What's Your Scale?
It's a cold, windy, and rainy night in Zaruma, Ecuador, and Arturo and I make our way up to a mechanic's house, looking for a crucial piece of equipment.
Back at Arturo's place, we have our first large batch, 500 pounds, of coffee waiting to be imported into The States - we simply need to find a way to peel it. Arturo and I have already discussed doing what the farmers do - putting the beans in a big wooden bowl and manually smashing the coffee to remove the husk. But, this won't cut it. It will take forever to peel everything. Not to mention, there is no way to scale this process.
After a 20 minute uphill trek, we arrive at a solid, light blue house with a large screened-in porch. Per usual, we are greeted by two territorial canines, but Arturo is completely unfazed. He picks up a stick and the dogs retreat. Arturo shouts, "Hello." A relatively short and stocky man, 60 years of age, walks out of the house and greets us. Arturo tells him that we would like to take a look at his peeling machine.
More than willing, the mechanic leads us over to the back corner of the screened-in porch. There, we see it - a big, green peeling machine. With the capacity of 750 pounds an hour, it is more than sufficient. But, with efficiency comes a price.
After studying the machine for a few minutes, I ask the inevitable question: "How much do you want for it?"
The mechanic replies, "$10,000."
While I know it isn't an unreasonable price, I know it's something that I can't buy. Instead of insulting the mechanic with my offer, I simply tell him that it's a little more expensive than I was hoping.
Arturo and I thank the mechanic for his hospitality and head back home. On the walk, Arturo brainstorms one more option. He says that we can get the 500 pounds of coffee peeled at a processing facility in a town called Pinas since it's the closest one, but we will need to eventually get our own machine so we can do it ourselves. Not knowing what to expect, I agree.
The next morning, Arturo and I make our plans for the day over our typical breakfast - orange juice, hard-boiled eggs, toast, and a cup of coffee. He says he spoke with the owners of the processing facility, and we can come in around 9 this morning..
At 8:30, the taxi driver pulls up to Arturo's place and honks twice, letting us know that he has arrived. We head down stairs, load up the taxi with the 5 100-pound sacks of coffee beans and embark on the 30 minute trip.
The Processing Facility of Mariana de Jesus - These words hang above the front two, wooden doors of the building. The front is level with the roadside, but as far as the building is concerned, the front is actually the second floor.
When we come to a stop, Arturo and I hop out of the taxi and drop off our coffees at the front door. From there, we use a handmade cart to wheel the sacks to the first machine before pouring the coffees in.
In a matter of minutes, I hear the owner of the facility start up a machine downstairs. Arturo tells me to follow him. We walk down the stairs, and for the first time, I see it. Scale.
The coffee from up above fell down through the first machine and into a second machine, the peeler. There, the 500 pounds of coffee was peeled in little under thirty minutes. Afterwards, we took the peeled coffee and ran it through the third machine, which graded it. In all, the process took an hour - to peel and grade 500 pounds of coffee.
As soon as we finished, I asked the owners of the facility, Marie and Fabricio, if we could sit down and talk. They were more than happy to do so. They led me over to a building with 'Caffe Marie' written across the front.
After preparing four cups of coffee, Marie, Fabricio, Arturo and I all sat at the table. I explained the Z Beans project to them and told them a little about myself. Then, Marie began telling me their story.
The father of Marie and her uncles own the processing facility. However, Marie's father is 20 years older than her mother (He is 91 years of age), so he has not worked for more than 2 decades. Thus, the processing facility was ran by Marie and a few of her cousins for years. Fabricio, Marie's husband, began helping at the facility when they got married 10 years ago. But, now, since the coffee industry has shrunk in the El Oro region, only Marie and Fabricio run the facility. As far as the 'Caffe Marie' building is concerned, this is Marie and Fabricio's personal brand. They not only have a coffee shop where they serve incredible pastries, sandwiches, and coffees, but they have bags of freshly roasted coffee that they sell in local retail stores. Fabricio, who was originally from Quito, Ecuador, has become a jack-of-all things coffee - he is a businessman, barista, and a roaster. Mrs. Marie, who has lived in Pinas all of her life, is a savvy, well-organized business woman that understands the importance of relationships. Together, they make a wonderful team.
As soon as Mrs. Marie finishes, without hesitation, I ask Marie and Fabricio, "Would you all be interested in partnering with me?"
With grins on their faces, they accept my offer.
I finally can see it. Scale.
The 500 pounds of coffee I mention in the story became 4,000. Once I realized the production capacity at the processing facility, I knew I could buy more coffee. This was the summer of 2017.
The summer of 2018, we peeled, processed, and shipped 14,000 pounds of coffee - all at the processing facility.
Next summer, 2019, we hope to peel, process, and ship anywhere between 20,000 - 40,000 pounds.