Garfield Kerr was working on Wall Street when he dipped a tentative toe into the world of coffee. Now, his Dubai-based café and social enterprise, Mokha 1450, is supporting hundreds of female farmers across the developing world. editor Jennifer Gibson joined him on an origins visit to Ethiopia to find out how your choice of cup here can affect lives there…
If there’s one scent most of us think we know, it’s coffee. What few realise, however, is that when it’s in bloom, a coffee plant doesn’t smell like coffee, but like jasmine. It looks like it too. Tiny, perfectly imperfect blooms that will each become a cherry, ripening at varying rates on the branch before each producing a bean that will pass through hundreds of hands and likely travel thousands of miles before ending up, eventually, in your cup. Coffee, a layman quickly discovers, is a complicated business.
Garfield Kerr, however, has made his living dealing in the complicated. The US-educated Jamaican lawyer had spent years pulling 18-hour days on Wall Street, working as an investment fund manager, when, in 2010, he found himself in Yemen conducting a feasibility study for a private equity firm that wanted to export speciality coffee from the country. During the visit, he met Kim Thompson and Matt Toogood of Dubai’s RAW Coffee, who set out to give him a crash course in the realities of the business for those at the sharp end.
“We broke bread with family farmers wherever we went,” Garfield recalls. “The significance of coffee to these farmers was never lost on us and, while I was one hundred per cent certain at the time that I would never pursue anything in the coffee industry, everyone else was joking constantly that I was already in the coffee sector.
“I had become very much interested in the fact that most people drink coffee and never give a thought to the incredibly arduous labour that goes into every cup you have at breakfast or on the go before a workout. Along the coffee value chain, the farmer does most of the difficult labour and recovers by far the smallest portion of the profits. And women are present along 90 per cent of the coffee value chain but make up less than ten per cent of ownership or management. I became more and more passionate about redressing that wrong.”
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