Letter from the Founders

We didn’t set out to build a coffee company. When we created Onda Origins, we wanted to build a new way of doing business: one that brings value to the people who had been denied it.

The idea grew out of our experiences on opposite sides of the globe. In Samoa, Scott was passionate about global development, but became disillusioned after a failed aid project had mandated solutions rather than investing in people. In Costa Rica, Paul was leading eco-tours on the edge of Monteverde Cloud Forest when he was introduced to the intricacies of growing coffee. Farmers had found ways to respect the rich environment around them while increasing the quality of their crop, but their businesses were struggling to connect with buyers beyond seasonal tourists. We thought, what if we connected coffee growers and drinkers so all of us together can make coffee more sustainable?

Over brainstorms, cups of coffee, and a lot of beers, we identified consumer marketing of coffee as a confusing proliferation of labeling and certifications -- a lot of talk about sustainability, but the real impact of those cups of coffee wasn’t clear from the ground up.

What did become clear to us was that the ones responsible for the quality and sustainability of the coffee are the growers, but the price growers are paid is not sustainable.

To start, most of coffee’s flavor is set by the time it leaves the growers’ farms. And it’s the growers who put in the work to uphold the values we care about, whether it’s protecting workers’ rights or farming in ways that support the environment. However, while the average price for a cup of coffee in the US has increased by 500%, the price of coffee paid to farmers has not changed since the 70's. In many cases, growers barely cover their cost of production, if at all.

So we started working towards a solution. What would it look like to bring the two ends of the coffee supply chain together? To create a social and financial connection between coffee growers and drinkers that actually rewards growers for their good decisions? We created a business model by which we return revenue from every coffee purchase back to the farmer who grew it. And we invite growers to share their identity and story with their end customers, illustrating what better livelihoods mean for them and their community.

Our first growing partner was Enrique Navarro, a Costa Rican coffee star. It all started with Enrique sleeping on our couch in Seattle for a summer while he took English classes. He taught us about how much care and detail goes into coffee before it ever leaves origin. Together we immersed ourselves in profile roasting and cupping, meeting customers, and checking off his bucket-list item of seeing Guns N’ Roses live. For him, being included in the marketing of his own coffee had a profound impact: “When I won Cup of Excellence in 2014... I thought I had reached the summit of coffee. But soon I realized that I wanted something more, I wanted to know who was really on the other side of our hard work. Onda is the first partner I’ve had with this level of authenticity in their vision for connecting producers and consumers.”

Enrique (left) judging a latte art competition in Seattle using the coffee from his own farm.

"I heard Guns N’ Roses for the first time when I was ten years old, and last night I saw them in Seattle because of coffee and the relationships I have there now." - Enrique Navarro

From there, we wanted to expand this model to more growers, especially smallholders who are further disconnected from the global market. The supply chain is especially murky at this level so we knew we needed a completely new system of traceability based on equal participation of every actor across the supply chain, starting with the grower. That would mean growers can see their products’ end customers and value (enabling better price negotiation) and that customers can see how much value is passed back to the farmer (enabling better purchasing).

So we started a sister company, yave, to develop a traceability solution using blockchain technology. The first grower to have her coffee’s identity traced from bean to cup on blockchain was Ivonne Herrera, a 24-year-old single mother who studies clinical nutrition on the days she isn’t working on her coffee farm. We were able to nearly double Ivonne’s earnings per pound, helping her turn a profit for the first time in two years. In turn, she was able to help her workers get bank accounts for the first time, a huge step towards financial stability. Stories like hers remind us that it’s when you invest in people that they can make positive decisions for their communities and the planet.

Ivonne and her son, Martin. She learned about coffee farming from her father.

Workers picking ripe coffee cherries on Ivonne’s farm. Ivonne helped her workers get bank accounts for the first time.

It’s still a work in progress. One thing we know for sure is that we can’t do it alone. We are only as powerful as our community of customers who use their daily coffee ritual to make a difference. From the very beginning, when it was just two brothers with a side hustle selling hand-written bags of coffee out of our garage, we wanted a name that could serve as a guide for our work. “Onda” means ripple or wave in Spanish. We believe that small actions can lead to bigger change.

Join us.

Paul & Scott Tupper, Co-Founders