Empowering Coffee Farmers and their Communities 1kg at a Time. Interview with Coffee Circle.

We recently had the joy of chatting with Anna from Coffee Circle - an inspiring coffee company that donates €1 from each kilogram sold into projects which empower the local communities of their farmers. Their projects range from equipping a healthcare station with solar panels to offering education to thousands of children in rural areas through the construction of school buildings to investing in clean water systems for a community of 37,100 people. And that’s just to name a few.

“We improve lives by delivering outstanding coffee. I think that’s the core essence,” says Anna Brüderl, Head of Brand Marketing, as we chat over a house blend espresso in their newly opened café.

The three friends-turned-founders had no experience or background in coffee when their journey to Coffee Circle began back in 2010. It was a trip through Ethiopia for an unrelated project which urged the trio to take a different direction with their lives. Having all grown up in the 1980s - a decade memorable for its abundance of fundraising concerts and aid galas - it was a shock to discover whilst visiting Ethiopia 20 years later, that much of the country was still living in poverty. “They had the feeling that nothing had changed. That the old problems hadn’t developed”, Anna recounts, “So they decided to found a business with the mission to trade and sell Ethiopian Specialty Coffee to improve lives of Ethiopian Coffee farmers – but not as a classical charity organisation but through the power of entrepreneurship.”

So Coffee Circle was founded - 10 years ago - with the aim of providing training programs to the coffee farmers, enabling them to become more competitive producers in their own right as a means of boosting the local economy. “We really try to empower farmers to raise the quality of their product so they can sell the coffees for higher prices - not just to us, but also to different companies. So it's really sustainable. It's really a long term way of trying to make a change.”

A few notable training projects:

Invested €250,000 in quality training for 10,000 farmers in Western Ethiopia.

Built a €45,000 Cupping Lab in North Kivu, DR Congo, allowing 3,500 farmers to improve the quality of their coffee.

Invested €75,000 in infrastructure and equipment to allow their Kenyan farmers to improve the efficiency of their processes.

The fact that Coffee Circle deals with the farmers directly is also important to note. There’s no buyer or middleman that takes a cut who has to be factored into the margins, therefore they’re able to pay the farmers extremely well (More than double FairTrade) without imposing excessively high prices on their customers.

And not only do they empower the farmers through training programs, investment and fair prices, but Coffee Circle also implement social projects directly into the communities themselves. “We started in Ethiopia but now we have projects in the Congo, Colombia and Kenya.”

They started small by supplying the local schools with books and learning equipment, but since then the projects have grown significantly in scale and impact.

“The more coffee we sold the bigger our funds got and the more we could do. So we started equipping a healthcare station with solar panels, and it grew and grew and grew.”

One truly inspiring project took place in Ethiopia in 2014, when Coffee Circle funded the expansion of a school.

“The school existed as a very small primary school before, so we built two new buildings and now it runs up until the eighth grade with 600 students. We developed the school together with the community. It wasn’t a charity [deciding] we should build a school there, the wish came from the community members themselves. We really asked people, like, ‘Hey, what does it mean to you? How can we support you? What do you think would be great?’. Then it became quite obvious that there was a lack of schools in that specific area. Children would have to walk one or two hours to get to the next school.”

At a certain point, however, the Coffee Circle team realised that implementing these projects single-handedly might not always be possible. “Four years ago we started a really big project in Ethiopia as well [Jimma, Ethiopia] that focuses on a clean drinking water supply for about 37,000 people. The impact of our work there is huge - but so is the level of execution and maintenance. For several months we were looking for a strong partner that shares the same values as we do who would support us in Ethiopia directly. Eventually, we started to work together with Welthungerhilfe, a German NGO who opened their own office in Jimma with a local team on the ground working everyday on the implementation of the WaSH project.”

“We’re super close [with Welthungerhilfe] in the planning and monitoring phase while the execution is taken care of by the local team. For four years now they’ve been accomplishing amazing progress. We’ve affiliated two springs so far and are able to lead the clean water through a pipe system of more than 47km into several villages, schools, mosques and a health station. Within the communities, the clean water is distributed through water kiosks which we built also.”

“The goal of our projects is to make them sustainable - in every way. We don’t want to create any sort of dependency on us. The close working relationship with the local communities creates a feeling of ownership within the community for the project itself so that this is developed further after we left. My favourite example is one of the water kiosks we built. The lady who is taking care of the water distribution for its community has equipped the kiosk to a shop with all kinds of items to sell like snacks, Coca Cola and many more. She developed our water kiosk into her own business - this is amazing!”

Thank you to Anna and the entire Coffee Circle team for their amazing work.

If you’re in Berlin, swing by their café on Lindower Str by U-Bahn Wedding, or, check out the links below to learn more about their inspiring projects.

Website / Instagram / Facebook

Words by Ewan Waddell