“Mi Abuela es un misterio'". That’s how I always start the story of my grandmother - she is a mystery. Born on the somewhat lesser-known Caribbean coast of Guatemala, Izabal, homeland of the Garífuna people, Olga Emilia Hammer Cloter had a wild, early life. Her parents died when she was young, her sister ran away to join the circus (literally), and she eloped and became a mother before 17. Perhaps that’s some of the spice that gave her the adventurous, entrepreneurial spirit that’s always been a mystery to me.
I remember this giant, mysterious chest at her house where she stored all of her old recipes. Pan de coco, pan dulce, crepes, champurradas, unique recipes from the Caribbean life in Livingston. She would wake us up in the morning and say, “What do you want to make today?” We’d walk to the open-air mercado in zona 5 where we scoured the packed rows of fresh spices and fruits and nuts and freshly milled flour to make whatever our little hearts could dream.
For most all of her life, Abuelita was the proud owner and operator extraordinaire of panaderias - bakeries. Part of her mystery for me comes from watching the entrepreneurial spirit it took to do what she did - adaptable, creative, and unstoppable. She survived two strokes in her life, the first paralyzing her right side. She worked and worked to build back up her strength and start turning the dough again daily, just in time for the second stroke that landed her left side paralyzed. But no stopping Abuelita. She just learned a makeshift method leaning her body against the bowl and using her recovered right side strength to mix up the goodness. It's these qualities that inspire me in my own entrepreneurial journey with Convivio.
And, of course, "Abue" had her mysterious obsession with tea, as so many grandmothers round the world do. We couldn’t eat our panes and postres without a tea alongside to wash it down. Te de canela and Te de pericón for digestion. Period cramps? There’s a tea for that - rosa de jamaica. Stomach ache? Te de hierba buena (or te de boldo, but that was better for hangovers whether Abuela liked to admit it or not).
I’m unveiling a mystery of my own now as Convivio Café introduces our line of teas. Unique blends that combine the centuries of herbal wisdom from Mayan women in the mountains of Guatemala with some of the standard teas of the camelia sinensus species in Asia and Europe. Our artisan producer partners in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala are not only innovating new ways for us to look at these old, gorgeous, simple ingredients, but also creating economic opportunities for women - the teas are grown, processed, blended, packaged and exported by the beautiful hands of Mayan women. I think my Abue would be proud.