Amber: Hi, I’m Amber Ambrose and this is BusinessMakers USA coming to you from San Jose, California. We’re in a coffee roasting warehouse with Hiver van Geenhoven, the Co-founder of Chromatic Coffee. Welcome to the show.
Hiver: Thanks for having me. It’s a pleasure.
Amber: So, what is Chromatic Coffee?
Hiver: Chromatic Coffee is a small, local roaster in San Jose that specializes in coffees that are merely directly traded with partners in other countries, and we have more of a relationship with these long-lasting partners, so a little bit more hands on.
Amber: So, tell me more about what directly traded means. What does that entail?
Hiver: There’s a lot of confusion, because there’s no third-party certification for what directly traded coffee might be, but in these terms, we are still working with importers, typically, that will be bringing in coffees that we have—from farms that we have gone to visit.
Amber: So, you’ve been on site and said this is good stuff.
Hiver: Yes. The main countries of focus that I’m very much working with is Brazil, El Salvador, and Honduras. Honduras is one of the most difficult ones. We have pulled export licenses and done all the exporting and importing ourselves, with the farmers out there, and it is so difficult. Reliable importers are really crucial and important, and you’re still able to work with them to get the quality that you want, to get the assurance of the actual coffee that you’re agreeing to purchase, but also cutting out other middle men that are looking for opportunity in other areas.
Amber: I see, so you are the distributor, the importer/exporter, the whole deal?
Amber: Ok, sometimes. And that’s unique in your field?
Hiver: Yes. As far as coffee goes, a lot of specialty coffee roasters now are trying to step it up and have this as a general practice, and I think that’s a great thing that they do that, but a lot of roasters still are just kind of purchasing coffee from the importer and don’t really know what is happening on the—
Amber: On the farms that they’re getting it from?
Amber: Which is obviously important because as a commodity, coffee, I think more people are becoming aware of where it’s coming from, and how the farmers are compensated, and the practices of the land that it’s being grown on, I imagine like—
Hiver: Yeah, this is pretty much like our best compromise for, like, farm to fork. Since we can’t grow coffee locally, because it has to be grown in the tropics, this is the closest that we can get.
Amber: To growing it yourself.
Hiver: Yeah, pretty much. It’s really great because now that I’ve known a lot of these farmers for, some of them I’ve known for over eight years, some of them I’ve known for the duration of our business, I am now a lot more participant in going over to their farms and working on processing methods to affect the ultimate—
Amber: The final product.
Hiver: Yeah, the flavor in the cup. So, we’re a little bit more engaged, more involved, and can bring more of the coffees that our customers want.
Amber: And you’ve been in the industry for a very long time.
Hiver: Yes, over twelve years at this point.
Amber: And in business how many?
Hiver: In business for six.
Amber: So, for half of your coffee life.
Hiver: Pretty much, yes.
Amber: Has proven professional. What gave you the push to go from consumer to supplier?
Hiver: It was really, it depends on the perspective in which you want to look at it, but it was the company that my partner and I were working for was sold and then sold again, and that change was kind of jarring for me. Even though I was really young, I was like, “Oh, this company that I really love is changing hands and,
Amber: Changing cultures.
Hiver: Yeah, changing cultures, and I was like, well, I want—I saw it as a great opportunity to move away. It was the push that I needed to think, hey, maybe we should start doing something for ourselves and, right time, right place, opportunity presented itself, we got some investment and—
Amber: That’s great. I mean, this is the land of venture capital, after all.
Hiver: Yeah, and being in San Jose, I wanted to take risks and I was young enough to not know how hard it was going to be. People ask you, would you do it again? I would do it again, but there’s a lot of pieces of advice I would want to give myself.
Amber: For example:
Hiver: Make sure that you know which permits you have to pull in order to build what. That’s huge, permits. Knowing that just because you’re not spending money doesn’t mean you’re not wasting money, is another big one. It’ll make sense once you’re there, because you’ll think, oh, I’ll save money by doing the work myself, but then it’s like, you may not know how to do that work and you’re going to spend a lot more hours—
Amber: Trying to learn it yourself than hiring someone.
Hiver: So, knowing when to stop and being like, I need to ask somebody. You need to know when you don’t know.
Amber: That’s a good point. So, that sounds universal; coffee, tech, medical, anything. It’s good to know that some things are universal.
Hiver: With coffee in specific, just know what—listen to what your people want. It’s really great because as we have been growing into our positions and I’ve been kind of locking down how we’re trading and what we’re doing, as we’re learning as well, even though we know a lot it’s still a learning process the entire time. As you’re learning, your clientele and the people around you, like some of the people I’ve seen at the café, they—one of our clients was in here earlier and like, ‘I remember when you were a barista serving me and now you’re doing this.’ They are talking about different processing methods, how the flavor is affected by it. So, their education is elevated along with ours, so they start demanding for different types of coffees. Like, ‘Hey, have you thought of bringing this in?’ It’s like, oh really, you want, I was like, ‘Yeah I can figure that out. I have a friend who knows one of these producers that’s producing coffee that way, let’s bring him in.’ And kind of work a way around that. So, it’s really great to have the clientele learn and grow.
Amber: Customer driven.
Hiver: Yeah, absolutely.
Amber: That’s great. And another question I have for you that you talked about briefly, just then, is that you do have cafes?
Hiver: Yes, we have two cafes in this area.
Amber: Ok, but that’s only part of your business. What is the other part?
Hiver: The other part is wholesale. We do a lot of wholesale to some really big tech companies in this area which is really cool because we’ve gone over to some of their campuses.
Amber: Oh nice. Have you taught them how to go through the process or just done cuppings with them?
Hiver: We’ve done cuppings, tastings, we’ve been part of cooking classes with some of their chefs. We kind of have our own in-house chef, if you will. And we do recipes with coffee, different rubs, especially since summer is coming up.
Amber: Sure, and you’re like taking it the extra step.
Hiver: Yeah, and just being very present with them. That’s from the coffee quality, the stories that we have to share, any media or videos that we’ve had, or equipment. We do a lot of tech, as in what we call tech, just maintenance. That area of the business we’re very excited to help out as well and we could provide a really good service.
Amber: When you say you supply these tech companies does that mean you supply them with the beans for their in-house team to create coffee there, or how does that all work?
Hiver: It really depends on the client because it can go, they have a café and they may have a rotating selection of other really awesome bay area coffee roasters, or some of them have satellite cafes that look and feel like our café and have people that we have hand picked for them. So, like, friends of mine that have also been in the coffee industry for a long time are kind of like the managers of these little satellite Chromatics on the campus that is for the people on the campus.
Amber: So, what is your favorite part about what you do?
Hiver: My favorite part about what I do. I actually don’t get to do what I love to do every day which is really sharing the stories that I’ve learned from the producers, or people I’ve met along the way that are involved in the coffee itself. I love old clients, or new customers, or just friends of friends coming in and being able to share that coffee with them. It’s so common that people will get together over a cup of coffee and share stories, but there is something really special for me to do that exact same thing, share a cup of coffee with somebody, but be talking about how that cup of coffee came to be. How it got roasted, why I roasted it in that specific way, why we chose it to be brewed in this specific fashion, how it came over on the boat, how it was grown, the entire drying process, harvesting process, all those aspects of how it came to be and all the many hands that touched it.
Amber: And man hours, and the time—
Hiver: And women hours. We have a lot of females produce coffee as well. That’s a big—
Amber: The human hours, thank you for correcting me, that go into just one cup of coffee. It is amazing because a lot of us don’t stop to think about that enough. So, thank you for what you’re doing.
Hiver: Of course, thank you.
Amber: I’m also a big coffee fan so this is a great trip for me out to Chromatic Coffee.
Hiver: I’m glad you made it out.
Amber: Thanks for joining us today.
Hiver: Of course, my pleasure. Thank you.
Amber: Once again, this is BusinessMakers USA, coming to you from San Jose, California, inside the roasting facility of Chromatic Coffee. Thanks for joining us.
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