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One of my favorite places for PubTalk is Kopplin's Coffee, in Saint Paul. I love Kopplin's because Andrew Kopplin, the owner, fosters a community there. He also makes the best espresso I've ever had. Full disclosure: I'm on the Kopplin's broomball team, Sweep Revenge, as loyal customer/fan, because that's what Kopplin's is like. We have a blast losing every game. I also think his business model is a fantastic example of social entrepreneurship in the Twin Cities.
Economist Joseph Schumpeter wrote that "the function of entrepreneurs is to reform or revolutionize the pattern of production." Following that idea, a social entrepreneur would influence the pattern of production to revolutionize society. I believe Kopplin's has revolutionized coffee in the Twin Cities.
Kopplin's Coffee supports a supply chain of social entrepreneurship locally and internationally, especially based in sustainable agriculture and production. I consider businesses who make ethical choices to support family farms and workers in small businesses to be examples of social entrepreneurship, or the business of social change. For this space on PubTalk, I want to explore what Kopplin's does, and why I think it counts as a key example of social entrepreneurship.
Andrew makes excellent coffee by using great sources of ingredients, and treating them with care. Great coffee starts with great beans, lightly roasted. He uses top end burr grinders, and considers grinding to be one of the keys to great coffee. He brews each coffee by the cup. Many of his beans are imported by Cafe Imports, which is based in Saint Paul, and has a cupping area and hosts workshops for baristas and roasters. However, he currently buys the roasted beans from Ecco Caffé in San Francisco, and George Howell's Terrior in Boston, as he learns to roast himself, because they are the places he's found that roast to his exacting standards.
Kopplin's uses local, organic dairies, such as Castle Rock Organic Farms, in Osseo, Wisconsin. He gets his tea from Tea Source, based in Highland Park in Saint Paul. His chocolate products rotate, but often come from the local Rogue Chocolatier. His authentic, european-style pastries are from Rustica Bakery in Minneapolis and American-style pastries from Bars Bakery in Saint Paul. He gets cheese from The Saint Paul Cheese Shop, honey from Ames Farm, and various high end home brewing products from across the country.
During college, I lived in Rome where I came to appreciate great cappucini and espressi. After college, I served in Peace Corps-Honduras where we trained at IHCAFE, the Honduran Institute of Coffee, and promoted the Taza de Excelencia to farmers in my area. Also known as the Cup of Excellence, it is considered an indication of excellent and subtle flavor, (similar to wine) caused by investment in soil quality and sustainable production and processing methods practiced by the farmers. Taza de Excelencia is often promoted and administrated by national agricultural extension offices like IHCAFE, which promote reduced pesticide use, sustainable farming practices, and increased access to markets.
When I returned from Honduras, Kopplin's was the only place locally where I was could buy beans from Honduran farmers, including Cup of Excellence Coffees. Honduras lacks a great supply chain to the United States, which means that its coffee is not incentivized to produce at high quality. It often gets dumped into the anonymous pre-ground generic can coffee you find at the supermarket, which means the price farmers get is lower.
The farmers where I lived, who subsist on growing/selling coffee, and maybe growing beans and corn, get the lowest price. I mean lowest price in a sharecropping-I live on borrowed credit year to year from the guy who owns a pickup, and he pays me what he wants-kind of lowest price, even when coffee prices are high, as they are now.
Taza de Excelencia is often promoted and administrated by national agricultural extension offices like IHCAFE, which promote reduced pesticide use, sustainable farming practices, and increased access to markets. Farmers chosen by Cup of Excellence (at least the model in Honduras) are a group of individual farmers chosen annually based on their coffee's flavor in cupping. In other words, they are judged on the coffee after it has been turned from oro/gold to professionally roasted and prepared coffee in the ag extension's facility, to simulate what would happen to it after purchase. They must be large enough producers (or a cooperative of even smaller farms) to fill a train car with green or gold coffee.
Small, cutting edge businesses such as Kopplin's have been catalysts for changing the way Americans consume coffee. Kopplin's was also recently rated one of the top ten boutique coffee shops in the US by Bon Appétit. They set the trends that Starbucks, other large producers, and even local favorites such as Peace Coffee and Dogwood Coffee (both local roasters), eventually follow. Kopplin's is considered the best coffee shop in Minneapolis, and other shops do everything they can to follow his example. Several shops have opened recently, especially Dogwood and Rustica, as well as Black Sheep. They seem like carbon copies in terms of machines and style, but Andrew is known as the trend setting entrepreneur and arbiter of taste, who supports and influence a community of people who care about food and beverages in the Twin Cities and beyond.
Andrew chooses to invest in the Cup of Excellence, and other single-source coffees, because it means better flavor, similar to wine. It also means a better price for family farmers across the world. I don't mean to write off coffees marketed as fair trade and organic coffees completely, but they don't solve everything. Often they advantage farmers who have the means to get good prices on their coffees anyway. Those who have access to markets often have the skills to deal with the minimum three-year bureaucracy required for organic certification (with no guarantee of improved yield or price). Andrew prides himself on encouraging other businesses in Minneapolis, other restaurants and coffee shops, to also buy and produce "Good Taste," his business mantra.
Andrew Kopplin has fostered a community of excellent coffee in the Twin Cities, grounded in an ethic of social entrepreneurship and aesthetic value. I think that is what our PubTalk is meant to discuss and encourage.
pubTalk: Where research meets practice. A blog produced by the Public and Nonprofit Leadership Center.
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