Carabello Coffee more than beans

Newswire photo by Luke Feliciano | Student workers Anya Gilmore and Ryan Lawson get to use what Justin Carabello calls the “Mercedes-Benz of coffee brewers” at Victory Perk.

When Xavier’s dining scene began to change, students had virtually no idea what was going to replace beloved restaurants and coffee shops. Though other replacements have yet to be revealed, the coffee replacement is no longer a mystery.

All coffee on campus is now sourced from Carabello Coffee Company and can be found at Victory Perk and in the Hoff Dining Commons. While seeing Coffee Emporium choose to leave campus was upsetting for some, Carabello Coffee brings more to the table than simply a new caffeine fix.

The company was founded by Justin and Emily Carabello in 2009 and is located just across the river in Covington, Ky. It started with an idea 30,000 feet in the air: What if there was a philanthropic company that equitably sourced coffee, sold it in the United States and put the profits back into sustainable initiatives in coffee-roasting communities in developing countries?

When Xavier began consolidating dining options under Chartwells, Coffee Emporium was given priority in being the sole provider of coffee on campus in both dining and concessions. Carabello Coffee was also considered for the spot.

According to Justin, when considering new coffee providers, Xavier wanted hyper-locally roasted (within 15 miles of campus), fully traceable, specialty grade coffee. On top of this, the university wanted an opportunity to form a direct relationship with coffee-farming communities.

“As a specialty coffee roaster, I was absolutely shocked at this,” Justin said in reference to Xavier’s willingness to accommodate the higher cost of equitably sourced coffee. “To me it speaks a lot to the values of the university.”

He added that Xavier was fully on board with transitioning to meet Carabello Coffee’s standards. For one, the university invested thousands of dollars in high-quality brewing equipment. Justin said that he’s never walked onto a college campus and seen what he calls “the Mercedes-Benz of coffee brewers.”

Beyond the equipment, Justin chose the coffee available on campus today with the goal of creating genuine relationships with producers. For example, he personally knows Angele Ciza, who grows the Burundi blend. Ciza plans to visit Xavier in April to meet students and talk about her current projects. Her business is a primarily woman-owned and operated cooperative in east Africa. Justin said this cooperative has been vital in helping Ciza and her community rebuild their economy after the Burundian genocides in the 90s.

Xavier is also serving Carabello’s Guatemala Villa Linda, which is sourced from a cooperative that centers around a town called Unión Cantinil in Huehuetenango, Guatemala. Here, several farmers have a few acres of land but not enough to create a truly exportable amount of coffee.

Typically, people known as “coyotes” drive around in pickup trucks and purchase coffee cherries from poor farmers for cheap prices. According to Justin, many farmers sell to the coyotes because it’s easy and provides instant income on a product that might otherwise sit around.

“For a lot of people, they feel stuck in this system where, even though they’re getting paid unfairly, at least they’re getting paid earlier,” he said.

That’s where people like Justin and Emily come in. Carabello and similar companies present cooperative structures to these farmers and offer to pay three or four times more than the coyotes. If farmers agree to organize and follow certain protocols, then both parties can arrange a mutually profitable business deal. Farmers can pool their coffee to create an exportable quantity and seek long-term relationships with importing companies, and roasters like Carabello can be introduced to farmers and their products.

As he spoke, Justin pulled up Facebook Messenger on his phone. He was chatting with Luis, one of Carabello Coffee’s main farmers in Nicaragua. Luis had reached out to Justin about a neighborhood family who also grew coffee and wanted to bring them on board to harvest beans for Carabello Coffee.

According to Justin, 93 percent of coffee consumed in America is still conventional grade, as opposed to Carabello’s specialty grade. With coffee trading at 98 cents a pound on the commodities exchange, many people are unable to survive in coffee-producing nations by farming coffee. Last year, Justin paid an average of $4 per pound for coffee when the market price was $1.30 per pound.

“We want to see the seven percent that’s specialty (coffee), that’s priced more based on the quality, not the market,” Justin said. “We want to see that way of sourcing and building relationships change, and we want to see market share increase.”

Justin said that forming relationships with farmers begins with a foundation of trust. Currently, Carabello Coffee sources its Guatemala blend from a cooperative of 76 farmers who are all earning more and seeing potential for growth.

“The long-term goal is we could leverage the potential social impact and even educational impact that the university could make on these communities or these farmers,” Justin said.

“Can we begin to build relational bridges between the university and specific communities that, over a five-year or 10-year period of time, could actually create vibrant opportunities on both sides?”

Besides working with universities and communities, Carabello invests directly in philanthropic initiatives and has donated $10,000 this year alone. The company also works with the nonprofit organization Coffee Kids in places like Colombia, Honduras and Tanzania to invest in young coffee farmers. Coffee Kids provides young adult farmers with classes, economic data, resources and support to grow their coffee farms.
Thinking big picture, Justin hopes that, through creating relationships between Xavier and coffee-producing communities, students might have a chance to visit producers and children in farming families might have more opportunities to receive a higher education.

“What I find truly commendable is this is the way Xavier is willing to rethink how they spend their coffee dollars,” Justin said. “Instead of just spending it with a national brand…they’re saying ‘Well, what if we think more about the individual or the person at the end of this supply chain and choose to spend our money that way?’ And I think the potential is really huge in the long term.”

Ultimately, the partnership with Carabello Coffee is important for both sides. For Carabello, the partnership meant making an even greater change. For Xavier, serving Carabello’s coffee meant committing to a company that believes in community, philanthropy and quality.

“We don’t say yes to everybody,” Justin said. “We don’t just serve our coffee anywhere. We want to work only with other companies that value our brand, our quality levels, that are willing to commit…

“It’s one thing to have a cool local coffee shop. That’s great. But cool local coffee shops just don’t go through a lot of coffee…The potential to impact people’s lives is much greater when you start tapping into these larger institutions. You can make a bigger impact.”

Justin is excited to get involved with students at Xavier. Carabello Coffee will be at the farmer’s market on Sept. 27 doing tastings and plans to host events on campus to connect with the Xavier community.

By: Hannah Paige Michels | Staff Writer