Falmouth resident launches coffee company with a cause

November/December 2015
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Here’s an easy prediction: if Thomas A. Baxendale were alive today, Bob Taft would buy the man a cup of coffee. A longtime resident of Falmouth’s Megansett village, Taft has long admired Baxendale, who lived on Amrita Island in nearby Cataumet just about a century ago. During the 1890s, Baxendale and his wife, Esther, built a magnificent estate on Amrita, which overlooks Squeteague Harbor. Notably, the couple also shared a love for animals. When Baxendale passed away, he left much of his fortune and land to Harvard University, with the stipulation that a school be established on the Cape Cod property where teachers and young people would be taught about animals.

In 1934, Harvard transferred that property, which includes a 23-acre swath along Megansett Road as well as one-half of Lawrence Island—to the Animal Rescue League. Then, for the next 70 years or so—excluding four summers during World War II—the organization operated a summer camp on the property. Taft, 62, was one of those campers, and those visits inspired him. “It had a material impact on my life,” he recalls. “I can still remember the smell of the wood shop.”

Fast forward to 2015: The Animal Rescue League still owns the land but hasn’t run the camp since 2007; the cabins and buildings remain, though the structures are boarded up and many are in disrepair; and the future of the land is uncertain . . . and Taft, who lived just a few blocks from the spot for many years, is launching a coffee business.

What in the name of Juan Valdez does any of this have to do with coffee? Well, the name of Taft’s company is Amrita Certified Pure, and though the roasts feature beans imported from as far afield as Ethiopia, Guatemala, and Bali, Indonesia, the company’s mission is focused primarily on this unique little piece of land in Cataumet. Through sales of his Amrita coffee, Taft’s goals are bold: he wants to “save the property,” if possible, and ultimately ensure that the Baxendales’ dream for the land is realized in perpetuity.

“We want to fulfill the legacy of the Baxendales,” Taft says. “They had a very specific wish and it was to preserve this wonderful island and offer courses on nature. And it’s not happening. The land is just sitting there rotting . . . I kept reflecting on what a great guy he was, Thomas Baxendale, and his wife, Esther. I just finally decided, we’ve got to do something more.”

It’s important to note that the Animal Rescue League still owns the land, though Taft and others are unsure what the organization plans to do with it, if anything. Taft estimates the property’s value is in the “multiple millions.”

Joining Taft in this effort is Anne Valdez, who has considerable experience in the coffee world, both roasting and judging, though no relation to Juan. “These are really some fine coffees,” says Valdez, adding that the Ethiopian blend “is like a burst of blueberries,” the Guatemalan has a hint of chocolate, and the Bali Blue Moon is earthy, creamy, and full-bodied. “You’re going to get a very good cup of coffee,” she says, “for a good cause.” Currently, the company only sells the coffee on its website, but Taft and Valdez have goals of opening a few coffee shops and are eyeing New Bedford and Cape Cod as potential locations. Valdez says the coffee comes in light and dark varieties, and it is prepared only in small batches and roasted to order with the roasting date printed on the bag.

Why did they choose beans from Ethiopia, Guatemala, and Bali? “Ethiopia,” Valdez says, “is the birthplace of coffee.” The latter two areas, she adds, both have exotic or mystical properties, perhaps, one might say, like the ethereal Amrita Island.

Amrita_ND15_finalFor more information, visit amritacoffee.com