Photo: Founder Carlos’s mother and children on the coffee farm in San Marcos, Guatemala.
The story of Chapín Coffee begins with the story of a girl who loved her father so dearly that she would accompany him every summer on the arduous half-day journey from Guatemala City to San Marcos to assist with his work on the family’s coffee farm. She would spend the entirety of her summer break working on the farm with her father; following his footfalls through the rows of coffee bushes, diligently recording his notes and observations, and later working with him to keep track of the books and accounting for the business. Row by row and bean by bean, she developed a deep appreciation for the love, sweat, and tears that go into cultivating Guatemala’s signature crop.
Years later, now a mother with two young sons of her own, she returned to Guatemala with her family each summer to visit her father’s old farm. During these visits, she shared with them not only the family history of coffee farming, but also the perspective that comes from living for months on a coffee farm in rural Guatemala. It was these summer stays at the farm with his mother that planted the seeds of Chapín Coffee in the heart of our Co-Founder Carlos.
During the summers on the farm, Carlos developed both an appreciation for the love and devotion that goes into cultivating coffee, as well as an intimate perspective of the challenges faced by these rural communities where coffee is grown – one of the largest being food insecurity and chronic childhood malnutrition. As they chased one another around the soccer field, Carlos noticed that these friends on the farm had a very different life than his friends back home in the U.S. Some kids didn’t have shoes, others wore the same familiar clothing day in and day out, and while some of the children were several years older, Carlos managed to tower over them in height. He could see, even with his young eyes, the inequity of lifestyle. His mother taught him through her example to not just see the discrepancy, but to take action to change it.
From a young age, Carlos’s mother taught her boys about the interconnectedness of humankind, and the impact that we can each have through even the simplest acts of service. Each summer before traveling down to Guatemala, Carlos and his mother would organize clothing drives in their U.S. hometown in Missouri. They would meticulously collect and sort gently used clothing, and bundle outfits into care packages for the families on the farm – with clothing of all types and in the exact sizes needed by each of the families. Later in life, Carlos and his mother worked together to build a computer lab for the children at the farm school by sourcing used corporate laptops and keyboards.
During these summers spent in Guatemala, Carlos also learned more about the legacy of his paternal grandfather, who worked tirelessly throughout his career as a pediatrician in Guatemala City to develop innovative supplementary nutrition, and better preventative healthcare for the population of Mayan children in Guatemala who suffered from chronic malnutrition. Coffee and caring for children are quite literally in Carlos’s blood.
The desire to give back to the people living in the coffee-growing communities of Guatemala was ever-present within Carlos. He went on to college, began a career in finance, and continued gathering experiences in the business world, but the spark to create something for the greater good kept flickering in his heart.
After working for a summer in Guatemala City during graduate school, he came back to the U.S. and noticed the burgeoning third-wave specialty coffee movement. Coffee lovers were becoming more interested in where their coffee came from, learning more about specific origins, roast profiles, and valuing production processes that were sustainable for the planet and its people. At the same time that consumers in the U.S. were paying more and more for high-quality coffee, the living conditions of the people who work so diligently and tirelessly to produce it were deteriorating. Then, and now, Guatemala has one of the world’s highest rates of chronic childhood malnutrition, with 3 out of every 4 children living in the rural areas (where some of the best coffees in the world are grown) are chronically malnourished.
The recognition of these two seemingly opposing trends sparked an idea – what if he could create a specialty coffee company that would give back to the communities that produce the best coffees in the world, and specifically, that would support ending chronic malnutrition in Guatemala?
As fate would have it, shortly thereafter Carlos’s path crossed with that of our Co-Founder Jennifer, and they found themselves sharing their dreams and desires over late-night sushi and wine at the legendary Kamehachi in Chicago’s Old Town neighborhood. When Carlos shared his inspiration to create a coffee company that would feed undernourished children in Guatemala for every bag of coffee sold, Jennifer felt a rush of chills throughout her body, leaned in and threw her hands down on the table dramatically and said “You’ve GOT to do this.”
Guatemala held a special place in Jennifer’s heart as well. She had first visited the country several years earlier with a group of students from her school. It was a meaningful journey for her, as her grandfather had lived in Guatemala City almost 40 years earlier, when he was stationed there with the Service Corps of Retired Entrepreneurs. He volunteered as a mentor working with small business owners to grow their companies and position them for stability in the developing economies of Central America. As a child, Jennifer had heard stories about Guatemala from her grandparents, and was always curious to learn more. During her road trip around the country, she felt an inexplicable connection to the land and the people, and one evening while looking up into the sky, gazing at a stunning crescent moon through the thatched roof of a jungle lodge on Rio Dulce, she had a deep, intuitive moment of recognition that Guatemala was going to be a very important part of her life someday. It made no rational or logical sense at the time, but moments like these rarely do…
CHAPÍN COFFEE IS BORN
Bit by bit and bean by bean, Chapín Coffee was painstakingly built over the next few years. Carlos took the lead on setting up the operations and financial systems, and Jennifer leant her marketing strategy and branding experience. Together, they tasted many, many coffees to curate the initial product line. Chapín Coffee was officially launched on a blustry day in early January in Chicago when Jennifer drove around to the city’s independent grocers offering coffee samples out of the back of a Zipcar. From packing coffee orders into the wee hours of the night in their Old Town apartment, to promising their lives to each other on a mountain in Guatemala, Chapín Coffee has grown over the last decade into the family business it is today.
Since launch, Chapín Coffee has donated over 45,000 meals to children in the coffee-growing communities around Santiago, Atitlán, Guatemala. Their coffee offerings have grown beyond a handful of specialty Guatemalan coffees to include specialty coffees from all corners of the world. The original inspiration remains: to connect coffee lovers to the origins, and empower them to make a difference simply by choosing to enjoy Chapín Coffee.