Africa Coffee & Tea

Africa Coffee & Tea

5 September, 2016
Social Entrepreneurs
Making a difference to women and communities (AND a great cuppa joe!)
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A new specialty coffee and tea company based in Hong Kong recently been getting a lot of buzz; Africa Coffee + Tea offers premium coffees and teas sourced from – you guessed it – Africa.

We sat down with co-founders Charlene Hua and Michael McComb to learn more about their unique business, and discovered that as passionate as they are about their premium coffee and tea, they’re also deeply committed to giving back to the people who help produce it.

How did you first come up with the idea of Africa Coffee + Tea?

We both are coffee lovers, and have traveled to Africa many times and have fallen in love with the incredible diversity, beauty and warmth of the people.
So many visitors go on safaris, which are great, but most of the time they are highly managed and handled during their visits. Beyond that there is a continent that has so much happening. And a lot of people don’t actually know that much about Africa, including the fantastic coffee and tea.
We saw that many of the coffee-producing countries in Africa have not been well promoted in Hong Kong and China. Ethiopia is actually the birthplace of coffee! So it made sense to focus on going deeper into the amazing growing cultures of Africa and connect them with the emerging tasting cultures in Asia.

What makes you different from other coffee and tea companies?

We are focused only on Africa’s specialty coffee and tea, and we feel really passionately about our social mission to support women in our growing communities.
We have been really fortunate to work directly with small-holder growing communities in several countries. We know the people running the growing “cooperatives” and import their top-quality green beans to Hong Kong, then roast them in small batches to offer the freshest roasted coffee possible.
All our products are single-origin, organic and very premium. We like to think people want a top-quality product and want to feel good about its impact on the world. With ACT, people can “do good and drink great.”
We think this unique position at the intersection of luxury and responsibility, with the momentum and interest in Africa, will help us succeed.

What inspired you to specifically work with women in Africa?

We definitely wanted to make as much of a positive impact as possible through our own efforts and the choices of our customers.
When we were in Africa speaking with coffee industry officials, and doing our own research, it became apparent to us that women do a disproportionate amount of the labor in the field like planting, tending, picking, pulping, drying and more. Some reports put women doing as much as 70 per cent of the field labor growing coffee.
But they receive only a fraction of that. Men control the money. And when you look at success stories of community aid and support in other areas, it’s clear there’s a higher level of positive impact when the programs focus on women.
Women use the money for their children, neighbors and family. There’s a strong correlation between supporting women and the strength and resiliency of the local communities.

How are you supporting African women through Africa Coffee + Tea?

We researched other models, like the one-for-one type like Toms Shoes, or the percentage-of-proceeds approach. Both are really great approaches but we felt our programs needed to be more flexible. The one-for-one or percentage model is designed to be easy-to-understand for consumers. That’s important, but we want to focus more on the actual situation and needs of our different growing communities. And they are all different. So one model wouldn’t necessarily work for everyone.
We aim to add to the lives of African women in three areas.
The first is agricultural improvement. We support expert trainers to work directly with grower communities to help improve their techniques especially in organic and agroecological approaches. This helps improve their crop yields, maximize natural systems efficiency and resist foreign “big agriculture”. We have a program going already in Cameroon.
The second is financial empowerment. There are many examples of African rural agriculture communities adopting mobile payment systems to improve equality and efficiency of their crop sales and money management. We are working with partners in Uganda to bring smartphones and mobile payments plans to women in our grower coops get weather and other information, help them communicate with other coops to achieve fairer pricing, and conveniently and safely conduct money dealing.
The third is leadership skills development. We are developing our own program to induct young women into an annual program of working on a rotating basis with a coalition of industry participants, such as grower coops, industry associations, exporters, retailer/roasters, trade bodies and coffee-focused NGOs. At the end of the program, these young women will have developed contacts, views and experiences that can help them more rapidly rise to leadership positions in the industry. We’re hoping to get this going early next year in Kenya and Uganda.

How are you ensuring success, especially with the numerous coffee and tea companies and stores in Hong Kong?

We really admire and respect a lot of the new coffee and tea companies in Hong Kong. Some of them are terrific. We see it as competition in some ways, but actually it’s really just growing the awareness and knowledge of premium coffee and the coffee culture.
We are looking at growth opportunities like corporate partnerships, opening our own retail, and stocking at specialty distributors who carry premium, responsible products. We also offer next-day delivery of all our products, freshly ground if needed, to homes and offices in Hong Kong.

Why did you choose to launch Africa Coffee + Tea in Hong Kong?

We live here! Even though it’s not easy to get a startup off the ground, especially in a competitive area like coffee and a competitive city like Hong Kong, there is a growing coffee culture here. So we feel if we can make it here we can make it anywhere!
We are getting a great response from customers as well as restaurants, hotels, clubs and other places who want to offer this premium product as a top-end offer for their guests and customers. We love Hong Kong and hope it can be our launching pad to different parts of Asia and other coffee-appreciating countries and cultures.

ACT coffee and tea is available online for next-day delivery to your home or office in Hong Kong.
They also have two upcoming specialty coffee tastings where you can learn more about the origin, brewing process, lovely aromas and delicate flavours. The sessions will be held at their Central location 16F Regent Centre, 88 Queen's Rd Central:
10am Saturday 15 October - Ethiopia and Cameroon
7pm Thursday, 20 October - Uganda and Rwanda

To join a tasting or try Africa Coffee & Tea, visit their website or Facebook page.

By: Ecozine Staff
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