, I have had more opportunities to teach courses and take on consulting projects.

I am also the Giesen Coffee Roasters Representative for North America.

The business side of Chasing Mercy is pretty much a one-woman operation, right?

I am roasting all of the coffees that are sold, yes. I have had a lot of help from my coworker, Jodi Dowell Wieser, who just happens to be a Q-Grader Instructor. She has given up a lot of her free time to cup coffees with me and even stamp bags. She’s pretty amazing. Her husband Kris, the head roaster at Equator, has also been helpful in talking with me about roast profiles that will appeal to a wide audience, since this coffee is going all over the U.S.

What was your approach to the Chasing Mercy blend?

I wanted a well-developed roast with some complexity and high fruit notes that shine through, but also a solid, sweet, chocolatey base. The coffee is a blend of Central American and African coffees and I think it turned out great. I am doing a couple of roasts and post-blending, which seems to be giving it the complexity that I wanted. You definitely get the fruitiness in the aromatics and the end is sweet and clean. Our cupping notes are “sweet, milk chocolate, dried fruit, creamy and rich.”

Did you have any trepidation about making this personal journey public?

Yes, I was a little nervous to make it public. I didn’t know what people would think. But, I am absolutely confident in this decision and I have great friends and family who are 100 percent behind me, so that made it easier. So far, the response has been amazing.