THE PITCH: BHAVANA COFFEE
September 11, 2019
From the pages of Issue 4: Plans Change
FINDING NEW ORIGINS OF COFFEE IN NEPAL
An interview with: JENNIFER LAN, Founder of BHAVANA COFFEE | @bhavanacoffee
From its direct translation of “feelings” in Nepali to its Sanskrit interpretation of cultivating, Bhavana evokes a sense of creation and curiosity. We sat down with founder Jennifer Lan to find out why she is so determined to bring Nepalese Coffee to the US.
WHAT DOES BHAVANA COFFEE DO?
We help local farmers move their coffee out of Nepal. You can’t export coffee unless it’s fully paid for, so we manage the financing that so that the farmers get paid. And then we get paid when the roasters receive their coffee.
HOW DID A TWO-WEEK HOLIDAY IN NEPAL TURN INTO A FULL FLEDGED BUSINESS?
I didn’t get the experience that I wanted to in my first two weeks so came back for one month. I wanted a simple volunteer opportunity—to get tied in and have useful skills. As I started to look into it, I found out that it’s much more difficult without the proper connections to know if what you’re doing is really benefiting the communities.
Someone suggested that I look into coffee industries and I found that NGOs were starting coffee cooperatives. But there are so many challenges to starting busi- nesses—market access, logistics, etc. So I started to ask a lot of questions of baristas, farmers, and roasters in the US and Nepal.
Nepal has never been colonized so coffee didn’t have a strong presence as a cash crop. I found out so many things and got a positive response and saw an industry that was burgeoning, people were passionate, and they had resources to get it started. But at the same time you could come up with a million reasons why it wouldn’t work. I thought, “This is a great idea, but am I the right person to do it?” Because I didn’t have the background in the industry, I didn’t know anyone else to pass this project onto, so I just did it myself.
HOW HAVE ROASTERS AND COFFEE SHOPS IN THE US REACTED TO BHAVANA COFFEE?
The first year was really interesting. Some people who I tried to market to in the US didn’t understand why I was talking to them. When I would email and mention Nepal they would be like, “Is that autocorrect—do you mean Nicaragua?” But at the same time people saw that it was really rare to find a new origin of coffee. To find a country that is actually starting in this industry is pretty exceptional. On top of that, especially in America, peo- ple don’t know much about Nepal, so there is interest.
Another challenge that I had when I was sharing what we were doing in Nepal is that sometimes you have to explain to people why they should care. There are a lot of things that are “bad” according to the US: poverty, not a lot of industry, people leaving the country, labor done by hand, limited infrastructure. You could say that it’s really behind. But that’s not the message I want to share. There is so much emerging industry and the people are excited and things happen so quickly here. Things move forward every single day. That is something that I like to pass on—this feeling of excitement.
WHAT IMPACT HAVE YOU SEEN IN THE LOCAL NEPALI COMMUNITY?
A big part of the economy is remittances—a huge percentage of labor force leaves country in order to survive. Their dream is to go work in the Middle East in a construction position. It doesn’t create a lot of happiness; it’s about creating basic needs. One of the farm managers we work with used to work in the Middle East and his daughter was diagnosed with a terminal disease and had to come back. He was in a bind with high medical bills but couldn’t earn the in- come like he did when he was abroad. Luckily a cof- fee farm started in area and he got a job as the farm manager. He’s been there for 10 years, living with his family in Nuwakot. He has three daughters and he feels really well taken care of. Having an industry at home really means a lot to people.
WHAT HAS IT BEEN LIKE AS A FOREIGN WOMAN WORKING IN NEPAL?
When I first got here, I saw that it was a transform- ing society, with a new government. It’s one of the newest democracies in the world. It seems liberal but in practice you’re entrenched with so many dif- ferent groups who have so many different cultural practices. Not every one of these 80 groups agree with this fledgling government. Working in Nepal as a woman has been really interesting. Because I came in as a foreigner it gave me an edge and an easier entrance. But I’m the only woman in meetings. I can only imagine how much more difficult it would be if I were aNepali women. They are valued, their thoughts are valued, but they are not promoted as leaders. No one says, “There is a place for you.”
WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU AND BHAVANA COFFEE?
Originally my focus was to be the voice and con- nect the two markets. Now that I’ve flipped bases and live in Nepal full time (with her Nepali husband), I don’t have the capacity and ability to market in the US. Being here has let me think about a whole new host of things because I’m here—being involved in a farm project and promoting specialty coffee roasted in Nepal.
I would like to shift outside of Kathmandu and move into tourist market near the Everest region. Every- thing outside of Kathmandu is instant Nescafé. It’s not cheaper or easier, and it’s just as possible to have real coffee. I would love to be able to pro- vide that. As Nepal opens up and people aren’t just coming here for the two-three weeks of trekking there is an opportunity for coffee tourism.
Finally, I’d love to be a small shareholder in a larger farm project—to own a farm. Because there is an expense to start a farm, usually you need people who have the capital. There is a great demand on behalf of the smaller farmers who need equipment and resources. The smaller farmer stands might plant anywhere from 30 to 1,000 trees and then you can bring the cherries straight over to the process- ing center. From a collection point of view really beneficial because it will create an entire system.
Learn more about Bhavana Coffee on its website BhavanaCoffee.com.