In today’s post we’re introducing one of our founder’s, Arthur Karuletwa. As we were getting ready for this interview, Arthur shared this small anecdote of a recent experience he’d had, and it was just a reminder of why it’s important for people to share their stories.
Yesterday, I was introduced to two different people at separate times, with the same story. And that story was, “Meet Arthur, he’s a refugee from Africa.” Period. At the end of that discussion, I started to wonder, “Is that the sum of all of me? Is that the takeaway they left with? If so, what is their interpretation of a refugee from Africa?” How am I supposed to tell them, “No, that’s not everything about me?” How do I overcome that?”
It had not been the first time I had felt like that. Most introductions of an entire people has been cast the same way. Incomplete, singular, and open for an unintended false interpretation. I was not the only victim of this unintended consequence. I had witnessed my own country, Rwanda, fall at the mercy of a single story. For decades after the horrific genocide against the Tutsi in 1994, this story had engulfed our ability to turn a new page of hope, recovery and rebuilding. The top ten google hits on anything 'Rwanda' was overridden by a dark history with barely any light penetrating through the cracks of a bright future. Even as a resilient recovery in our revitalized economy was evident, it continued to be overshadowed by the single story of1994. This last introduction of who I am has continued to remind me of the importance of the value of ones identity and why it matters. It is the sum of our parts and not a single experience.
Why did you choose to start Stori Coffee?
I wanted to break down the complexity of the incredible coffee journey into a simple story that people could connect with. Complexity is always a deterrent. It discourages people from trying to figure anything out. At least most of us. And when people don’t have the time or appetite to figure out something complex, they make decisions without proper clarity. Most decisions we make everyday have began to seem rudimentary and not too much thought goes into them, but the ripple effects are as drastic as the ripples that evolve into tsunamis. And because of this, people to take advantage of a seemingly complex system and the people within the system. Coffee’s journey to our cup is a complex web of micro socio-economics with numerous interconnected chains of custody, each dependent on the other for sustained health. But when one dependent (or organ - if compared to the dependencies each of our organs has on the other in our human body) fails, the whole systems goes into cardiac arrest and ultimately fails.
Because of this understanding, we decided to digitally capture this complex process for two reasons. The first is to authenticate the journey, and make sure that we can keep a finger on the pulse of the system to know when and where a specific organ is failing. The second is so that the people who's voices are often subdued by the complexities of a global coffee system, are protected, seen and acknowledged. A prerequisite to extracting the value of ones identity - ones story.
What do you do at Stori Coffee?
I work on overall strategy and vision. I also lead our sourcing (procurement) of the product from origin, through every point of the supply chain, to roasting, profiling and quality control. I’ve worked in the coffee industry for 20 years, and during that time I’ve i have been fortunate to be able to continuously built and maintained long term relationships with the people who grow the product, and continue to do so today. It is probably the most valuable asset in this industry. The company you keep, and the relationships you preserve.
We’re adding this note, because Arthur is too humble to brag, but he’s a Q-grader in the coffee industry. It’s similar to a sommelier. Q-graders are trained to taste a coffee and before asserting its brew method, processing method, or even roast profile, identify the foundational attributes and the responsible geographical flavors that occur at origin.
What does Coffee x People mean to you?
It means that there are numerous and incredible, life changing moments of connection that happen at the intersection of coffee and people. I have been fortunate to witness the miracles between coffee x people at origin where coffee is grown many times. I have seen coffee broker a thirty year conflict between two people. I have been the silent listener when a cup is shared between two people that have made a decision to spend the rest of their life together in marriage. I have been part of this intersection where coffee was the tipping point in lifelong business transaction. And I have been very fortunate to work in an industry for the last 20 years where coffee has become personal. Unequivocally playing a pivotal role in the reconciliation of two groups in a post genocide era.
Why do you think Coffee is part of that equation?
Coffee has the ability to create a shared moment of connection between people and places oceans and worlds apart. I have seen it firsthand. Coffee has the power to inspire and empower through a single sip. For such a beloved product, coffee isn’t doing enough to create opportunity and growth in the countries and communities that grow it – that need it most. We want to change that, and it can be done by applying a consistent, value-driven approach in each step of the coffee supply chain.
What would you be doing if you weren’t working in coffee?
It’s hard to answer that question. If the genocide did not happen, my journey may have been different. We all reach a fork in the road at some point in the journey of our lives that drives an unplanned journey towards purpose. So I’m doing what I’m doing because I needed it to heal. I needed it to forgive and reconcile. It’s a lifeline.
What do you do for fun?
Family time. Family is everything to me!
What’s your favorite coffee beverage?
This is like asking me if I have a favorite child. Every coffee has a season and every season has a moment of connection. I literally will go for an Ethiopian coffee depending on moments mood. Ethiopian coffee takes me to smells of place and sounds and people. If I’m feeling uninspired and the business of coffee has me in a swirl of hopelessness, I go after a Rwandan coffee. It takes me to a history and its purpose. And If I’m having a coffee with a friend I’ll go for a Costa Rican because it takes me to the beach. You see, there are many incredible coffees out there. But not one of them is the perfect cup, until its coupled with the perfect experience.
What was your first experience with coffee?
My first experience with coffee was not of me drinking coffee. It was a psychological experience. My first experience with coffee was that I hated coffee. I hated it because it played a role in the perpetuation of poverty, ultimately fueling the spark that culminated a genocide. And because of this, I dove into it to use it as a vehicle in turn, to fight poverty and build reconciliation.
What is missing from the industry that you’re trying to change?
The democratization of access to finance for farmers. I once heard someone say following the banking collapse in 2008, that the the banks were bailed out because they are the heart of our economies. And like the human body, the the money that they disburse and render access to, is like the blood that our nervous systems depend on for survival. Our coffee industry is no different. Its' survival is wholly dependent on a healthy heart (banks). But what is different the systems of old are still in place. Systems where access to capital (competitive capital) required an identity worthy of credit, history and assets. And because the majority of coffee producers identity vanishes within the first ten feet of their harvest, they are already in cardiac arrest before taking a first breath.
And that is why Stori coffee is determined to capture and preserve the identity of every farmer we do business with. It is this most invaluable asset that you and I leverage to access capital, become credit worthy, and preserve our self worth and dignity that endures even after we are gone.