Bean There Founder, Jonathan Robinson, Full Interview

We recently sat down with Jonathan Robinson, the founder of the Bean There Coffee Company, for the May edition of SLOW. You can read the article online via www.freemagazines.co.za. But we thought you’d enjoy the full interview, so you can get to know the man behind one of the first Fair Trade coffee companies in South Africa:

  1. Where did you grow up?

I was born in Canada to a South African father and Canadian mother. When I was four, we moved back to South Africa and although I spent my first few years in Durban, Joburg is definitely the place I call home. I love the energy and pace of the city.

  1. What did you study at university? Where did you go?

I studied a BCom Marketing at Wits University.  I met my wife Nicole in the registration queue on my first day – we got chatting while we waited and by the time we reached the front of the queue, I had decided to sign up for all the courses she was doing. The rest, as they say, is history.

  1. Was getting involved with coffee in some capacity always your ultimate dream?

No – I mean I loved coffee and had grown up drinking it (thanks to my grandmother Olga), but I didn’t think that I would ever make a business out of it.  In 2001 I took a year off to travel with my wife, and it was during this trip that I started to see the potential of what a business in coffee could be. While travelling, I met a Colombian man living in Canada called Hugo Ciro who had started a company called Level Ground Trading, which was being run on the fair trade business model. This was my first exposure to fair trade coffee. I loved the whole model. I loved the fact that you could have a business in something you loved and make a difference in the lives of others at the same time; this was something I had always dreamt of. I returned from my trip convinced of three things; I wanted to have a business in coffee, I wanted to impact the lives of small-scale farmers, and I wanted to do this in an African context. That’s really how Bean There came about, it started first with making a difference.

  1. Eco-friendly business practices are becoming more and more important, how does Bean There use this ethos in their daily activity?

We live, breathe and practice this ethos in all that we do at Bean There – from the sourcing and producing side of the business, to the way we run the actual roasteries.

Some of our eco-friendly facts below.

Production and sourcing

  • Our Burundi Musema Co-op uses an eco-pulper which reduces water usage during processing
  • Our Ethiopia Sidamo and DRC coffees are Ecocert Organic Certified
  • Our Tanzania Mbinga coffee is Rainforest Alliance Certified
  • All our coffees are sourced from the African continent which means we have a low carbon footprint

In the roasteries

  • All our cardboard, plastic, and glass is recycled.
  • Our dishwasher only uses 1.8 litres of water per load.
  • Our take-away cups are 100% compostable.
  • Our used coffee grounds are given to a local mushroom farm for use as compost.
  • Our green bean coffee sacks are donated to animal shelters and sold at the roasteries.
  • We use energy saving light bulbs.

  1. The press release says you want to ‘get even closer to the producer side’ – what will this entail? 

Although we pay our producers fair trade premiums and support agronomy training initiatives, we would like to extend our reach by connecting consumers of coffee with our small-scale producers in a more meaningful and transparent manner. We are currently working on a cool initiative that will help us to achieve this. It’s a big goal but we are excited about the prospect of extending our impact – watch this space!

  1. Why was it important for you to have the beans roasted in SA?

To maintain flavours and aromas in their most optimal state, exceptional coffee deserves to be roasted as close to the consumer as possible. Exposure to oxygen causes slow deterioration of the coffee, and so ideally it should be drunk within 2-4 weeks of roasting. This means that in order for us to give consumers the best and most delicious coffee we can, we have to roast in South Africa and deliver our coffee within days of roasting. It is not always possible, but wherever we can this is our aim. It is also important to us, as a South African company, to provide meaningful employment locally, roasting elsewhere is not really an option.

Complied by Charlotte Rogers