Posted January 22, 2016 in Adventure Journals by Jim Markel
Mike Roberts works the espresso machine at Crossroads Café Coffee Shop like a skilled mechanic, as he fills orders of caffeinated beverages for local Guatemalans and foreign travelers alike. Mike the owner and only employee behind the coffee bar works at his café a solid five days a week. He greets many of his customers by name as they walk in off the dusty street.
Red Oxx CEO Jim Markel loves to make it a point to visit with Mike during his annual Guatemala entourages. This time however, it’s Mike who has a travel story to share. Let’s check in with the Coffee King of the Crossroads Café.
Taking a temporary pause from preparing his customer’s drinks, Mike looks around his Panajachel, Guatemala coffee shop that he’s called home for more than a decade. A lifetime of drinking coffee as a stimulant made it surprising to hear what someone who lives and breathes coffee as a career has to say. "Something about coffee helps people calm down and tell their story. And it’s helped me meet many fascinating people through the years." says Mike.
West Guatemala is a long ways away from the upstate-New York town where Mike was born. Since leaving the state of his birth, Mike has been traveling the world, and coffee has been a way to connect to the people he has met along the way.
Last August, Mike’s travels took him to Japan where he made coffee and conversation while backpacking across the island nation. Japan had intrigued him since reading about Hiroshima as a child, and Mike had met many traveling customers from Japan at his humble café.
Mike planned his trip to Japan after facing a rough year, when the deaths of several friends and his father had left him reeling. "I kept thinking, ‘How could I interact with my family, with people coming into my coffee shop everyday, while I am struggling with tragedy?’"
Mike decided to tackle his grief by returning to the road to seek relief. CEO Jim heard about Mike’s plans to travel to Japan and offered him one of their carry-on rucksacks. Knowing the coffee-man’s favorite color, Jim brought him a Mariner (blue) Red Oxx C-Ruck Rucksack.
The known center of the universe
Mike packed his passport, money and toothbrush. The rest of the space in his rucksack he filled with 60 pounds of coffee and a coffee-maker.
Experiencing the comfort of the Red Oxx C-Ruck Rucksack was important as Mike carried his load of coffee from Fukushima to Sendai to Fukuoka- 5,000 miles across Japan in three months – and many rural spots in between. Mike stayed with friends he had met at Crossroads and spent many nights camping outdoors with only a blanket and a small folding bed. He walked town to town, sometimes in freezing rain accompanied only by the comforts of his coffee and the thoughts of friends he would make along the way.
Crossroads Cafe Coffeeshop
During his journey, Mike taught many people how to make coffee. Accompanied by the comforts of fresh coffee and new friends, Mike continued on his trip around Japan until he felt ready to return to his adopted home on Lake Atitlan.
"The story of my life isn’t the things I’ve done, it’s the things I’ve survived." he laughed.
Now back behind his beloved coffee bar, Mike welcomes his regulars. He prepares the lingering coffee orders. Such as the local favorite, his personal touch Coffee con leche: an Espresso featuring Mike’s signature foamed-milk smiley face. Customer’s often load up on the homemade Carrot cake and other delicious baked goods his wife, Adele, makes. Once again, the café is noisy with the busy sounds of coffee in creation.
All trekked out, ready to sit down.
Be sure to watch the fascinating video posted at the opening of this article where I prowls the back room of the Crossroads Café, where the wafting scent of fresh roasted coffee makes it’s way past Mike the Coffee King out into the daylight. You’ll learn more about coffee in eight minutes than you’ve known in your entire lifetime. ~ Jim Markel CEO