PEORIA – Coffee is all about social activism for the owners of Cafe Santa Rosa in the Junction City Shopping Center.
Opened about a year ago, the shop offers high-quality specialty coffee grown in Colombia, the country where shop owners Heber and Marta Vidal were born. The business is one of only two in the U.S. that use the farm-to-cup business model, said Heber, who owns not only the coffee shop but also the farm where most of the coffee is grown.
“We grow our coffee beans in a socially and environmentally responsible way — that’s what makes us different from everybody else,” said Heber while sitting in the shop on a recent weekday. Beside him was his wife, Marta, and their son, Rafael, was making drinks at the nearby counter. “That is the part that we want to let the people know: When they come here and drink a cup of coffee, they are helping the environment, and they are helping other people. So that is the connection, and that is what prompted us to do it.”
Coffee is a side business for the Vidals. Heber Vidal also owns Inter Services Co., a translation service he founded in 1990, and Marta is a retired Spanish teacher who worked in Peoria Public Schools for many years. The pair decided 12 years ago to buy the farm.
“One day, we decided we wanted to do some investment in Colombia. The farm is very close to our city; it’s in the outskirts of our city,” said Heber.
Though importing coffee was new to Heber, he had learned a lot about the import/export business by doing translations for area businessmen. At first, Heber sold the green beans to brokers and people who liked to do their own roasting, then later began roasting the beans and selling the finished coffee for more money. A year ago, the Vidals opened the coffee shop, an effort to make the business as profitable as possible.
As the business expanded, Heber started working with neighboring farmers to sell their crops. He is able to give them a good price for their coffee by cutting out the middleman — brokers who take a cut of the profits. The farm-to-cup business model has helped make his neighbors’ businesses more profitable, a critical thing in a country where the illegal drug trade is flourishing.
“The people in the drug business approach the farmers and say, ‘I give you the seeds for the coca plant, and you can make 10 times more money,” said Heber. “Of course, this becomes cocaine, and it’s going to come here.”
While growing coca plants (the leaves of which are the source of the drug cocaine) is illegal in Colombia, poverty is a strong motivator, said Marta.
“In our country, the government doesn’t pay for social programs, so if you are born poor, there is a very high chance you are going to die poor,” she said. “So, of course, if you see your child hungry and starving, you do what you have to do.”
The Vidals are working to help the farmers thrive by growing a legal crop.
“We teach them how to produce the high-quality coffee, and we sell it directly in the U.S., farm to the cup,” said Heber.
Each bag of coffee is sold in packaging that tells the story of the farmers who grew it.
“This bag contains coffee from farm Villa Marcela, owned by our neighbor Jose Betancourt,” reads one of the bags. “Jose Betancourt learned the coffee craft from his father, inheriting a farm with 200 coffee trees. Years later his farm has flourished. He harvests coffee from about 42,000 trees, and over the years, has found the key to ensure the best quality in his beans: A disciplined cycle of washing, fermenting and drying.”
The Vidals’ farm and their neighbors’ farms are located amid one of the best coffee growing regions in the world.
“We are in the middle of the mountains — in coffee, altitude is very important,” said Heber. “We are at 5,400 feet above sea level, that’s the reason the coffee is the best. And we are in the Ring of Fire, a line of volcanoes that goes through Latin America all the way to Japan. When those volcanoes were spitting fire, they deposited ashes, sooty material in the soil, which makes the sugars in the coffee plant. That’s how we have coffee that is very sweet.”
Bagged coffee is not the only thing sold at Cafe Santa Rosa. Rafael Vidal and barista Angel Schick were at the counter making fancy drinks with the coffee, including a cafe mocha with an artistically swirled cream top and an espresso mojito with fresh limes. Customers can enjoy their drinks and the assorted goodies sold at Cafe Santa Rosa indoors or outside on the front patio.
To learn more, visit cafesantarosa.co.
Leslie Renken can be reached at 270-8503 or [email protected] Follow her on Facebook.com/leslie.renken.