Julia Peixoto Peters brings “crop-to-cup” coffee to Arizona, roasting and brewing beans grown on her family farm in Brazil.

Brewed Awakening

Written by Leah LeMoine Category: People Issue: November 2015
Group Free

Julia Peixoto Peters brings “crop-to-cup” coffee to Arizona, roasting and brewing beans grown on her family farm in Brazil.

When Julia Peixoto Peters was a little girl, she dunked her cookies in coffee, not milk.

“I dipped sandwiches in coffee, pieces of French bread with butter,” she says, her voice a throaty singsong that swings up with frequent bursts of laughter. “I don’t remember trying coffee for the first time because it was always so ingrained in my every day – nothing special.”

Peixoto Peters’ father, José Augusto Peixoto, is a third-generation coffee farmer in Brazil. Though Peixoto Peters was born and raised in Batatais in the state of São Paulo, she grew up tagging along with her parents and two older sisters on weekly visits to the farm, Fazenda Sao José da Boa Vista, in Ibiraci in the nearby state of Minas Gerais.

“My parents always brought their coffee to the city where we lived, and there was this lady who was in her 70s who used to roast manually – one of those drum roasters – and grind the coffee and then bring it to our house in a tin can, and that’s what my mom did every morning: pour-overs,” Peixoto Peters recalls. “Not with a fancy apparatus, just a metal Melitta [a conical pour-over coffee maker] and regular kettles. That’s how we’ve always known coffee... The tradition in Brazil is when people come to see you, you pour a fresh cup of coffee on the spot. You never leave someone’s home before you drink their coffee – it’s rude.”

The Peixotos did not harbor dreams of their daughters inheriting the family farm; in fact, they discouraged them from following in their coffee-farming footsteps. Like many who toil in the back-breaking and mercurial world of agriculture, José Augusto wanted better for his children.

“They wanted to offer us the best opportunities in life, so they always pushed us to go above and beyond and pursue our education,” Peixoto Peters says. “They never really tried to get us involved in the family business, maybe because after so many generations and all these struggles, the ups and downs of the coffee industry, they just wanted us to have a more traditional career.”

So they did. Peixoto Peters’ sisters entered the medical field, while she studied law. She came to the United States at age 22 to get her master’s degree at the University of Arizona and later became an attorney for shipping company DHL in Phoenix. She met and married aerospace engineer Jeff Peters here, and they had two children – Lia and Benjamin, now ages 5 and 4, respectively.

After the death of her grandfather, “the inequities of the process” of coffee-farming – the hand-to-mouth existence dictated by speculation and market fluctuation in which “the price bears no relation to the quality of the product” and intermediaries easily exploit farmers – began to weigh on her. She decided to start a coffee shop.

“I came to realize that one day, if one of us didn’t do something, the family’s coffee would go away... [and that] I could be creative while developing something around my family’s legacy, so I just put two and two together and I went on a campaign to convince my husband that that was a good idea.”

It was a hard sell. After months of deliberation, Peters jumped on board, with the intention of staying involved through construction and the development of a roasting program. (A longtime home beer brewer and baker, Peters taught himself how to roast and even developed a software program for the shop’s roaster.) He would then take a more hands-off approach while Peixoto Peters ran the show. They opened Peixoto Coffee Roasters in January in a former laser hair removal facility in downtown Chandler.

PHM 800x800 FPO“Along the way I kind of fell in love with coffee. I found I couldn’t quite extricate myself,” Peters says. “I was doing all the roasting, doing all the maintenance. I was too involved to be able to work myself out easily – I would have had to hire many people to do what I do.” He quit his job and now works at the shop full time, while Peixoto Peters still works full time as an attorney for DHL.

Peixoto Coffee Roasters’ distinction as the state’s only crop-to-cup shop with a family farm connection sets them apart even from the proud cadre of coffeehouses that roast organic, fair-trade, single-origin beans. Sourcing beans from your own farm is a level of coffee cred only a handful of shops in the entire United States have.

“People can come and look at the photos [of the coffee plants and harvest] and talk to Jeff and Julia about their experiences at the farm,” says Marisa Lown, manager and recipe developer at Peixoto. “The guys from Provision Coffee, Jeff Kraus from Crêpe Bar, some of the local restaurant owners are in here, checking it out. I think everyone leaves extremely pleased and educated, in a way, about what we are truly doing.”

Coffee aficionado Chris Tingom, who runs the blog Arizona Coffee, says the buzz is warranted. “Peixoto is making awesome coffee in Chandler and fills a huge need for excellent coffee shops in the Chandler area,” Tingom says. “They’re the only crop-to-cup coffee company in Arizona, and they’re the first shop in the city of Chandler to offer this summer’s hit drink: nitro cold brew coffee. Their nitro is one of my favorites around Arizona, and it is worth the extra cost to try it.”

Peixoto Peters hopes to parlay the shop’s success into opening the door for her father’s beans to be sold worldwide, at a price that honors the hard work the 70-year-old and his crew put into each planting and harvest. Explaining the popularity of specialty coffee and the hipster status of brew bars to her farmer father who knows coffee firsthand as a commodity crop – and a volatile one at that – is a challenge.

“I try to convey to him what’s happening here. It’s very hard to convey with words,” she says. “I tell him, ‘It’s very successful. People are loving your coffee. People can actually pronounce your name now.’” (For the record, it’s pay-SHOW-tow.) “He loves the idea of people knowing his coffee as specialty coffee, because for all his life, people bought his coffee and sold it as something else. For him to be able to sell Peixoto coffee is huge.”

Whenever Peixoto Peters feels overwhelmed by the spinning plates, she retreats to the back of the shop.

“Back there is a picture of my father holding the beans in his hand,” she says, gesturing toward the wall by the piles of huge burlap sacks bulging with green coffee beans waiting to be roasted. “That’s really a little sanctuary for me whenever I get lost in the day to day of paying bills, doing payroll, that kind of thing. I go back there and just remind myself why I’m doing what I’m doing. It’s my grounding space.”