Crop to Cup Creates a Better Connection, Over Coffee

Scott Ballum
Bryan Sykora
Clara Kennedy

In our first video profile, we talk to Taylor Mork, Co-owner of Brooklyn and Chicago based Crop to Cup Coffee Company.

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Taylor Mork: The overall goal of the company is to help coffee farmers—small, older, family farmers—move more coffee at a better price.

So the idea is to help farmers make a real business out of their farms instead of just subsistence farming. My business parter, Jake Elster, and I were in Uganda on some non-profit projects. Those finished up, so we started working for a non-profit coffee exporter. We were shocked to find that the farmers didn’t have any sort of connection to the final consumer. There’s no financial connection, there’s no social connection, there’s no way for the farmers to know where their products gone to. You know—Once they’ve sold it off the mountain, that’s it.

So while there, and over the next few years we started building a model: how could we connect the farmer to the drinker, and provide value both ways. How can the consumer benefit from better stories, more information, better transparency, more assurance from the consumer side. A social connection, that’s a valuable personal connection for the farmers to have. And more importantly, a financial connection for the farmers. These are farmers who need cash, who need it year round. Coffee doesn’t grow year round, but farmers still need money, kids still go to school year round.

Right now we have coffee from Uganda, Barundi, Mexico, Brazil, and Ethiopia Sudama. There’s really good coffee all over the world, but we’re choosing to go to the places that need the help the most. That haven’t had the attention over the past few years.

We want all of our employees and everyone involved with us, partners, to feel like they’re really part of something and not just here because they need a job. We brought all of our staff down to Uganda to work with the farmers. We were able to do one big thing with money that we’ve generated through sales. So it was -- yeah, that was a big thing.

We’re still fighting for how we find loan cash, how we pay for 20 tons of coffee at a time. So now its a bit easier, now that we have the revenues coming in, but at the beginning when its like, alright, I'm going to sell six 10 oz. bags of coffee to a supermarket who will reorder six months from now, and no restaurant is going to take you on because you don’t have a track record. So at that point it was just watching the load amount decrease, paying ourselves enough to pay the rent. And at some point, it just gets to zero, and you got to hope that as the bank account gets to zero, enough customers are coming on at the same time and you can start getting the revenue.

Small businesses, you have to wear all hats. We all kind of do everything: accounting, deliveries, packing, dealing with the roasters, dealing with the importers, dealing with the warehouses, dealing with the truckers, paying rent, making coffee for the office—everything. But it’s rewarding. I’d rather work 8 to 8 every day and feel like I really have my hands in it, then just go 9 to 5 and have work completely off my head at the end of the day, because there’s no personal connection at that point.