Published January 6th, 2020 at 6:00 AM
Coffee shops often are the birthplace of great ideas.
At Revocup Coffee Roasters, a locally based chain that specializes in Ethiopian coffee, big ideas are part of every transaction. Ten cents of every cup of coffee sold and $1 of every bag of coffee sold here goes to help improve the lives of Ethiopian coffee farmers and their families.
Founded by native Ethiopians Habte and TG Mesfin in 2008, Revocup was inspired by a mission to share the human side of the coffee story with the consumer.
“Revocup stands for revolution, which means we approach the entire business differently by linking the consumer to the producer,” Habte Mefsin says.
In his early life, Habte worked as an organizer on a farming cooperative. After moving to the United States in 1985, he worked in the finance sector, but never lost his connection to the Ethiopian coffee farming communities he helped to support as a young man.
In 2007, Habte visited Ethiopia and discovered that in the 25 years since he had left his native country nothing had changed – in fact conditions had become worse.
“Farmers do not have the strength to negotiate on their own behalf. They are invisible,” he says. “These farmers are not traders or commercial farming entities. A poor farmer is married to the life. They have no options, so regardless of what they are being paid they take it.”
When he returned to the United States, he felt compelled to do something. “The consumer is always ready to do the right thing,” he says, “they just need a channel to do it.”
Motivated by this spirit of optimism, Revocup was born.
In addition to selling a great cup of coffee, the Mefsins were determined to tell a story. Every bag of coffee has a description of the particular farm or region it came from and the date it was roasted.
A small chalkboard at the shop reads: “Turning small change into meaningful change. Ask us how!”
Establishing a charitable foundation was a central part of the Revocup business plan.
“We would not get into this business if we did not have the idea for the foundation first,” Habte says. “We are not just trying to brew a great cup of coffee, we are trying to tell the human side of the coffee story. And we know we cannot do that with substandard quality. We wanted to reward the consumer with something they cannot find anywhere else. Your palette does not lie to you.”
So far, the Revocup foundation has built and equipped 28 small libraries in rural Ethiopian farming villages with a goal of increasing access to education and technology in the region. The foundation is also partnering with Holy Cross Lutheran Church’s clean water ministry to improve access to clean, potable water. They continue to look for opportunities to collaborate with area groups and businesses.
“Unfortunately, there is an excessive focus on competition,” Habte says. “When we approach someone, they see you as a competitor rather than a collaborator. That is what holds us back. Once they know that our intention is to improve human life, I firmly believe they will come around.”
The Mefsins were first advised against doing this in Kansas City. They were told to go to New York or San Francisco where they could supposedly get more traction. But they insisted that Kansas City is the best place to be.
“I like the pace, the hospitality, the overall attitude here. It’s just a great community to live,” Habte says. “And people validated our idea very quickly. I cannot tell you how supportive the KC community has been.”
Revocup continues to expand. A new downtown location that benefits coffee growers and improves the lives of coffee farmers is expected to open this month at the historic Pickwick Building at Ninth and McGee streets.
Flatland contributor Inas Younis is a freelance journalist and commentator.