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Longmont’s Red Frog Coffee staff reflect on trip to Japan

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Mar. 22—With support from the local community, the baristas of Longmont’s Red Frog Coffee spent last month embarking on an unforgettable adventure — a staff trip to Japan.

Six baristas, plus shop co-owner Emily Zalewski, spent Feb. 18 through 25 in Kyoto, the home of Zalewski’s brother and sister-in-law. The week was packed with plenty of activities, from eating Japanese cuisine to sightseeing in rainy weather. One of Zalewski’s favorite days of the trip included a visit to a shrine, temple and bamboo grove.

“Everyone couldn’t help but feel peace and tranquility there,” Zalewski said.

The idea for the trip was initially pitched last summer, and it turned into a fundraiser once the baristas expressed their desire to go. The fundraiser ultimately brought in nearly $14,000, which covered everyone’s plane tickets and some travel expenses within the country.

“I was in disbelief,” Zalewski said of the support. “My heart was warmed so much to see how much the staff meant to customers.”

Zalewski said donations from Longmont companies and individuals were critical. Airport shuttle service Eight Black and a local doctor used their airline miles to cover three and four plane tickets, respectively.

Customers could also make cash donations at Red Frog, which occasionally came with little notes of encouragement. Zalewski said that, just the day before the trip, a couple of customers made a final contribution to help the staff cover food and drinks at the airport.

“They just so wanted to be a part of that adventure,” Zalewski said.

Braelyn Juelke, one of the six baristas who joined the trip, said her favorite part was a matcha tea ceremony, where they got to dress in traditional Japanese clothing and meet a geisha.

The team also visited a few cafes, which gave them the chance to see the ins and outs of Japanese coffee shops first-hand. Juelke explained that Japanese shops tend to focus on pour-over and drip coffee rather than espresso drinks like lattes.

“We got to talk to some of the baristas there and just experience how coffee was different,” Juelke said. “Even when I did have lattes, their art was so impeccable and so detailed. They really honed their skills there.”

Juelke was the barista who really pushed for the trip, posing the idea last year as a chance to see Zalewski’s brother and travel with her Red Frog friends. Seeing the trip go from concept to reality, Juelke said, was “unbelievable.”

“It just makes me feel like anything is possible,” Juelke said. “You can make anything happen, really, if you want it to happen.”

Another barista, Sarah Roberts, said one of her favorite parts of the trip was when they visited a market with hundreds of local artisans. Roberts also appreciated the opportunity to see how coffee is treated in Japan and even got to go behind the counter at one of the shops.

This trip was especially exciting for Roberts as it also marked her first time traveling internationally.

“(I got) a new perspective of people as a whole,” Roberts said. “There is a lot to learn in any area that you go to.”

Zalewski compared the bond the Red Frog team forged over a week of eating and sleeping together in a foreign country to that of a family.

“I think it’s cool for anyone to consider if they can ever do (a trip) for their staff,” Zalewski said. “It’s so special for that group of people.”

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