Ervin Liz ’16 knows a thing or two about coffee. He grew up the son of a coffee farmer in the Tierradentro region of the Andes Mountains in Colombia. His village didn’t have roads or electricity until 2003, but the Nasa tribe coffee farmers who formed Liz’s community worked hard to grow beans at an elevation of 6,500 feet above sea level. It’s a difficult living, since only about 1 percent of coffee-trade profits funnel back to the community.
So a year ago, when the economics major, who lives in Bloomington, Minn., was thinking about next career steps, he figured: Why not help myself and my community at the same time? He got in touch with Jon Baklund, an entrepreneurial inventor who had lectured to Liz’s entrepreneur class in 2014, and the two cofounded Colombian Coffee Connection (CCC).
Liz and Baklund aim to provide a superior product. They note that coffee grown at high elevations takes three to four months longer to mature, giving it time to build flavor and a higher caffeine content. CCC coffee is bought directly from farmers. It’s hand-screened by Liz’s father, Isidro, and it’s delivered to the warehouse an astonishing three weeks after harvest. The beans are hand-roasted and hand-packed by Liz. And CCC pays farmers three times what coffee co-ops do.
“Fair trade, Rainforest Alliance Certified, equal exchange—none of those labels really apply at the personal level,” Liz says. “Coffee companies buy from the co-ops, and the co-ops are supposed to distribute that income to the famers, but that rarely happens. I say this from personal experience, because my father was a coffee farmer until 2010. He always complained about the low price, that they never really get paid what the co-ops and ‘fair’ labels suggest the farmers are getting paid.”
Liz continues, “The only companies that create positive impact are those that go directly to the farmer, and you can count them on your fingers.”
In addition to paying farmers fairly, CCC uses 10 percent of its profits to help elderly Nasa tribespeople in need. The company, with the help of 24 donors, built a new house for an elderly woman last summer and is currently fundraising to build a second house in Liz’s home village.
“It’s something that comes from the heart,” Liz says. “For Jon and me, it’s really about bringing the best we can bring and treating people the way they should be treated. That’s really all it takes to make a difference.”
Learn more about CCC at colombiancoffeeconnection.com.