"It was never about the coffee for us; we went for the conversations and time together."
The following piece is written by Lee Hardy, a YWAM Orlando staff member. Lee played a major role in starting our campus coffee shop and establishing our community coffee culture. Because of Lee’s groundwork, we’ve seen awesome ministry happen at the Depot Cafe, including the creation of our Barista Elective for the Discipleship Training School. Read on as Lee shares his history with coffee and about his love for community.
My Journey with Coffee
When you hear the word “coffee,” what do you think about? Me, I think about having a meaningful conversation that forms deep bonds with friends, and reading a good book that inspires me to write in a dimly lit room while listening to music and sipping on a fresh cup. Before creating my family, I was able to find more time to write at a local shop. Yeah, I was that guy: the camper. Back in Virginia, I had a few shops that I would frequently visit.
I love coffee. I’m not even picky. I will go to the local shop in the morning to get an Americano (my drink of choice) and in the afternoon buy a $1.00 cup of gas station coffee. (I can feel the shade from many of you right now). I’m a bit of a purest when it comes to the black water; I have to drink it black - say no to cream and sugar! - which hasn’t always been the case. I will even drink shots of espresso straight. And yes, I do enjoy a well-made latte or cappuccino from time to time; but this hasn’t always been the case.
Around the age of 18 or 19 is when I began drinking coffee.
My buddies and I would go to a city diner to hang out. Since there were three of us, we would take turns seeing who would get a booth seat to himself to stretch out his legs, while the other two were hunched together. We would almost always order coffee. I would put sugar and cream into those faded white diner mugs; the color paired well with the tan liquid to be consumed. It was never about the coffee for us; we went for the conversations and time together. Even though I couldn’t tell you what we talked about, the memories of us sitting in those black-painted wooden booths, listening to the jukebox, spending time together in deep conversation - those memories have lasted. It was during these times that something grew inside me.
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During my School of Missions and Evangelism at YWAM Orlando in 2002, God placed the vision in my heart to start a coffee shop. Coffee shops weren’t as abundant then as they are today; you could drive for many miles without seeing one. If there was a local cafe you most likely didn’t notice it - unless you were in the coffee culture. So, in a sense, starting a coffee shop seemed like a foreign concept to me. But during my school outreach the hook was set. There were two different opportunities in which my team was able to minister to people in cafes. One was in London at a church when they opened their doors to have tea and conversation with homeless people. Our second opportunity was in New Orleans during Mardi Gras when we partnered with YWAM New Orleans to create a coffee shop. We served free coffee to anyone that wanted a break from the partying.
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Over time, I was able to learn about coffee from some great people at one of the major coffee retailers.
There I was taught to learn the subtle notes of flavor that beans from different regions contain, and I was able to gain some knowledge of what it took to operate a coffee shop. One of my friends there called himself a “bean slinger.” I always thought that was amusing, so I adopted that moniker for myself.
In 2015, the vision began taking shape. YWAM Orlando finished renovating one of the buildings on our base that would eventually serve as our campus kitchen and coffee shop. We called it the Depot, because the spot that the building sits on was an actual train depot for the “tug and grunt” line that hauled vegetables and other produce for the Tavares & Gulf Railway. My wife and I, along with other staff, created the Depot Cafe as a space for our students and staff to have a central common area. One of my favorite parts of starting up the shop was selecting what type of coffee we were going to brew. We wrote a handful of shops from Virginia, North Carolina and Florida, and asked to sample their coffee. We ended up selecting a roaster from Florida just a few towns over, with whom we already had a great relationship (and we love that the majority of their revenue goes toward humanitarian efforts in Ethiopia). They had just opened their new roaster, so everything made sense for us.
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A few years later, I felt like I was to step back from full-time management of the Depot Cafe.
This may have been the hardest step in the entire process. Multiple times over the seventeen years of carrying the vision, I had to lay it down before God, but this was the topper. I had thought about it and what I was going to say about stepping down, but when the words came out of my mouth, the tears came down with it. The best way I can describe it is that it’s similar to a mother who, after birthing, loving and raising her child, sees him go off to college. Now I get to see what happens and take joy in it - like the Barista Elective for our DTS. And I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve come in and found people praying for each other, small groups meeting, game nights happening, open mic nights, or training that is taking place. It’s pretty cool that we are sending students on outreaches to share the Gospel of Jesus into the same nations where our coffee comes from.