Growing up With Green Coffee and Coco Beans

How often have you heard someone say: “My parents want me to become a doctor or an engineer”? Only few people dare to challenge societal “norms” and walk the path less traveled. 

Café Younes, founded in 1935, is the oldest coffee shop in Lebanon.  If you are a regular customer, you must have exchanged at least a few words with Ahmed, a skinny young man with curly brown hair, who wears eye glasses. You can tell that he is always smiling even behind the mask. 

Ahmad Hawi. Photo by Christel Saneh

Ahmed Hawi 27, is one of the few people in Lebanon who dared to challenge the societal prejudgments.He had the guts to follow his heart and pursue his passion for coffee as a career. He studied biology and successfully passed the medicine exam before shifting his path.

“My dad wanted me to become a doctor, but I stopped my medicine studies before the end of the first semester, because I realized that this was not what I wanted to do,” said Hawi. 

Ahmad explaining about the origins of coffee. Photo by Christel Saneh

Hawi was born in Lebanon, but spent most of his childhood in Freetown, Sierra Leone, a country known for its cacao and coffee export. His parents used to work in trading, so processed coco and coffee beans were part of their job. It turned out to be Hawi’s playground. 

“I used to accompany my father to his work place and steal coco and coffee beans. Their smell was amazing and very particular,” said Ahmad. 

Ahmad with the green coffee beans at Café Younes. Photo by Christel Saneh

When at university, he used to study at Café Younes. He needed a side job to be able continue his Master’s degree in Molecular Biology, so a friend of his recommended the job at Café Younes, where the inspiring story began.

It was not until he was introduced to the workplace by his manager Pascale Mantoufe, that he realized that the green coffee beans that he grew up with, are the same product used to brew the coffee that people drink. 

“At this moment, I had a huge flashback to my childhood days in Africa, and that’s when my passion for coffee started growing. I couldn’t establish the link because the smell and taste of a green coffee bean is completely different from what we drink,” added Hawi. 

Back in 2016, Hawi started as a barista, he was later promoted to supervisor, then to branch manager. Today he is a quality controller, head of training, and was recently promoted to area manager. 

All these promotions were the fruit of a growing passion and a hunger to learn new things and expand his knowledge. He read tons of books, watched hours of YouTube videos, and followed his favorite show, the World Championship is coffee. His curiosity had a big role to please in the evolution of his career.

“I wanted answers to everything: how much the person who harvests earns, how long it takes for the plant to grow, when the harvest season is, how coffee beans can be transported by boats without losing their quality, what kind of trucks they use transport wild beans, and the list goes on,” explained Hawi.

Green coffee beans. Photo by Christel Saneh.

Before working at Café Younes, Hawi was a lab technician at a hospital. 

“I found myself in the Café. I never left the cafe to work at the hospital, especially knowing how society looks at someone who works in a cafe compared to someone who works at a hospital. Even my parents argued with me, but I wanted to do what I love,” he argued.

Hawi also studied psychology with the aim of combining what he had learned, and what he was passionate about. 

“Biology taught me how the body functions, but I studied psychology to learn how the mind functions. I wanted to apply it in my day to day life, by not only understanding the customers and their needs, but by also figuring out my co-workers, and thus, improving the workflow,” he added.

Ahmad preparing coffee. Photo by Christel Saneh.

Today, Hawi continues to learn. With his new position, he will know more about the business aspect of the industry, and contribute even more to its success. 

Café Younes never stopped working even during the civil war. Amin Younes, the owner of the Café, is one of Hawi’s mentors. 

“Everything I know today is mostly because of this family business. Mr. Amine and I have a great relationship; we always exchange ideas, recipes and new blends. He is an icon in Lebanon, and he is someone I look up to,” he added.

Ahmad serving the coffee he prepared. Photo by Christel Saneh.

The person who taught him everything is his manager Pascale Mantoufe who started working at Cafe Younes in 2008. She is the one who trained Hawi for the first time.

“During our first training session, Ahmed drew the link between the green beans of his childhood in Africa and the coffee we were preparing. He was eager to learn new things and I knew that he had something special. He has a great personality and never stoped improving on different levels,” commented Mantoufe.

Hawi is a very talkative person who enjoys spending time with his clients. He confessed that he loved being recognized, and appreciated the connections he had built through his five years at the Café. 

“I first met Ahmed in Café Younes Badaro, then I was bumping into him is different branches. After a few conversations, I realized how knowledgable he is and how passionate he is about his job. He definitely loves his job and this is very important especially for clients,” said Gaby Issa-El-Khoury, a regular customer.

With a huge smile on his face Hawi said: “the behind the bar area is where happiness is created”. 

One thing is sure, Hawi found his happy place and wants others to find theirs as well: “I want to tell people that it is not wrong to follow your passion, there is always a way to combine what you studied or learned with what you love, everything has a purpose. You just have to find your why and live by it.”

By Christel Saneh.

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