At Café Monte Alto in Plymouth, coffee is trans-continental family affair

PLYMOUTH — Ed Giunta runs Café Monte Alto on Main Street. He's from Boston, but he took the long route from his native city to Plymouth.

Giunta will be a featured speaker at the N.H. Coffee Festival today. The festival runs from noon to 4 p.m. Giunta's talk, "From Our Farm to Your Cup, Three Generations on Our Coffee Plantation in Peru," is scheduled from 12:30 to 1.

Giunta joined the Army when he was 17 and was stationed in Germany. He stayed in Germany through his service, and through an impermanent marriage to a German woman. He got a good, high-paying job at Lufthansa after his discharge, which was how he met his second wife, Hertha Mick, who was also working for the airline.

Hertha had taken her own unique route to find Giunta. A full-blooded German, Hertha was born in the jungle of Peru, part of a small cluster of Germans who moved to the Andes after World War I. Spanish was Hertha's first language, then she learned English at a school set up by an American mining company. As she was coming of age, she realized that her gender would restrict her to second-class status as long as she stayed in Latin America, so she returned to the Fatherland at the age of 19.

The couple continued their lucrative Lufthansa careers until unrest in Peru shook their comfortable lives in Germany. The Shining Path, which considered itself a Maoist revolutionary force but which was seen by observers, and most Peruvians, as a brutal terrorist group, had begun to expand its territories to include parts of the coffee-growing region by the late 1980s. When two of Hertha's relatives were abducted and killed – The Shining Path used ransom as one of its means of revenue generation – her family decided to leave Peru for Puerto Rico. Giunta and Hertha quit Lufthansa and left Germany to help her family establish themselves in their new home.

Giunta said they eventually created the best coffee farm on the island, though they quickly realized they were in for a new set of difficulties. "We saw very early on, there were some very specific problems" in Puerto Rico, he said. The local work force was unreliable and corruption was the rule, not the exception. Farmers falsified labor forms to extract more subsidies from the federal government, and federal inspectors happily took a bribe to look the other way. Many farmers made more by cheating the U.S. government than by producing coffee. Giunta had no interest in the scam. "If you're not willing to steal in Puerto Rico, you're not going to make it... We saw we had to get out."

By the late 1990s, Giunta and Hertha had just begun roasting their family's beans and were visiting family in New Hampshire. Giunta, who had worked at a summer camp on Stinson Lake as a teenager, was showing Hertha around the region when they happened to stop into the Chase Street Market in downtown Plymouth, to see how local roasters were packaging their products. Giunta chatted with the owner and left him with a few samples. 

"He called me up, and said that was really good stuff, why don't you bring me in ten or 11 pounds," Giunta recalled. In 1997, he changed from vendor to tenant, setting up a coffee shop in part of the store. The following year, Hurricane George decimated their coffee farm, along with much of the rest of Puerto Rico. Fortunately, the Peruvian government had broken the Shining Path by then, making it safe for Hertha's family to return to their farms in the Chanchamayo region, near the village of Villa Rica.

Giunta is proud to serve his family's coffee almost exclusively, the only exceptions are the decaf and one flavor from Papua, New Guinea. Giunta has a small warehouse and roasting facility near the café, where he receives 151-pound bags of green coffee beans and turns them into varying shades of brown. Last year he roasted 65,000 pounds of coffee, more than 99 percent of which came from the family farm. 

The arrangement does more than support his in-laws. Thousands of dollars, from coffee sales as well as outright donations, made possible the renovation of a dilapidated school in Chanchamayo, and each cup of coffee sold at Café Monte Alto contributes to pay the salary of a teacher at the school.

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Coffee Festival 2015

LACONIA — After a hiatus of a year the New Hampshire Coffee Festival is returning to downtown on Saturday, where the streets will be lined with vendors and alive with music and filled with the fragrance of fresh roasted beans and freshly brewed java.

John Moriarty, president of the Main Street Initiative, the sponsor of the event, said that some three dozen vendors, half of them offering coffee, cuisine and confections, will offer a rich mix of tastes and treats, including ice cream, pastries and candies as well as unique clothing, gifts and accessories. And since java and jazz go so well together, the Jonathan Lorentz Jazz Trio will perform throughout the festival

In addition, the festival will feature a schedule of programs exploring the mysteries and pleasures found in a fine cup of coffee. Emeran Langmaid of A & E Roastery & Tea of Exeter will demonstrate the craft of turning the topping on a cup of latter into a work of art, which will serve as a prelude the the "Latte Art Throwdown," a competition highlighting the talents of artistic baristas. Those tempted to roast their own coffee at home will have an opportunity to learn from Ben Bullerwell of Wayfarer Coffee Roasters, who has graduated from his kitchen to fueling patrons of the popular cafe on Main Street. Eddie Giunta of Cafe Mone Alto in Plymouth will tell the tale of how three brothers from Germany, who settled in Peru in the 1920s, spawned coffee house in New Hampshire in the 1990s.

For children, there will activities and games, including a race featuring the sacks that bring coffee from countless exotic places around the world to market. and coffee tic-tac-toe. Everyone can play the numbers game by trying to calculate the number of coffee beans in a glass jar.

Everyone attending the festival will receive a four-ounce cup with which to sample the offerings of each of the roasters along with a ballot to cast their vote for the best coffee on the street. for their vote

The coffee festival begins at noon on Saturday, September 19 and runs until 4 p.m. For more information visit the festival on Facebook at NH Coffee Festival.

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County union negotiations stuck at starting line

LACONIA — Negotiations between the the Belknap County Commission and the State Employees Association (SEA) over a collective bargaining agreement are at what Commissioner Hunter Taylor (R-Alton) yesterday called "an unfortunate impasse", with the two parties unable even to agree on the ground rules for conducting talks.

The SEA represents some 100 employees of the Belknap County Home, Department of Corrections and Sheriff's Department, who have been without a contract since the last collective bargaining agreement expired at the end of 2012. Twice, in 2013 and 2014, the Belknap County Convention has refused to ratify negotiated agreements, which a majority believed failed to require employees to shoulder a sufficient share of the cost of their health insurance.

Taylor, along with Dave DeVoy, chairman of the commission, Debra Shackett, the county administrator, and Roger Grey, a member of the Sanbornton Budget Committee serve on the negotiating team for the county. He said that the SEA objects to two ground rules proposed by the team. First, the SEA has rejected a proposal that negotiations be "transparent", not secret, and negotiators not be bound to keep proceedings confidential. Second, the SEA has challenged the presence of Grey, who while a resident and taxpayer, has no official relationship with the county.

Yesterday the commission sought to address the position of Grey by voting to create a position of "negotiating agent" with an annual stipend of $1 and reimbursement for mileage.

Neil Smith of the SEA, who negotiates on behalf of the employees, said that strict confidentiality is essential to successful negotiations. Collective bargaining, he said, always leads to disagreement between the parties, but confidentiality ensures that the dispute is confined to those with the authority and capacity to resolve it. Without confidentiality, he claimed, other parties and interests become engaged in the negotiations, lessening the likelihood of reaching agreement. "What is said in the room, stays in the room," he said.

The presence of Grey on the negotiating team, Smith argued, would be inconsistent with the certification of collective bargaining unit by the Public Employee Labor Relations Board, which designates the Belknap County Commission as "the employer". He said that by including a private citizen, the commission was delegating responsibilities exclusively reserved to it, which cannot be delegated to others.

At the same time, Smith said that the SEA is troubled that the commission is contemplating changing its health insurance carrier without consulting the union, as the collective bargaining agreement requires.

On September 2, the commission voted to contract with InterLocal Trust, which partners with Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare to serve local governments, beginning on January 1, 2016. HealthTrust, which has carried the county's plan, was informed of the decision.

Although the collective bargaining contract expired in 2012, the county and union are in so-called "status quo", which requires that apart from pay raises, the remaining provision of the expired contract remain in effect. One of these stipulates that before changing the health insurance plan the county and the union "must mutually agree that benefit levels are substantially similar in advance of any change."

Smith said he was aware the commission was exploring alternative health insurance plans, voted to switch to InterLocal Trust and informed Health Trust. "We expected a proposal, but there has been no proposal from the commission. They've provided no proposal for the union to review."

DeVoy acknowledged that the commission voted to switch and informed HealthTrust, then explained that it learned that InterLocal would raise its rates two percent after the first six months of the year. At the same time, HealthTrust told the commission that it would announce its rates for 2016 next months as well as indicate the amount it would refund to the county for excessive premiums paid in 2015. He said "we plan to go with InterLocal, but we're waiting to hear from HealthTrust. We 're hedging our bets."

DeVoy said that the SEA must agree to any change of health insurance carrier and noted when the commission met with Rick Stone of InterLocal yesterday he asked for a letter affirming that its plan is "substantially similar" to what Health Trust has provided.

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