Silicon Valley Mercury News
The story of Catracha Coffee's Mayra Orellana-Powell is a bit like a movie in which a lucky princess goes to a magic land and returns with riches for her family.
In Orellana-Powell's case, the young Honduran woman came to America to earn a business degree, and then found a way to help her village by establishing Catracha Coffee and selling their product in the United States. In fact, the story is so inspiring that a documentary is in the works to share it with others.
Coffee and business have always been important parts of Orellana-Powell's life since she was a little girl in Santa Elena. She grew up selling trinkets to earn spending money and drank coffee from beans grown on her grandmother's farm in Yarasquin. "Coffee's always been in the family; it's part of our culture," she said.
A scholarship brought her to the United States to study small business management. After two years she returned to Honduras, where she met and married Lowell Powell, then returned to Alameda in 2000 to settle down. "I'd visit my family once a year, and every time I came back I'd bring a suitcase full of coffee," Orellana-Powell said. "I had the idea of selling Honduran coffee in the U.S."
Though Honduras exports a fair amount of coffee to the United States, it gets mixed with beans from other sources and is not sold as single-origin product. This surprised Orellana-Powell, so she decided to teach Americans about its flavor and the growers in her village.
Like many a good story, this one had stumbling blocks and dead-end mazes, but Orellana-Powell persevered and with help from her parents in Honduras and others here, she accomplished what had not been done before, selling Honduran coffee as single-origin, providing more jobs for women and, this year, marking each bag individually with the name of the farmer.
"We want to give each farmer credit and pride," she said. "I don't think that they have been told their coffee is good."
Importing green coffee beans meant Orellana-Powell needed somewhere to roast and store the coffee. In Alex Roberts, of Roast Coffee Company in Oakland, she found an important ally who has supported her endeavor over the past three years, allowing her to trade work for roasting and putting her in contact with other coffee companies, including Royal Coffee and Blue Bottle.
"Alex Roberts has been a very important person in our business," Orellana-Powell said. "He's helped me out in times when I needed him the most and opened many other doors."
Since Orellana-Powell began Catracha Coffee three years ago, the amount of coffee imported has gone from three bags to 55 bags to 85 bags this year, resulting in adding more small farmers to the Catracha Coffee label. Orellana-Powell now works with 16 farmers, about 400 seasonal workers, and, this year, for the first time, farmers will also make a profit on the beans.
Read more here.