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Thursday 20 June 2019
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Trini to the bone: Grounds for delight

Hanson Harribans
Hanson Harribans

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.

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 country. Pres tries to develop their boys as good all-round students, and I’d like to think they were successful with me.

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 Bro Michael Samuel, my principal, “Bro, why didn’t Pres have a channel for somebody like me?” 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 and maths to information technology and ran an IT company for 11 years. Still running it, but in Trinidad now.

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

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 into 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. I get coffee from wherever she goes.

My wife Shalimar came from a strong Muslim background and I was baptised. But I’m now more spiritual and less religious.

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. 

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.

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 s--- could hit the fan in ten seconds.

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.

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 true Trini wouldn’t hesitate to give you a hand.

To me, TT is a place with immense potential. 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 s---needs to hit the fan. Some situation, hopefully not that critical, that could make us reboot.

Read a longer version of this feature at wwwBCPires.com

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