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Field Update: My Best Espresso

By Atul Tandon

Last fall, I traveled to Bogotá to meet Opportunity International clients and visit our staff in the field. One morning, we loaded our car and drove to Opportunity's branch in a neighborhood in the southern part of the city, where poverty and violence are daily realities.

As we approached the office, I noticed a small coffee shop across the street. An admitted coffee aficionado, I asked to make a quick stop so that I could pick up an espresso: my regular caffeine of choice.

The small shop was simple—plastic tables and the regular crowd enjoying their breakfast—but behind the counter was an impressive espresso machine. I anticipated a delicious beverage, but when I attempted to order, neither the barista nor my translator knew what an espresso was. It turns out that coffee without water, milk, or sugar is relatively unheard of in Colombia.

With gestures and the help of our local staff, I explained to the barista how to make espresso—much to her surprise and doubt. She kept looking at me, asking, “Are you sure this is what you want?”

I assured her that it was. 

The first cup didn’t work, and neither did the second. But she was persistent—determined to learn something new and meet her customer’s request. By this point, she had gathered a crowd; an audience to watch her as she built new skills and worked diligently to perfect her technique. After six attempts, she reached over and handed me a cup.

It was the best espresso I had ever tasted.

We spent the rest of the day visiting Opportunity International clients—women who are just as hardworking as the barista I had met that morning. As I sat in a Trust Group meeting in a barrio high in the mountains of southern Bogotá, I saw that same determined attitude in the women sitting around me. They ran their own small businesses—selling sugar, sewing clothes, managing a beauty salon—and they spoke confidently about their accomplishments and dreams.

These women have faced unthinkable challenges, yet have such resilience. They have overcome decades of violence and unimaginable economic poverty, and yet there they were, working toward their goals. They personified the characteristics that I have come to expect from Opportunity clients around the world: hardworking, enterprising, inspiring. 

When we finished our client visits for the day and returned to the branch office, I returned to the café for one last coffee.

I watched the barista pull a perfect drink on her first try, and enjoyed my second truly great espresso of the day.

As I walked out, I could hear the sound of laughter behind me.

And this, I now realize, is the goal of our work at Opportunity International: to invest in the potential of hardworking people around the world, to teach new skills and create opportunities for success, to enter difficult places with hope and possibility, and to leave joy behind us as we go. 

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