The man who brought international coffee to Sonoma County
Written by Ricardo Ibarra
We spoke for twenty minutes, the precise amount of time to perfectly roast the coffee beans that Guillermo Moran had just placed in the roaster in the production plant of Eco-Delight Coffee, in Petaluma. This is where 63-year-old Guillermo undertook his coffee initiative in Sonoma County, in 2015. The following captures the essence of our conversation:
Q – Where does your passion for coffee come from?
A – I come from a coffee family from the Republic of El Salvador, in the district of Ahuachapan. My family has been there for six generations, growing coffee in the Ilamatepec mountain region of Apaneca and Ataco, which is where a good part of the coffee plantations in El Salvador are located.
I had the good fortune of being exposed to coffee production from a very young age. My father had three coffee farms that had been inherited from his grandparents and great-grandparents, from generation to generation, until they came to me. I have a daughter, who will be the seventh generation.
Q – What has been your relationship with this legacy?
A – Starting with my childhood, I had a close relation with children of the workers on the farms. They were my playmates who I looked forward to joining over the summer holidays, which coincided with the coffee harvest. We moved the whole family to the farms where we lived for three months every year.
I’ve always realized I had a great advantage, attending private schools, private universities, cared for with good private health, lived in a good house. Those children, who were my playmates, did not have the opportunity because they were the children from the workers.
When I grew up and this legacy came into my hands, I had the good fortune to study chemical engineering at the University of Texas, in Austin, receiving a master’s degree in business administration at the University of Pennsylvania, at the Wharton School of Business in 1983. I returned to El Salvador which was immersed in a violent and bloody civil war that devastated the country. There I began to think, and realized we could not just be coffee producers. We had to break the paradigm. I took advantage of the new commercial treaties to try to bring coffee to the United States and give it added value, in order to give more money to our producers, so they could support their workers in more dignified living condition.
Q – When you say ‘added value’, what do you mean?
A – We, the coffee producers, have generally sold green (unroasted) coffee beans to roasting consortiums here in the United States, such as Starbucks, Peet’s, General Foods, Folgers. They pay us relatively little for our coffee, because they “added the value.” They roast it, pack it, market it, and sell it. What they pay us for our pound of coffee, which is generally less than one dollar per pound, they end up selling at 15, 16 dollars a pound. That is the added value to which I am referring.
The possibility that we could get a part of that added value to give better living conditions to our workers was the driving force behind our idea.
Q – What was your plan to add value to your coffee?
A – I made an agreement with other coffee producers in El Salvador and a Machine manufacturer from Costa Rica, based in the idea of installing a roasting plant in the United States, and a coffee importing company. Now we bring coffees from different farms and countries in Latin America: Brazil, Colombia, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, and possibly later we will bring from countries in Africa and Southeast Asia.
Q – Do the varieties of origin of the coffee affect the final product?
A – Like wines, coffee depends on several factors: different soils have different minerals, consistency and chemical composition. There are different plants and varieties of coffee, bourbon, arabic, pacas, and caturra. Then there are the robust coffees that usually come from Africa, Vietnam or Brazil, which are another variety, with another flavor. Other conditions create unique flavors, each region in each country with their varied climates. All that, plus the processing that is done to the coffee bean, gives you different flavors and aromas
Q – When did Eco-Delight begin to roast coffee in the United States?
A – We began in 2011 with a small roastery in Suisun City, in Solano County. We had a small ‘coffee shop’ there because we thought it was the right model to introduce our coffee. People would try it and hear our story. Unfortunately Suisun City is not a place with a lot of foot traffic, so we were not very successful there. Fortunately our story reached the Silicon Valley, when a person from Apple visited us. They were changing their coffee supplier and asked if we would give them a sample. Three months later Eco-Delight became Apple’s coffee supplier for the next three years. And from there we were able to move to our current home in Petaluma, among all the beauty of Sonoma County.
Q – Why did you choose Sonoma County?
A – There are similarities between our coffee plantations and Sonoma County. This is an area of artisan food producers. There is milk, cheeses, eggs, great wines and now we have good coffee.
Q – What is the business model that you brought to Sonoma County?
A – The plan is to distribute excellent quality coffees to people, businesses and establishments. We offer coffee as whole beans, and ground in 5-pound, 2-pound,1-pound and 12-ounce bags. Our coffees are offered in coffee shops in San Francisco, restaurants and hotels in the Bay Area and Northern California. We are in three Lola’s Market in Sonoma County.
Q – Which coffee do you distribute in the market?
A – We have coffee of diverse origins, which I mentioned before. But we also make ‘blends’, compositions with different coffees, from different countries, to create a more complex flavor. For example, our Eco-Delight Espresso Blend, the Premium Blend Medium Roast and Dark Roast. Each of these has from four to nine different coffees that are blended after roasting each type individually, according to a recipe that our ‘master blender’ helped us develop.
Q – You roast all this variety of coffees, where does your learning and experience come from?
A – My grandfather had a little roasting company in El Salvador, because we were coffee producers. As a child I saw what the procedure was like, which stuck in my mind, on my palate and in my nose. When I grew up I decided I wanted as a project to learn to roast, that is, more than to know numbers and production. I wanted to learn roasting as a fine art. I went to Costa Rica and spent a couple of months with the manufacturer of the machinery that we use, and there with the specialist I learned how not to burn coffee, because he was called “El No Quema” (The No Burn).
Q – How do you like to drink coffee?
A – I do not like coffee too bitter. There is a perception that the more bitter it is the stronger it is, and it has more caffeine. But no! The more roasted and dark and burned, the less caffeine you retain. I like a ‘medium roast’ coffee and the subtle flavors that this coffee gives off; chocolate, citrus, red fruits.
Q – With sugar and milk?
A – I’ve been drinking coffee since I was a child, and since then I have learned to drink it without sugar or milk. A good coffee does not need masks to think that it is good. Here I find the coffees are bitter and people put masks on them. Ours are for savoring, where you can find the sweet flavors, and because they have low acidity you do not need those masks.
Q – What time do you like to have your coffee?
A – I cannot start the day without my two cups of coffee. And as the day goes by I drink another two or three cups of coffee, say mid-morning, after lunch and mid-afternoon.
Q – Many people do not drink coffee at night. Is there any time to stop drinking it?
A – There is not. It is a myth that ‘with coffee I can not sleep’. After a good dinner, I can have a coffee with a dessert and I sleep well.
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Contact La Prensa Sonoma editor, Ricardo Ibarra, at: 707-526-8501. Or in the email: firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @ricardibarra