Gary patiently explained to me that coffee does not equal coffee does not equal coffee. I had no idea that it matters where the coffee came from, or who grew and harvested and roasted it, and that the journey to my mug was really a work of art! What?
It turns out that there are three waves of coffee development in the 20th century. The first wave was the industrial wave where coffee was a commodity, and everyone essentially drank the same dark, bitter coffee purchased from Maxwell House or Folgers. It is what I drank on those late nights in college.
The second wave is represented by brands like Starbucks and Caribou Coffee, as they introduced a higher quality of coffee and the idea that drinking can be a communal experience. The emphasis was on new creative drinks and a certain pizzazz with novelty flavors and friendly baristas.
A third wave emerged in the 1980’s, which focused on the coffee bean itself. Experts call this specialty coffee, which represents a renaissance development away from dark bitter coffee toward an experimentation with lighter flavors. There is a focus on studying the quality of the bean and tracking it from the soil of the farms. Every aspect of coffee production (from seed to cup) as an artisan craft and a fine science. Think how wine aficionados think about their wine – then you have the idea of specialty coffee. Stumptown coffee and Blue Bottle are some examples.
Gary Ford is specialty coffee guy, in Bangkok, Thailand, where he sees specialty coffee as a growth industry and he learned it all while in Thailand. While on a medical trip to villages in the north of the country, he saw coffee trees for the first time. At the same time, he came face to face with real poverty and the need for job creation for real economic impact. Back in Bangkok while working alongside national church leaders, the need to empower refugees and rescue women trapped in the sex trade gripped him and his wife Michelle. They set out to learn more through an established company, NightLight in Bangkok, and study complex coffee techniques.
A business idea was born! La Mesa Coffee.
C. Neal Johnson is credited with the challenge – “Give a man a fish you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish you feed him for a lifetime. BAM goes a next step further and says, ‘Teach a man or a woman how to start a fishing business that creates jobs and you feed the community for generations.’”
This has motivated the Fords to connect with a small village in north Thailand, and encourage them to upgrade their coffee growing, processing and roasting techniques. Gary calls it the result of his “origin trip.” This began their direct trade and experimentation into micro lot coffee,1 – for better coffee and better incomes for the farmers.
While building the specialty coffee business, which includes a bakery, Gary has developed key relationships with other stakeholders in the country – suppliers, buyers, roasters, shop owners, and customers. They have an identity in the Udom Suk district of being the first to operate such a shop and do so with integrity, excellence, and modeled discipleship. They have studied the Quadruple Bottom Line2 of the BAM movement and try to do it all by the book.
All of that means that the employees, vendors, customers, suppliers, neighbors, and others see a clear set of values and commitment to serving the community, quality of product, fairness with employees, and a culture of patient coaching of those who have been traumatized. Most employees are not followers of Jesus yet. Their Proof of Concept is proving out as one was recently heard to say, “They want to see us grow as a person”.
Gary is working hard to develop a Kingdom Coffee Alliance to improve the service in the community even more, defining protocols, developing quality training, solving problems, and driving toward an accelerator for Kingdom coffee outlets – for the greater glory of God.
Gary credits IBEC for their coaching and consulting expertise. One coach especially helped La Mesa grow during the COVID period, with once-a-month contact. Another provided positive encouragement in tough times. La Mesa is well on its way to making a significant difference – socially, economically, and spiritually. Check out this take-off of a 30-year old comedy within the walls of La Mesa Coffee:
2 The Quadruple Bottom Line includes a drive to profitability, creating jobs, making disciples, and care for creation.
Larry W. Sharp, BAM Support Specialist, IBEC Ventures