Established in 2019 in Berlin, Germany, Woolis imports specialty-grade green coffee (a cupping score of 84 and higher) from Mexico and delivers it to roasters in Germany and other European nations.
Founder Angelica Bertram, a Mexican native who has lived in Germany for 29 years, started the company with a passion to introduce many people to products from her home country.
She launched roasting brand “Madre Roasters” in 2020 to start selling coffee beans to general consumers. We spoke to Angelica to find out what her intentions are behind the company name “Woolis,” the Mayan word for “circle” and “connection.”
Woolis sources green coffee from small-scale farmers and cooperatives in six regions in Mexico, such as Chiapas and Oaxaca. The company’s website features detailed information and stories about its partner producers. This reflects Angelica’s desire to have genuine interactions with coffee producers and share their coffee with roasters.
“My principle as a green coffee buyer is to not make any empty promises regarding payment and to have open communication. I make a point of giving farmers feedback on their coffee’s flavor notes when they send me samples. That’s because even winners of the Cup of Excellence don’t know the extraction ratio of beans and hot water or the appropriate water temperature for drip coffee.”
Woolis also plays the role of an advisor to coffee farmers. For instance, Angelica introduced a farmer whose sample coffee cupped at 78 to another farmer. That served as a breakthrough moment for the farmer struggling with processing. After the farmer put into practice what she learned from another farmer, her coffee’s quality drastically improved to a cupping score of 88.
“What I love most about the specialty coffee world is the fact that everyone in the supply chain is keen to connect with others. The same is true for me. One of the most fulfilling parts of my work is to visit Mexico to buy green coffee and deepen relationships with producers.
Connection becomes stronger if I learn stories about what they are thinking about when growing coffee and why they choose particular processing methods. I’m grateful that they, too, are proud of connecting with overseas markets through a window called Woolis. I get many joys from this job, each special in its own way. Every moment is special.”
Business built on human to human relationships
What inspired Angelica to found Woolis was an encounter with a German Q-grader who also served as a judge for the Cup of Excellence. She was deeply impressed when she found out about the specialty coffee world. The shocking discovery ignited her entrepreneurial spirit and steered her toward a new challenge.
“My maternal family used to grow coffee for their own consumption in a traditional way. So I was familiar with coffee. But when it came to specialty coffee, there was a lot I didn’t know. I started to think about what role I could play in the supply chain and how I could help it.”
After surveying markets, Angelica found that multiple firms in Europe sourced large volumes of organic and fair trade-certified coffee from Mexico. Figuring that she would stand no chance going up against them in their field, she decided to find her niche, with a brand with its distinct appeal. That was to focus on high-quality coffees with a cupping score of 84 and higher.
Once she decided on principle, the next step was to cultivate relationships with farmers. But since she didn’t know any coffee producer, she started by reaching out to Cup of Excellence winners. Calling them one by one, she explained the philosophy behind Woolis and gradually expanded partner producers.
After a few years, an increasing number of coffee farmers found out about Woolis by word of mouth. Eventually, producers started to contact her themselves.
“Nowadays. I receive exceptionally good samples from producers I never imagined I would meet or would probably not have been able to find on my own. I realize once again that business is built on relationships with people.
Of course, none of it would be possible if not for Q-graders who ensure quality. We decided to buy 40 lots in 2021 after cupping around 150 sample lots in 2021. Six of them made the top ten in the Cup of Excellence afterwards.”
Living as mother
Through Woolis, Angelica solves coffee farmers’ problems and finds answers for their challenges, guiding them in a better direction. Working alongside someone, standing closely by their side, is a vocation for Angelica.
Angelica studied export for two years from 1994 at Export Academy, currently known as European Business School, in southern Germany. After she married and gave birth, she focused on raising her children for eight years.
Later on, Angelica worked as a project manager for seven years at a Germany-based renewable energy firm that operated solar energy facilities in several European nations. Based on this experience, she went on to found a consulting firm in Mexico, where she audited energy consumption for businesses and advised them on how they could save energy costs and make their operations more sustainable. After that, she worked for Mexico’s social development ministry to resolve poverty.
The renewable energy industry and coffee may not seem to have anything to do with each other. But everything in life happens for a reason. Renewable energy, which helps slow global warming, is an extremely compatible area for the coffee industry, especially since climate change threatens to wipe out half of the land suitable for Arabica coffee production.
“It’s scary to just think about how much climate change might impact coffee production. It pains my heart when I think about children of the next generation who will live in that era. Going forward, Woolis might do a project in Mexico to encourage use of renewable energy. I want to give back to the country where I was born and raised.
To do that, I want to find more clients around the world and expand this business. My goal is to increase the number of our sourcing origins to 14. I hope that people will think of Woolis when they look for good coffee from Mexico.”
Angelica has a 23-year-old and 25-year-old sons. She said it felt as if there was a hole in her heart for the five years she lived away from her sons in Germany. Specialty coffee reminded her of a mission to live for others.
The “madre” in Woolis’s roasting brand “Madre Roasters” is a Spanish word for “mother.” In the near future, Angelica may be called the mother of Mexican coffee.