Q&A with Vava Angwenyi
This Coffee is Exclusive #7: Vava was exported by the incredible Vava Angwenyi, Author of Coffee Milk Blood and Owner of Vava Coffee - the first woman-owned B-Corp in Kenya (and Africa). We had a great conversation with Vava, who shared more about her coffee exporting company, Vava Coffee.
- How did you get started in coffee?
It started when I was a student at Western University. When I saw Kenyan coffee at the Starbucks on campus, I noticed there was no mention of the producer.
I would see this and think of my grandmother, who’s grown coffee for ages. It felt like her story was neglected, which got me thinking about what happens to the farmers who get paid by Starbucks. Where does the money go? I was studying economics at the time, and I could see there was demand, but the suppliers weren’t answering these questions. The math didn’t add up.
I was supposed to work in an insurance company, but I knew I wanted to do something related to coffee from an entrepreneurial perspective. I couldn’t tell my mom because, in Africa, entrepreneurship is not really championed as a career you can live off of. There’s the mentality that you’re a woman, and you’re going to struggle.
So I told myself, I’m just going to do what I was sent here to do, get my first degree, get my second degree. When I went back to Africa and told my mom my plan, she didn’t talk to me for two years.
- You mentioned that you started the exporting company in 2009, and it took ten years for you to get into Canada. How did that journey go?
It’s hard to break into a circle and gain trust. A lot of people don’t think you’re serious; they just want to hear your lovely stories about Kenya and move on. I think the industry has been so used to the traditional colonial ways of how things run in coffee with certain exporters. The moment you’re a newbie, it’s hard to break into that circle and become trusted. I also thought my Canadian background and Western degree would help me, but it still took a while. I don’t think the western world has a lot of respect for smaller exporters from producing countries.
- What’s your hope for the future of Vava?
I hope the power dynamics can shift in favour of producers. I hope that a consumer can make a more informed decision if they know that a producer isn’t getting their share. I think some roasters and cafes are too shy to do the hard work and do the right thing. They hide behind the fact that they don’t want to raise the price for consumers because things are hard. But things are hard for everyone, especially in coffee-producing countries