Vava Angwenyi of Vava Coffee & The Ndaro-Ini Factory
For our "Light & Adventurous" Issue #7 we sourced a very special coffee from the Ndaro-Ini Factory for our sister roastery, This Coffee Co. It was exported by the incredible Vava Angwenyi, Author of Coffee Milk Blood and Owner of Vava Coffee - the very first B-Corp in Kenya (and Africa) run by a woman.
We had a great conversation with Vava who was gracious enough with her time (after a long day of farm touring in Kenya) to share more of the story behind the Ndaro-Ini Factory as well as her coffee exporting company, Vava Coffee.
First off, let's dive into the the story of the coffee and why she works with them:
“What attracted me to Ndaro-Ini - I've been there a few times - was the badass women that work in that factory,” shared Vava Angwenyi, the Owner of Vava Coffee and exporter of this Kenyan lot.
Vava is a very important part of this coffee purchase as here with our sister roastery, This Coffee Co., we want to ensure the purchase is as equitable and transparent as possible. Vava helps us make this happen with her relationships, mentorship, and sourcing in Kenya. Continuing on with the story of the Ndario-Ini Factory, Vava shares more:
“One of the coffee authorities tried to tell them that they couldn't sell their coffee to a specific buyer. And they demonstrated a protest, which in Kikuyu culture, was a really serious protest. They were threatening to take off their clothes on the streets in front of a man - they were trying to send a serious message. And so, we called them the Mama warriors of coffee - because they sent a loud message to the authorities. And they got what they wanted.”
They’re strong in their beliefs and are also exceptionally talented coffee producers.
“They selectively handpick the ripest cherries then deliver them to the factory for processing,” furthered Angwenyi, “the cherries are pulped and fermented for 12-16 hours, then dried slowly and evenly for 14-21 days.”
The impeccable processing creates a cup that is full of tantalizing clean flavours like ruby grapefruit, strawberry yogurt, and raspberry.
Now, to dive into the story behind Vava Angwenyi of Vava Coffee:
How did you get started in coffee?
It started when I was a student at Western University. I was taking this course that required so much studying, and I would always be at the Starbucks and at Tim Hortons trying to stay caffeinated. When I saw Kenyan coffee at the Starbucks on campus, I remember noticing that there was no real 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 that get paid by Starbucks? Where does the money go? I was studying economics at the time, and I could see there’s demand, but the suppliers aren’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 gonna 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 10 years for you to get into Canada. How did that journey go?
It’s hard to break into a circle and get trusted. 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 Vava coffee all about?
We focus heavily on creating relationships from the farm to the consuming world. We also feel it’s our responsibility to showcase Kenya in its best light and in a way that people aren’t used to. I like to use the tagline, there’s no such thing as a typical Kenyan coffee, because the origin is so diverse.
-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. The journey of coffee from the tree to the workers who pick it then stand for hours sorting each bean before fermenting and drying. And that’s not even factoring in climate change.
Some of us are making noise about the fact that coffee is underpriced and that producers have very little power to change that. I hope that people can see the truth behind the bean and accept that they have to pay more.