Kaldi’s Coffee Arrives at Georgia Tech
This fall, Kaldi’s Coffee, a 27-year St. Louis tradition, arrives at Georgia Tech. Clough will be the new home for the coffee concept with ties to Georgia Tech alumni. After observing the company’s successful implementation of unique, first-class coffee shops on the campuses of Washington University and Emory University, Tech Dining knew Kaldi’s could provide Georgia Tech students and staff a distinctive coffee experience with matchless community support.
The original Kaldi’s location, named for a legendary Ethiopian goat herder, opened on Demun Avenue in St. Louis in 1994. According to folklore, the goat herder Kaldi first discovered the potential of coffee beans. He noticed that after eating the berries from a certain tree, his goats became so energetic that they did not sleep at night.
In 2008, Tricia and Tyler Zimmer bought the shop and quickly began expanding. In addition to their flagship store in St. Louis, they now have over 20 locations, with Atlanta as a “second home base.” As they expand their operation, they want to play a bigger role in the Atlanta community. “This is a family business, and we focus on relationships,” says Tricia. “We love how a cup of coffee brings people together and builds community.”
Coffee and a Focus on the Community
Kaldi’s is not a cookie-cutter operation. The style of each café is different, and the experience fits the communities they serve. The employees at each location strive to be more than a cup of coffee; they want to be a part of the surrounding community. “We focus on getting guests engaged and excited about what we’re doing,” Tricia shares. “We are using design aesthetics to fit inside the Clough Building. We worked closely with our designer to select finishes and colors to complement the existing building. We also want to make sure we utilize soft seating and other comfortable features to give it a warm and inviting environment.”
The company takes a three-pronged approach to meet their goal of community partnership, supporting philanthropy, health and wellness, and education. They work with Akilah Institute/Davis College in Rwanda, currently donating proceeds from their Rwandan coffee sales to the school in addition to developing a longer-term internship program and experiential learning program.
Kaldi’s has a unique program with one of their university partners where they provide an experiential learning platform for business school students to work at Kaldi’s and earn course credits. The students gain access to the business data and have real world examples to use for their courses. Kaldi’s also works with student organizations and classes to provide inside views of business practices, including field trips to visit farms to learn about sourcing.
Sourcing and Sustainability
In 2008, when the Zimmers purchased that first shop, the coffee industry looked very different than it does today. Although coffee consumers had begun requesting fair-trade and organic coffee, there was little interaction between farmers and roasters. Farmers sold their beans in bulk to brokers who then sold by the pound to roasters.
Wanting to build relationships with farmers, Kaldi’s pioneered a game-changing approach to purchasing coffee beans. The Zimmers began meeting with the farmers in person, talking openly about pricing and negotiating directly with them. They initiated regular visits to farms for tastings with farmers.
This new buying process had several benefits for both the farmers and Kaldi’s. Farmers had more control and involvement in the process and better understood what roasters needed. They began focusing on establishing relationships with roasters to earn return business and changed their practices to meet expectations for quality and sustainability. Many farmers have now added their own coffee taste-testing kitchens, called cupping labs, to monitor and improve their crops. For Kaldi’s, they have gained access to a reliable, sustainable source of high-quality beans. In Columbia Monserrate, for example, Kaldi’s buys half of the entire village’s annual coffee production.
Los Tablones Farm
One of the farms Kaldi’s has partnered with is Los Tablones. Kaldi’s has purchased their entire annual crop for the past seven years. Located in El Salvador, Los Tablones is a more than fourth generation family farm owned and operated by the Markwort family. Two generations of the Markwort family happen to be Georgia Tech alumni and supporters, including Herb Markwort, Jr., ‘75 who holds a degree in Industrial Management, and his wife Marielos Markwort, ‘76 whose degree is a Master of Science in Industrial Management. Both are avid Georgia Tech supporters. Together they wear their GT gear proudly and their son, Brett, ’07, who holds a degree in Chemical and Bio Engineering, and never misses an opportunity to promote GT to his three daughters, whom hopefully will continue the legacy.
With the opening of the Georgia Tech location, all Los Tablones beans will be specially dedicated to the Georgia Tech store, which will be the only place coffee sippers can get this exact brew. Kaldi’s is excited about this new arrangement. “As a family-owned business Kaldi’s can make long-standing relationships with farmers, who depend on what we purchase,” Tyler explains.
Marielos’ brother, Rene Cornejo, lives in El Salvador and manages the day-to-day operations of the farm. The farm’s premium location in Concepcion de Ataco, in the Quitachapan region allows it to produce high-quality beans. Its high altitude (1,300m) produces a perfect climate for growing coffee beans. It has a long growing season and fertile, volcanic soil.
Coffee beans do not all ripen at once, so the harvest season extends from December to April. The beans at Los Tablones are all hand-picked. This allows pickers to select only perfectly ripe fruit, which at its peak looks like dark cherries. The fruit is then washed and sun-dried on a large patio where workers rake the beans regularly to ensure they are dried consistently. The beans are then delivered to Kaldi’s in 69 kilo burlap sacks, at a rate of 8000 pounds per year. The entire harvest will go toward serving the Georgia Tech campus.
Los Tablones has implemented a variety of sustainable farming practices. The coffee bean trees are grown under a natural shade canopy of Cuje trees. This shade canopy provides a habitat for birds and bees, which in turn act as natural fertilizers and pollinators for the coffee plants, reducing the amount of fertilizer the Markworts must apply. In addition, the farm refuses to use pesticides or allow any hunting or wood burning on the property.
All Los Tablones beans are now specially dedicated to the Georgia Tech Kaldi’s location, which will be the only location customers can get this exact brew. The location will open with the start of the fall semester.