There are people you encounter in life who make your day better by their mere presence. Those merry-few typically have a smile on their face, shimmer with positivity, and see the world in such a beautiful way that you can't help but be sucked into their optimism. If you haven't met Merecedes Nelson yet, prepare yourself for a magical experience.
Merecedes is who Coffea has to thank for so many drinks, most recently the El Dorado (the Turmeric-based drink) and the Bee's Knees. In February, she's taking that passion, creativity, and talent to one of this year's National Barista Competitions in New Orleans. She is representing Coffea, but she's also the only competitor from South Dakota.
Long before tackling national barista competitions, Merecedes started her journey to specialty coffee at one of USD's coffee kiosks.
She explains, "Honestly, I was drinking a lot of merry-mint mochas, so I was running out of money until a friend was like, 'You know you get a free one every time you work a shift if you work there, right?' So I got the job. I remember being terrified when they told me, 'Ok, you’re going to learn how to do this.' And I was like, 'No I can just work the register, I’m good.'"
The coffee-gods smiled upon us that day she was forced to make her own merry-mocha latte; it was the first step down the rabbit-hole that is the coffee industry.
She'd enjoyed the coffee scene at Black Sheep Coffee growing up, and even then felt that coffee shops "...are their own beautiful communities. I spent countless summers, all day on the deck at Black Sheep. That was such a strong community... and it's good to see some of those regulars in here [at Coffea]. It won’t be the same and it can’t be the same, but I’ll always be here to have a cup of coffee with you."
Outside of coffee, Merecedes is a gifted photographer (check out her work here) and is working on showcasing a collection of her photos covering the Sioux Falls music scene over the last several years.
It's actually that connection between photography and music that led Merecedes to apply to Coffea. Merecedes explains how she got to know general manager Darin Kaihoi. "I already had known Darin when I shot photos for his album release of Pilgrim Hotel. And after I’d emailed my resume I kept bugging Darin like, 'Oh, hey, any chance you looked at my application? Please?' And especially downtown, I knew this would be home."
Though Merecedes worked in numerous cafes around town, one thing that really hit home as she read the World Coffee Atlas (a required read for new hires) was, "I guess I never knew or thought about how there are farmers out there with people hand picking these cherries, and that Coffea’s motto is a thing we should worry about when consuming or selling coffee. It was never once brought up anywhere else I worked, and then diving in, it was even more beautiful to me working at a place like this."
My job interviewing and reflecting people's perceptions of cafes and the coffee industry is always fascinating--I get to be uber-meta and consider people considering a culinary art and their perceptions of coffee. All that to say, hearing Merecedes explaining what she sees as beautiful about Sioux Falls and its amplified community through bridging Guatemalan or Ethiopian farmers was--to use her word--magical.
She explains, "Being a barista is understanding coffee and being able to create a space where people feel welcome, can approach you, and learn about coffee. That’s what I hope to come across as and to introduce people to what coffee can be."
And what does she mean 'what coffee can be'? Something between art and passion. Something like the dignity and labor of another human being on the other side of the world that we get to encounter and share through a deceptively simple cup of coffee. "It’s not something you chug to stay awake, this is truly beautiful. It’s a piece of art. I recently talked with a friend who said she thought our coffee is too expensive, but I tried to help her understand that this means farmers are getting decent wages, livable wages. That's good, beautiful coffee!"
And that's what's at the heart of things--the national barista competitor, the Willy Wonka of drink creations, the photographer, the artist, and all the other things--the beauty of it all is in the intersections. We're so fortunate to have Merecedes here sharing that magic with us now.
If you want to cheer her on during the competition, we'll be having a viewing party during her televised competition at our Louise Cafe (it will be either Saturday the 3rd or Sunday the 4th, and we'll update you as soon as we get specifics). You can also get an exclusive sneak-peek at her competition routine (involving that sweet-sweet Chelelektu) Thursday, January 11th (sign up here).