We sat down with entrepreneur and coffee roaster extraordinaire Noushin Ketabi to learn about her company, Vega Coffee, and how their innovative supply chain is transforming lives for smallholder farmers and making coffee taste better than ever.
How did Vega get its start and what makes your way of doing business unique?
I started Vega along with my two co-founders, my husband Rob Terenzi and our friend Will DeLuca. The roots of Vega stretch back to 2006 when Rob began working with a women-run coffee cooperative in Miraflor to roast their coffee as a means to supplement the income the farmers received from selling their crop to exporters.
As coffee lovers, Rob, Will and I bought a lot of coffee. We were used to paying $3+ for Fair Trade, organic specialty grade coffee at our favorite coffee shops, thinking that we were supporting sustainable farmer livelihoods. Yet, when we got to know farmers in Nicaragua who dedicated their lives to growing Fair Trade, organic specialty coffee, we were stunned to learn that they could barely afford basic needs, like healthcare and education.
Something was broken. The coffee supply chain was built on a fundamental separation between coffee farmers and the people who enjoy their product. Both sides lose out as a result, with small-scale farmers often earning barely enough to get by, while coffee lovers pay higher premiums with little knowledge about where their coffee comes from. Intermediaries capture most of the value in the chain, with roasters taking a bulk of the profit.
Vega takes a totally new approach. We train coffee farmers to roast and package their coffee, keeping the most profitable part of the supply chain in farming communities. We sell our coffee via online subscription atwww.vegacoffee.com, where we connect coffee lovers directly with coffee farmers.
Our farmers earn up to 4x more income, and our customers pay less for exclusive access to specialty Farmer Roasted Coffee.
What makes you so passionate about coffee?
I’ve always loved coffee. Growing up, some of my favorite memories with my dad were around going to the local coffee shop and just being together. Great coffee can transport you across the world to where it comes from – and that’s the power of coffee: connection. Whether it is connecting to the person across the café table from you over a cup of cappuccino, or connecting to the farmer in Nicaragua whose lifelong dedication to quality makes each day you drink their coffee a little brighter – coffee represents inherent beauty of interdependence. I’m passionate about this incredible beverage, the world it fuels, and its remarkable potential to bring people together.
What's one fun fact about coffee that we might not know?
Here’s one -- about 25 million smallholder coffee farmers produce 80% of the world’s coffee. For that reason, it’s important to create a supply chain that fairly incentivizes quality, mitigates global price risk and connects these small-scale farmers to the marketplace.
What do you love most about your job?
Without a doubt, I love collaborating directly with coffee farmers. Farmers teach us their vast knowledge of all things coffee, and we train them in the latest roasting, cupping and processing techniques. It’s an incredible mix of old world and new world collaboration that together creates a totally unique, fantastic cup of coffee. I wouldn't trade those beautiful moments for anything else in the world.
What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Take the plunge! Be ready for change – and learning to assess and adapt to dynamic circumstances (usually out of your control). There’s no one way to do things, and no right answer; that’s the good news and the bad news. Your ability to weather uncertainty, empathize with others and hold confidence in your vision will ultimately define you as a leader and your success as an entrepreneur.
What's the next big thing for Vega?
The next big thing for us is to work thoughtfully and diligently to deepen our impact: on-board more farmers into our training and roasting program, build our customer base, pursue partnerships with awesome brands like True Moringa and Akiba, and grow into new coffee-growing regions. We’re excited for the future!
Noushin Ketabi is a co-founder of Vega Coffee, a featured item in our Mother's Day Beauty Box this month. Follow Vega on instagram and twitter, and sign up to receive coffee delivered to your door at their website.