By Katie Faulkner
Photos by Rich Smith & Joseph Schlabs
For Michael and Cherita Rice, one of the world’s most sought-after commodities has become the key to helping some of the world’s most disadvantaged people. After launching Mad Priest Coffee Roasters in early 2016 with a Kickstarter campaign, the couple partnered with Bridge Refugee Services to hire, almost exclusively, refugees. The goal is to help local refugees acclimate to their new home and become productive, contributing members of the community.
Equally devoted to developing craft coffees and building a quality, lasting business, their entrepreneurial spirit already has them expanding into catering espresso bars for events. They are involved in community partnerships, such as co-hosting pairings and educational events, promoting other local businesses, and holding barista training sessions in area coffee shops. That’s in addition to running their café and wholesaling to several local businesses. Simultaneously, their goal of helping those in need has them constantly seeking ways to raise awareness about the crisis of over 65 million people displaced in our world today.
Craft excellent coffee.
“Coffee incorporates community. I think because it’s grown literally all over the world. It transcends language, culture, religion, everything. It’s the universal ‘social’ drink. It just made sense,” Michael says of his business choice. Of course, the fact that it’s one of his most passionate pursuits doesn’t hurt either. When you love a hobby enough to roast all your own coffee in a popcorn popper while living abroad, it might be time to take it to the next level – which is exactly what he decided to do.
Michael has earned a discerning pallet through his extensive world travels, working as a barista and manager in numerous high-end coffee shops (including the local Camp House), training with Counter Culture Coffee, and working toward his Level 1 Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) Roaster Certification. His pallet and training ensures quality control and product selection with every cupping he undertakes. It also supports his commitment to thorough training for every employee.
Educate the curious.
Craft coffee’s growing popularity enables Mad Priest to spread awareness about other cultures. Monthly “Coffee and Culture” events are planned to highlight coffee rituals from various regions, including the Ethiopian practice of brewing coffee over an open flame.
Coffee is an easy segue to raising awareness because, as Michael says, “Inevitably coffee overlaps with displaced peoples.” Meaning, many of the regions that his specialty supplier, Olam, buys from are war-torn areas. When a customer picks up a bag of beans from the Congo, for example, Michael has a distinct opening to start a conversation about how Africa hosts the world’s largest population of displaced peoples – most of whom are fleeing one war only to head straight into another.
Champion the displaced.
“My wife grew up in Clarkston, Georgia which has one of the area’s highest refugee populations. She grew up with a great understanding and respect for other cultures.” Their shared affinity for language and culture is what inspired the Rices to travel the world together, teaching English, spearheading economic-infusion missions, and ultimately, spending a lot of time with refugees in other countries.
Tattooed across Michael’s wrist is the image of a trier – an important part of the roasting machine that allows the operator to pull samples of beans throughout the roasting process. Underneath that image is the resoundingly relevant phrase, “Trying Times.” Michael sees this as a grounding metaphor for refugees’ journeys to sanctuary. “You strip away everything and put it through the fire. Then it comes out on the other side this tasty, transformed beverage,” he says, hopeful that after ‘trying times,’ refugees (and coffee beans) can find a robust second life.
Coffee Stock Origins // Ethiopia Guatemala, Yemen, Columbia, Peru, El Salvador, Kenya, D.R., Congo, Laos