They are led by Lisanne, based in Amsterdam, and Theadros, based in Peru. Lissane studied cultural anthropology and worked as a quality manager at the Amsterdam importer Trabocca. Her partner is from Argentina, and she herself is fluent in Spanish. She is also a mother of one child. Read more about Lisanne in this interview.
Theadros studied international development and worked as an intern at a coffee cooperative in Peru before he worked in the export-import at Trabocca. He then moved to Peru with his family where his wife is from. During his time at Trabocca, he was in charge of the Ethiopian trade, as his father is Ethiopian and his mother is Dutch. It was fascinating to hear about a business plan contest that Theadros entered when he was in college. The theme of his plan was “Direct Trade Platform” and he won the contest and was able to go to the US to study. He then returned to the Netherlands and joined Trabocca to start a full-fledged career in coffee. However, he hit a wall. At a large company like Trabocca, it was difficult for him to work directly with small-scale producers as he had hoped.
These two colleagues at the time talked about their dreams and hit it off. In 2017, they founded Cultivar. They both saw great potential in Peruvian specialty coffee and believed that small-scale producers can increase their profitability by nurturing quality coffee. Cultivar has connections with more than 100 small producers throughout Peru, and deals mainly in micro lots. The quality of their coffee has been highly praised by European roasters such as The Barn, Bonanza Coffee, and Friedhats.
When I received a text message from Lisanne saying, “I’ll go to Peru then!” I was in awe of the strength of her energy. Despite her soft and fluffy hair with a bell-like voice, Lisanne was a “coffee woman” with an unfathomable passion and sense of responsibility.
A few months ago, I started researching on the internet to find producers in Peru that I could approach. I stumbled upon Cultivar on a social networking site while researching. They immediately struck a chord with me in the whirlwind of information. I could relate to their philosophy, the fact that they are my generation, and their startup mindset. Most importantly, I was simply excited when I imagined working with them. It also just so happened that they were based in Peru and the Netherlands. I immediately made a contact and met up with Lisanne at a cafe in Amsterdam.
When she showed up at the café, Lisanne was a calm, a little shy woman who seemed a little nervous, but as we talked over coffee, she immediately started smiling. We introduced ourselves to each other and confirmed that we shared the same values. As I expected at the beginning, we didn’t need to do many explanations.
After the meeting, we shared our perceptions on the quality through a two-day cupping session. Lisanne said, “To be honest, I didn’t have a particular impression of Peru, but I was impressed by the varieties of flavors and was excited to share it with Japanese roasters.”
When I said, “I am thinking of visiting Peru next month if that’s possible,” Lisanne’s face clouded a little and she said, “You shouldn’t go to Peru right now because it’s still in turmoil.” Although the blockade of the border to Peru has been lifted, it is still in a state of confusion. My business partner Theadros, who is based in Peru, hasn’t seen his family for several months. We usually choose the adventurous path, but this time we decided to take the easy way out and have samples mailed to us from Peru. It was the best choice in hindsight.
Normally, it would be best to communicate with smallholders face-to-face and connect them with roasters, but in this day and age, it may be necessary to have the experience online.
We quickly finalized the schedule for the cupping event in Japan and asked Lisanne to arrange the delivery of samples. However, we found out that the procedures in Peru had not completed our shipment for the scheduled shipping date, and the shipment would not arrive on time. We had no choice but to reschedule the event, as we had already started attracting customers. Then, I received a text message from Lisanne that said, “I’m going to Peru!” She was going to Peru just to pick up some samples. “You don’t need to go to Peru so suddenly. You do have a baby!” I told her that I would reschedule the event, but she wouldn’t listen to me, saying that she wanted to keep her promise. At the moment, I felt as if I had seen her underlying strength. I knew that she would achieve great things with her integrity and strength.
As it turned out, she couldn’t go to Peru because she couldn’t pass through immigration for departure even though she had all the necessary documents. If we had tried to travel, we would have been rejected as well. However, we were able to get to know their nature. We look forward to deepening our relationship with Peru and working with them.
August 2021. The effects of the pandemic had slightly subsided and the long anticipated trip to Peru was finally fulfilled. We were able to have many valuable experiences, including a visit to a “virgin coffee” plantation, grown in a district that no foreigner has yet visited.
Over the past year, Cultivar has evolved remarkably as a team. One of the major reasons for this remarkable change is the welcoming of new teammates. Three new colleagues have joined the Peruvian side of the team: Draidy, who specializes in agriculture and refining, Dura, a cupper, and Gordy, who is in charge of inventory management. The addition of Draydi in particular had a significant impact on the quality and lineup of coffees. Drayedi runs his own coffee farm and has knowledge of fermentation, so he visits producers to teach them about farming and fermentation. This has allowed him to expand the range of production areas this year and increase the number of producers he is involved with. When I learned later in the conversation that he is a relative of Aladino, the producer of the lot that sold out immediately last year, his successful contributions all made sense.
For Cultivar, this is their fifth offer this year since the company was founded. They have been gradually expanding their business mainly in the Netherlands, and last year they entered the Japanese market with us. This year, we will be offering more in all of Europe, Korea, and Taiwan. Although Cultivar is making great strides, they also feel the difficulty of working with small producers year after year. Good producers are always looking for good markets, so the competition is high and the amount you can secure is limited. In addition, due to the frost damage in Brazil this year, the uncertainty of the supply caused the international price of coffee to rise, which subsequently affects the price that Cultivar offers.
However despite these difficulties, Cultivar was able to offer us another jewel of a micro lot this year. These are warm coffees that have been carefully produced by families and couples. Most of them are less than twenty bags. Many businessmen might feel that it’s inefficient to handle these beans with so much care, but we know that we’ll feel the true worth of these beans as we nod to each other in silence during cupping.