We just returned from Tarrazú, where we solidified our relationship with the first farmer from whom we will be starting our venture, Don Carlos Montero. At Bean Voyage, we often use the term ‘relationship of trust’, which can be rather vague. In this blog, I will make an attempt to explain what that means through our experience with Don Carlos and his community.
What we mean by relationship of trust is not only working in a manner of conducting business where products are exchanged for money and photos are exchanged for likes. Instead, we believe that only a truly immersive experience to understand the community that one desires to serve and to co-create creative solutions to the challenges the community faces is a relationship where trust is the only currency that matters. When we heard of Don Carlos from an agronomist who had conducted research in the Tarrazú region, we were excited to meet him and his family. He kindly welcomed us to his house, hosting us for about two weeks, while driving us to meet various roasters, and other coffee farmers. Every morning, during breakfast, he would ask us about the different cultures that we represent, and share his experience having traveled around the world as a young individual, working from one job to another, hopping from one continent to another. During lunch, we would discuss plans for visits during the day and reflect on our learning experiences. During dinner and after, we would then discuss our business strategy with him, sharing our fears and excitements, while learning about his vision for the farm. His vision, as he shared, is to establish a school of baristas in his farm, which would welcome coffee enthusiasts from around the world to learn about the processes of coffee production, washing, drying, roasting and preparation of a perfect cup. He started working on his vision a few years ago, and in his attempt, inspired his children, especially his oldest daughter Marianela, who has been working to market his coffee internationally, while learning more about the needs of the consumers.
However, Don Carlos, like many smallholder farmers, is restricted from achieving his dream due to the low generation of income from coffee sales. On average, when he sells green beans to commercial roasters, he receives about $8 per kilogram of coffee. That coffee is then roasted in what we call the global north, and then sold for about $60 per kilogram. Therefore, Don Carlos is only receiving about 13.3% of the revenue generated from coffee sales. This allows him to pay for the cost of maintaining the farms, paying his few workers, and the basic cost of living. There is no room for reinvestment in the revenue that he is generating from such sales. Yet, he said that his condition is a lot better than many other farmers that supply their coffee beans to local cooperatives at often $3 per kilogram.
If you were to visit Don Carlos on a regular day as a commercial roaster, for the purpose of business, you could not tell that he has such a dream and that he is not able to meet his dream due to such inequality in the coffee industry. However, through numerous conversations over hours of coffee, and walks across his farms, we were able to understand that under the smiling and generous face of Don Carlos, there is the vision for a flourishing coffee industry where his children can contribute and further the vision that was originally held by his father, Don Eli. From early morning, when he mobilizes his few workers to maintain the farms, to late evenings, where he is engaged in meetings with community members to ensure greater support for other smallholder farmers, he is always on the go, hunting and bustling to ensure that all the tasks are done. Amidst all this, he still manages to get on a call with his children once a day to ensure they are doing well in the different places that they live.
Another example of his exemplary leadership in the community was just yesterday when he organized a Trapiche, an event for the local community to come together and donate money to support a family friend who is suffering through an illness. The week leading up to the event, Don Carlos was busy organizing the event, inviting everyone, organizing spaces and even offering his house as the location for the preparation of food and drinks to be served in order to raise funds.
As we return to San Jose to further solidify our plan of action for exportation and sales, I am inspired by his commitment to service and growth within the coffee industry but also in his community. As entrepreneurs, we are always looking for inspiration from individuals such as Steve Jobs and Muhammad Yunus, but really, if we spend enough time with the local communities that we are collaborating with, we are more likely to find some of the most inspiring individuals in the world. He is truly a coach to his daughter Marianela, with whom he has established a partnership to ensure that the coffee culture can continuing flourishing through generations.
Much thanks to Don Carlos for his hospitality and support towards our venture. We will be starting sales of two types of coffee from his farm: naturally processed and double washed coffee. Check out our website if you would like to know more and make a pre-order: www.beanvoyage.com/products
By Abhinav Khanal, Co-founder & CSO