The Coffee Man

Benchmark resident explored the world for the best beans

John Tessitore

John Tessitore remembers vividly the first time he met former Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, one of the most brutal despots in modern history. “He wasn’t a nice man; it was immediately apparent,” said John, a resident of The Village at Buckland Court in South Windsor, Conn.

Despite resistance from his colleagues in the coffee industry and pressure from other coffee-making countries, John was working for the Ugandan government at the time Amin seized power of the country in 1971.

John was focused on spearheading the import of one of Uganda’s prime exports, coffee, into the U.S. Today, coffee is Uganda’s second largest import – behind gold – amounting to $539 million annually.

During more than 40 years in the coffee industry, John frequently traveled to every major coffee-producing country, buying and selling the bean for the U.S. market and speaking as an expert at industry events. His experience and frequent travels to over a dozen countries earned him the industry title of “Coffee Man.”

Man holding coffee beans“You became a ‘coffee man’ when you knew your stuff —when you had learned as much as you could about the product, where it came from, participated in blending it, buying it, selling it, etc.,” he explained.

In addition to his title, he also gained a lifetime of memories and knowledge.

He remembers going to Ethiopia and being turned away for a scheduled meeting with a colleague. That night, a government coup at the palace killed 20 people, including his colleague.

“Instead of buying coffee the next day, I went to a funeral,” said John. “There was always a lot of instability and corruption in these countries, which made it challenging.”

The Brooklyn, N.Y., native fell into the coffee business when searching for a job on a hot August day after three years spent in the Navy Air Force during World War II. He was hired by J. Aron & Company, a commodities trading company specializing in coffee. The Wall Street firm “had the best air conditioning,” he recalled with a chuckle. It also provided the means to support his new wife, Marilyn, and raise four children. The couple were married for 64 years before Marilyn’s death last year.

Despite a career of challenges working with foreign governments, today, at 97, John maintains a lifelong philosophy of looking on the brighter side of things.

After his wife died, he moved to The Village at Buckland Court, a Benchmark assisted living and Mind & Memory Care community, which was recently recognized as a Best Assisted Living community by U.S. News & World Report.

At Buckland Court, John replaced a lifelong love of sports with walking – 10,000 steps a day. He travels around the community’s many spacious indoor areas, including its art gallery, billiards room and library, and 10 acres outdoors.

He also participates in some of the daily programs, including his favorite word games.

“I’m very happy here. The personnel are excellent and have your absolute best interests at heart. They go out of their way to help you,” he said.

Buckland Court offers extensive resident programming, such as music therapy, barre exercise classes, Tai Chi, Reiki, live entertainment and dance parties. In 2019, the community received national recognition for its Lifelong Learning program.

John enjoys educating people about coffee, claiming the best, in his experience, comes from Kenya, Tanzania and the Bugushu region of Uganda. “Look for beans from those areas if you really enjoy coffee,” he said.

Even though John no longer drinks coffee, he happily offers sage advice. “The coffee you like is the best because everyone’s tastes are different.”

Senior man smelling coffee beans

The Village at Buckland Court