Judging from the numbers, you probably enjoy your morning cup of coffee as much as I do. Global coffee consumption has doubled over the last 40 years. An estimated 2.25 billion cups of coffee are consumed around the world each day. Americans alone drink about 400 million of those.
And chances are that you, like me, have no idea where that delicious jolt of energy actually came from, how it was produced and how it ended up on your breakfast table.
That’s what Vega Coffee, a startup working out of New York and Nicaragua, is trying to change. Vega Coffee’s model has been dubbed the “Etsy of coffee” — beans processed, roasted and packaged by those who grew them, and then delivered to your front door. Along with several other coffee innovators, the company is trying to rethink the way coffee is sold and thereby empower the farmers in the field.
‘Such An Obvious Problem’
In 2005, Vega Coffee co-founder Rob Terenzi left for Nicaragua to intern with a small nonprofit, which was working with women’s coffee cooperatives.
According to Terenzi, the women were making about 60 to 75 cents a pound on their unroasted coffee beans, which were then being exported to the U.S., where the beans sold for $15 to $20 a pound. Meanwhile, he said, “Nicaragua had just started becoming a tourist mecca, and the hotels and restaurants were still serving terrible instant coffee. Garbage.”
So after his internship ended, Terenzi stayed to work with one of those co-ops, for two years. Together, he and the women tried a new approach: roasting and selling the beans themselves to hotels and in neighboring towns. It was, he said, a self-sustaining business model.
Once back in the U.S., Terenzi’s now-wife, Noushin Ketabi, and his college friend, Will DeLuca, were equally fascinated by what seemed like both a possible business opportunity and a way to change an unfair production system.
“We kept thinking about this idea — farmer-roasted coffee — because it was such an obvious problem to us,” Terenzi said. “If you look at a chart comparing the price that consumers are paying for a cup of coffee over the last five to seven years to how much farmers are earning, they are exactly inverse. Prices are going up and farmers are earning less.”
“Where does that money go?” Terenzi wondered.
It turns out the profit ends up everywhere except with many of the coffee farmers.
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