Brewing up a cup of beneficence

Three entrepreneurs have brought the single-source coffee movement to Germany, directly connecting customers to an Ethiopian community producing their gourmet beans.

Brewing up a cup of beneficence
Ethiopian farmers involved in the Coffee Circle project. Photo: Coffee Circle

The Berlin-based start-up Coffee Circle allows people to help the rural farming collective simply by drinking a tasty cup of joe each day. For every kilo of coffee sold, development projects improving the community receive €1.

“It’s high-quality coffee, but we noticed the farmers there weren’t getting much out of it, so we started thinking about how it could be exported while giving back,” Coffee Circle co-founder Martin Elwert told The Local.

In 2009, he travelled to Ethiopia with his friend Moritz Waldstein-Wartenberg to help open a school for orphan girls in Addis Abeba. There the two 29-year-olds, who worked together at consulting firm Roland Berger, developed an appreciation for the country’s coffee drinking culture.

“It’s very present there, they drink it three times a day,” Elwert said.

But they also saw people living in poverty while big coffee companies profited from their labours, a situation that sparked the Coffee Circle idea.

Back in Germany, the pair teamed up with a third colleague, 30-year-old Robert Rudnick, before quitting their jobs and moving from Munich to Berlin to found their start-up in July 2009.

“I don’t want to bash consulting, but this feels like it has more meaning,” said Waldstein-Wartenberg. “We’re going to provide clean drinking water for 2,000 people just by selling the first tonne of coffee.”

Their plan is to harness both the social awareness stoked by fair trade products and a growing interest in gourmet coffee to improve conditions for the people who actually harvest the beans.

“With fair trade people know they are helping but they don’t see exactly where their money goes, but we closed the circle, which is where our name comes from,” Waldstein-Wartenberg explained.

The company’s online shop features videos and descriptions of each development project, along with scales that register monetary progress towards their realisation. Customers can support the construction of a spring to provide clean water and the purchase of new learning materials and medical supplies for the Ilketunjo cooperative in southern Ethiopia.

Before getting their endeavour started, Waldstein-Wartenberg and Elwert met with the community’s farmers to discuss how best to focus their partnership.

“They have a very clear understanding of what they need,” Elwert said. “It’s not mobile phones and televisions, it’s ‘we’re getting sick because we don’t have clean water and we need better schools.’ With this help kids will have time to study because they won’t have to walk 10 kilometres to get clean water.”

While the satisfaction that comes with social responsibility is certainly a selling point, the coffee – handpicked, forest-grown, organic Arabica – is also excellent.

Over a cup of their mild and aromatic Yirgacheffe blend, named after the region where it’s produced, Elwert and Waldstein-Wartenberg described how they’d become coffee aficionados while starting their new business.

Asked if he takes cream or sugar, Elwert’s face contorts like a waiter asked to serve filet mignon with ketchup.

“I used to, but not since I started drinking the Ethiopian coffee,” he said.

While many coffee drinkers in the United States are already accustomed to the single-source concept, along with spending a bit more for a quality brew, it may be a challenge convincing frugal Germans to spend €13 on 500 grammes of coffee beans.

Coffee prices have been rock-bottom in Germany for years thanks to the price wars between grocery discounters, but they are slowly rising, which the trio of self-described “Coffeepreneurs” hopes will work in their favour.

“Germans love to spend €1,000 on a coffee machine and then spend just €3 on coffee from discounters like Lidl – we’re hoping to relay that if they spend a bit more it’s better for everyone in the end,” said Waldstein-Wartenberg.

Coffee Circle erklärt in 100 Sekunden from CoffeeCircle on Vimeo.

Coffee Circle’s online shop ships their two coffee blends and an espresso blend, along with french presses and other accessories to Germany and Austria.

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EXPLAINED: Berlin’s latest Covid rules

In response to rapidly rising Covid-19 infection rates, the Berlin Senate has introduced stricter rules, which came into force on Saturday, November 27th. Here's what you need to know.

A sign in front of a waxing studio in Berlin indicates the rule of the 2G system
A sign in front of a waxing studio indicates the rule of the 2G system with access only for fully vaccinated people and those who can show proof of recovery from Covid-19 as restrictions tighten in Berlin. STEFANIE LOOS / AFP

The Senate agreed on the tougher restrictions on Tuesday, November 23rd with the goal of reducing contacts and mobility, according to State Secretary of Health Martin Matz (SPD).

He explained after the meeting that these measures should slow the increase in Covid-19 infection rates, which was important as “the situation had, unfortunately, deteriorated over the past weeks”, according to media reports.

READ ALSO: Tougher Covid measures needed to stop 100,000 more deaths, warns top German virologist

Essentially, the new rules exclude from much of public life anyone who cannot show proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid-19. You’ll find more details of how different sectors are affected below.

If you haven’t been vaccinated or recovered (2G – geimpft (vaccinated) or genesen (recovered)) from Covid-19, then you can only go into shops for essential supplies, i.e. food shopping in supermarkets or to drugstores and pharmacies.

Many – but not all – of the rules for shopping are the same as those passed in the neighbouring state of Brandenburg in order to avoid promoting ‘shopping tourism’ with different restrictions in different states.

2G applies here, too, as well as the requirement to wear a mask with most places now no longer accepting a negative test for entry. Only minors are exempt from this requirement.

Sport, culture, clubs
Indoor sports halls will off-limits to anyone who hasn’t  been vaccinated or can’t show proof of recovery from Covid-19. 2G is also in force for cultural events, such as plays and concerts, where there’s also a requirement to wear a mask. 

In places where mask-wearing isn’t possible, such as dance clubs, then a negative test and social distancing are required (capacity is capped at 50 percent of the maximum).

Restaurants, bars, pubs (indoors)
You have to wear a mask in all of these places when you come in, leave or move around. You can only take your mask off while you’re sat down. 2G rules also apply here.

Hotels and other types of accommodation 
Restrictions are tougher here, too, with 2G now in force. This means that unvaccinated people can no longer get a room, even if they have a negative test.

For close-contact services, such as hairdressers and beauticians, it’s up to the service providers themselves to decide whether they require customers to wear masks or a negative test.

Football matches and other large-scale events
Rules have changed here, too. From December 1st, capacity will be limited to 5,000 people plus 50 percent of the total potential stadium or arena capacity. And only those who’ve been vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 will be allowed in. Masks are also compulsory.

For the Olympic Stadium, this means capacity will be capped at 42,000 spectators and 16,000 for the Alte Försterei stadium. 

3G rules – ie vaccinated, recovered or a negative test – still apply on the U-Bahn, S-Bahn, trams and buses in Berlin. It was not possible to tighten restrictions, Matz said, as the regulations were issued at national level.

According to the German Act on the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases, people have to wear a surgical mask or an FFP2 mask  on public transport.

Christmas markets
The Senate currently has no plans to cancel the capital’s Christmas markets, some of which have been open since Monday. 

According to Matz, 2G rules apply and wearing a mask is compulsory.

Schools and day-care
Pupils will still have to take Covid tests three times a week and, in classes where there are at least two children who test positive in the rapid antigen tests, then tests should be carried out daily for a week.  

Unlike in Brandenburg, there are currently no plans to move away from face-to-face teaching. The child-friendly ‘lollipop’ Covid tests will be made compulsory in day-care centres and parents will be required to confirm that the tests have been carried out. Day-care staff have to document the results.

What about vaccination centres?
Berlin wants to expand these and set up new ones, according to Matz. A new vaccination centre should open in the Ring centre at the end of the week and 50 soldiers from the German army have been helping at the vaccination centre at the Exhibition Centre each day since last week.

The capacity in the new vaccination centre in the Lindencenter in Lichtenberg is expected to be doubled. There are also additional vaccination appointments so that people can get their jabs more quickly. Currently, all appointments are fully booked well into the new year.