After a childhood spent in Costa Rican coffee fields, Steven Fonseca opens Turtle Beans in Bordentown

“Coffee doesn’t judge, and when people come here I want them to feel that.”

Growing up poor, Steven Fonseca had to work as a kid. In rural southern Costa Rica, there were two industries to, hypothetically, choose from: Coffee and sugar.

Hypothetical because Fonseca had little choice in the matter.

“In Costa Rica there is sugarcane in the fields, or coffee,” says Fonseca. “The only thing my mom knew how to do was picking coffee in the fields. She would get up at 5 a.m., and she would come home after sundown. She would carry my sister, Samy, and I as babies in the coffee fields. We needed to pick coffee in the fields, because that was the way you would pay for books and uniforms for school.”

Today, at Fonseca’s new coffee shop in Bordentown—Turtle Beans Coffee Roasters, which he owns with his wife, Linda—there are reminders of his past. Notably, a coffee plant, which symbolizes Fonseca’s journey from working in the fields in Costa Rica to operating his own coffee shop in the Trenton area.

It’s been a complicated journey, considering that the plant represents everything Fonseca despised as a kid in Costa Rica.

“I hated it,” remembers Fonseca. “Every single day I hated it, and the only times I liked it was when we were given lunch because the food was delicious. I was embarrassed to pick coffee because only the poor people would pick coffee, and there was this consciousness of knowing that if I picked coffee in the fields I was poor. At that age I didn’t connect the drink coffee with the fields.”

It was Fonseca’s mother that reminded him that his situation was only temporary, and that he shouldn’t give up hope for a brighter future.

“In the fields, my mother would see airplanes in the sky, and she would say to me, ‘One day you are going to travel and you will be somewhere.’ She always had this vision.”

His mother’s vision kept him going through some pretty tough times as a teenager in Costa Rica. Due to the increase in coffee bean supply around the world in the ’90s, work in the fields came to halt, and Fonseca’s mother immigrated to the United States and settled in Trenton; Fonseca stayed home in Costa Rica.

“When my mom left, I was so happy because I had all of this freedom,” explains Fonseca. “But then I would go to my soccer games and realize she wasn’t there and all the other parents were there. Growing up, I had some resentment towards my mom because she left to find the American dream and bless us financially, but she didn’t know how much I needed her during those times. To this day I have trouble talking on the phone because the phone reminds me of how she would call me and how far away she was. I definitely missed her so much, but it all made me the person I am today.

Credit: Kyle Nardine

“It was her dream to come to America, but she didn’t want me to come with her,” Fonseca continues. “She didn’t want me to come with her because if you come here at 15 or 16, you have to work on the roofs. She always wanted me to study and go to school.”

With his mother in the Garden State, Fonseca lived by himself in his tiny house in Costa Rica. His mom would send him money. Living alone as a teenager with his mom thousands of miles away was tough, but playing soccer helped Fonseca get through it.

“Soccer was a huge part of my life,” explains Fonseca. “The only thing that kept me out of drugs and alcohol at that age as a teenager living on my own was soccer. Because I knew if I went out to party, the next day my training would be shitty.”

Fonseca went to university in Costa Rica and was excited about the fact that he was going to school in a city. A country boy going to school in the big city is a recipe for adjustment, but Fonseca felt confident because he remembered what his mom told him about doing big things as a child.

“I enjoyed the adjustment,” says Fonseca. “I believed in myself because my mom told me I was going to be somebody, and I always enjoyed learning. When somebody told me I couldn’t match black pants with white socks, I didn’t feel offended. I was like, ‘Oh really? How are you supposed to do it?'”

He studied international relations as a student in college and got to participate in a study abroad program in Pittsburgh, where he learned English from listening to Barack Obama’s campaign speeches, celebrated the Steelers winning the Super Bowl, and hung out with people from all walks of life.

After college, Fonseca went on to work for one of the biggest coffee companies in Costa Rica, and he finally connected the beans he picked as a child to the drink.

“That’s when my love for coffee began, and I was able to make peace with my past,” Fonseca says. “The business trained me well on where coffee comes from and the history of it, and all of the beans. I fell in love, and from that moment, coffee became a passion.”

One visit to Turtle Beans, and you can see Fonseca’s passion in motion as he makes coffee from a siphon for guests and explains the process, but the road to Farnsworth Avenue came with a few detours in life.

While Fonseca worked for a major coffee company, and later worked for the Chilean Embassy, he felt like his life didn’t have a purpose or a meaning.

“I wasn’t happy in life even though I had everything,” says Fonseca. “I had my apartment, I had my career and I did good at school. I remember feeling lonely and fearful, but I had a friend in soccer who introduced me to Jesus. Not the religion, but the person. I felt love and purpose.’’

Fonseca felt like he could change the world through religion, and went for training to become a pastor. He eventually got placed in Seattle to work with Hispanic families with the church, and it’s also where he met his wife, Linda. Later on, Steven and Linda left Seattle to move to Jersey to be closer to Steven’s mom and sister.

He had a lot of “beautiful moments” in the church and does agree with a lot of the teachings that he has received over the years regarding debt jubilees, love and rest. But Fonseca ultimately realized that he couldn’t change a system that didn’t want to be changed.

“I stayed in the church because I thought I had to stay to change it,” explains Fonseca. “I would bring my LGBTQIA+ friends and atheist friends to church. The church would get upset and saw them as projects, and they didn’t want to make changes to make those people feel more welcomed.

“Every church I went to there were people who wanted change, and there are good people at the church. But the system is too corrupted. It’s not the people, it’s the system and you can’t change the system. We won so many battles within the church, but it took an emotional toll. How can you say there doesn’t need to be change when young people are leaving the church? How can you say to a kid who was born homosexual that they need to change that? And that you aren’t loved by god because you are those orientations. How can you say to people who are going through mental health problems that it’s because they don’t pray enough?

Fonseca ultimately left his job as a pastor late last year. He focused on his mental health, and Turtle Beans has been a huge boost for him.

“Coffee doesn’t judge, and when people come here I want them to feel that,” says Fonseca.

With his days of being a pastor behind him, Fonseca focused on his new journey that was always brewing in the background. He and Linda started Turtle Beans Coffee Roasters and had a soft opening in late June. Turtle Beans started as a roasting company, but Fonseca realized he wanted to be around people and share his love of coffee. Through coffee tastings, Linda and Steven realized that the dream of running a coffee shop might come sooner rather than later.

“I realized I didn’t want to be a roaster,” says Fonseca. “I realized that I really liked being around people and telling the story about coffee and the products.”

“In every stage of our relationship, coffee was around. It was always our dream to own a coffee shop, but I always thought it would happen later in life,” says Linda. “At the end of Steven’s career, he began roasting as a hobby, and he realized the coffee that he roasted was pretty good as well.”

The name Turtle Beans has a purpose: to remind themselves and others to slow down and enjoy life.

“We have always loved turtles, and what they represent,” says Linda. “They represent slowing down and taking things one day at a time.”

Linda and Steven mean what they say when it comes to slowing down and enjoying life. The shop is closed on Saturdays for a day to relax and get ready for the week ahead. They do plan to be open for events that happen on Saturdays in Bordentown, such as the upcoming Pride event on July 30.

But slowing down gives people a chance to enjoy the drink that is in front of them. Turtle Beans has traditional coffee items that you would expect such as lattes and Americanos, but also they have non-traditional items like mojitos.

“Our preferred drink is always mojitos,” says Linda. “Steven started to experiment, and was like, ‘This is actually pretty good’. We have our cold coffees as well, and it’s super refreshing during the heat of the summer.”

Steven also takes note about how his journey in life came full circle. He went from picking coffee beans with his mom and sister to now running a coffee shop in a city near where his mother relocated. Similar to the past, his mom and sister are by his side always and help him with the shop. He has future plans to honor her in the shop.

“My mom got me into the coffee world even when I didn’t want it,” says Fonseca. “She raised us as a single mom by working in the coffee fields. She had to migrate because of the coffee prices worldwide. It all comes full circle.”

Turtle Beans Coffee Roasters is located on 225 Farnsworth Ave. in Bordentown and will be having a grand opening on Aug. 7. For more information on Turtle Beans Coffee Roasters, go here.