Social Start-up Levanta Coffee is the brainchild of two good men looking to do well not only by their consumers but by the persons who make it all possible, the growers and their families.
The following is a Q&A interview with Matt Hohler, one of the founders of Levanta Coffee along with Robert Durrette.
1. What is Levanta Coffee and why is it different than most coffee companies? Also, how are you getting your message out there?
Levanta Coffee is a social start-up coffee company focused on sharing the story of coffee. We chose the name Levanta for two reasons; to wake up in the morning with Levanta Coffee, and also to lift-up the producers we work with. Many problems related to poverty exist in the coffee industry, yet most coffee drinkers are disconnected to this reality. As a company, it is our goal to provide economic opportunities for the coffee farmers we work with while providing an opportunity for the coffee drinker to connect to the story in an intimate way. We plan to create these opportunities by paying a bonus directly to our producers, 50% above the current fair-trade standard. We will be sharing the stories of our producers via our Instagram and Facebook pages, you can follow along here:
2. For those of us unfamiliar with coffee production, can you describe to us the process, does the story really begin at the bean and end in a cup?
Coffee production is much more labor-intensive than you would imagine. It takes at least 3 years before a coffee tree can even produce coffee “cherries” (the coffee fruit is often referred to as a cherry). Each bean must be hand picked, on difficult terrain. From here, coffee must go through a “wet-processing” (there are other processes but Peru is almost exclusively 100% wet-processing) which includes soaking coffee in tanks, removing the defect beans and allowing a slight fermentation to occur. The fruit is then removed from the beans by using a de-pulping machine. Once again, the beans sit for 4-8 hours, are washed with water 2-3 times. Afterward, the beans are set out to dry, which can take up to two weeks, if not more. The beans must be raked a few times each day to ensure consistent drying. The beans are then bagged and transported to the cooperative. This is often the point in the process when the coffee producer loses all control and must sell his product.
The cooperative allows an opportunity to reach foreign markets, where Peru has made a name for itself as the leader in organic and fair-trade coffee. Once coffee “sits” (continues to dry out) for a few weeks, it is then sent on to the dry-mill where the outer “parchment” of the coffee is removed. It is then further separated by size and density, often by hand. From here, you have green coffee beans that are ready to export, usually sent to a large warehouse. The beans are then distributed to varying sized roasting companies, which may then be sold to different cafes, supermarkets, etc. This is a very quick explanation, but as you can see it is a lot of work, and the product passes many hands before it reaches you, the coffee drinker.
3. Who are your main competitors and why? Will you have to work with fair-trade?
Coffee is a massive industry, and there are many different players in the game. Fair-trade has done a great job of providing resources and motivation for communities to organize, but it is not as glamorous as many people might think. The current fair-trade standards mean that coffee cooperatives receive a 20 cent bonus, to be used for development and social programs. They also use what is known as a “floor-price” which protects farmers in case of a crash in the global market, which has happened before. Fair-trade has allowed for many advancements in coffee production, but the farmer does not directly benefit in the way one might hope.
We wanted to do better, creating impact directly to the coffee producers. Our model will be to purchase the coffee at the fair-trade price, working through the cooperative. We will then provide a 50% bonus directly to our producers’. In return for this bonus, we ask to share their personal stories to invite people into the beauty of life on a coffee farm.
4. How do Coffee Co-ops work in Peru…Are they mostly the same worldwide?
Peru can often be looked to as an example in the world of coffee, and much of that is due to their rising quality and ability to organize through cooperatives. A cooperative is a collective group of coffee (or cacao) farmers who work together to sell their products, creating channels to foreign markets. The organization allows for investments in infrastructure, processing equipment, and training opportunities for the co-op members. Most cooperatives function similarly throughout the world. Peru is a leading example of how working together can provide benefits for everyone, whether it be from organic coffee, fair-trade certifications, or opportunities to participate in direct-trade.
5. You have only arrived in Peru a few months ago and have already contracted growers and built quite a network around you, how have you gotten all of this to move so fast?
Honestly, it is just showing up every day searching for a way to make it happen.
I am passionate about coffee, but it really isn’t about the coffee, it is about the people. The connection to the beautiful places, and the amazing people who work so hard to harvest coffee. The connection to the story is what motivates me, we really feel like we are creating something impactful and special. My business partner and I have been working around the clock, and truthfully it is just about showing up every day with a plan. We have different styles, which also helps. We are excited with where we are at now but the real work lies ahead of us.
6. If all things go to plan, what is your BIG vision for Levanta Coffee?
Today, we launch our Kickstarter to raise the initial funds to launch our company. We have already purchased from two producers, but the long term vision is to create opportunities and purchase from 500 producers. Can we change the coffee industry ourselves? Of course not. If we are able to create real opportunities for 500 producers and their families, at that point I will be very proud of what we created.
7. As a consumer, how can we contribute to the Levanta Coffee vision?
Well, you can certainly consider “backing” us on our Kickstarter page. Kickstarter is a platform that allows people to purchase a product via a presale. We have different reward levels, which include different prizes, such as coffee, t-shirts, coffee cups and travel experiences! You can support us by choosing a reward, which gives us the opportunity to raise the funds to begin production. There will be a 2-3 month turn-around time after the Kickstarter ends to send out the coffee and other rewards. We will offer free pick-up on coffee-only orders in Lima.
8. What is the best way to get in contact with Levanta Coffee?
You can reach me personally at firstname.lastname@example.org or send an email to the team at email@example.com. We love to connect, feel free to send us a message.