Baba Java. Such a funny name, right? It rolls off the tongue and it sounds nice, but where does it come from? What does it mean? Baba is actually the word for ‘father’ in Arabic and Java is another word for coffee. So quite literally, our business is called Father Coffee. The story of how we came up with the name is only one part of a much bigger story that involves the both coffee and my own father.
As a child my family lived in the Middle East which makes the connection to Arabic and our camel logo such a natural fit. We lived in Israel for a year and a half and then Jordan for almost four years. Growing up, I learned Arabic and saw camels on the beautiful desert sands daily. The worldview that I obtained from living overseas influenced what I valued, how I saw the world, and even what I wanted to do when I grew up. I knew from an early age that I would never be satisfied staying in the same place thanks to my love of international culture. I knew I wanted to live overseas again at some point.
As early as my freshmen and sophomore year of high school I knew I wanted to live overseas, but I really did not know what I wanted to do. During this time, I honestly did not even enjoy coffee that much. I would drink it every once in a while, but it was certainly not a passion of mine until summer of 2016. That summer my parents sent me and a friend, Hunter, on a cultural exchange trip to Muscat, Oman. Hunter was a recent college graduate from the University of Alabama. My family knew Hunter through the church we attended when we lived in Tuscaloosa. He was a member of a college small group that my parents led.
Hunter too was thinking about living internationally and wondered what that life would be like. He loved other cultures and wanted to experience them, but he had never had the opportunity. During that summer he finally had his chance. My parents sent me and Hunter on a cultural exchange trip to visit their friends, the Haynes family in Muscat, Oman. Though Hunter and I had different motives for going, we each brought back changed minds and new inspirations.
On the trip, we ended up taking a role similar to interns for the coffee business that Brad Haynes worked for. This would ultimately be where Hunter and I discovered our love for coffee. Brad and his partner showed us the ropes and taught us all about coffee. They taught us all about specialty coffee in particular and how it starts on the farm where it is grown. We learned all about specialty coffee roasting and brewing. Throughout this trip I quickly began to love coffee. I started drinking it black and learned how to brew well grown and well roasted specialty coffee using a variety of methods, my favorites being pour over and Aero press. After being introduced to all aspects of specialty coffee, I was not the same. I wanted to learn more and introduce others to the beauty that I discovered in coffee.
Brad’s coffee business in Oman primarily functioned as a coffee distributor to local shops and cafés. They sourced their coffee from a specialty coffee roaster in Dubai and sold it to local coffee shops who were interested in better coffee. The business also served as a platform for educating the public and the local shops about specialty coffee- what is was, why it was better than the average cup of coffee, and how to properly brew it. It was on these service calls that I first started thinking about starting my own coffee business. I was interested in roasting coffee beans as well as a store front coffee shop. So, I started doing some research and asking Brad all about how they started their business. I remember asking one question in particular thinking about how I could come back and open up a café and roastery in Muscat. I asked, “How much money do you think I’d need to open a café here?”. When the answer was higher than expected, I started thinking about what it would take to make that possible.
After we got back to the States, I started thinking more and more about what I wanted to do with my life. That trip was one of the most life changing experiences I have had. I knew I was called to something bigger than just living an easy life or making lots of money. I loved coffee and I wanted to educate people about it and show others how amazing it truly is. After returning, I started by introducing my family to specialty coffee. I brought them quality roasted specialty coffee from the business in Oman. I taught them how to brew it properly and eventually turned them into specialty coffee lovers as I had become.
This transformation began many conversations with my parents about starting a coffee business overseas and how I might possibly do that one day. The more research I did, the more interested my parents became. We discovered how diverse the coffee business can be and how many relationships are naturally forged in the industry. Too many times those relationships are one-way and parasitic as many big coffee companies tend to take advantage of coffee farmers. I decided that if I ever went into the coffee industry, I wanted to be a part of changing that negative culture. I wanted to work toward mutually beneficial relationships with farmers and distributers that would help them instead of hurting them. In turn, as they received higher wages for better coffee, not only would their quality of life improve- so would the quality of coffee.
I was so confident that I wanted to go into the coffee industry that I based my entire college search on pursuing a degree in International Business. I began to consider universities based on their International Business programs so that I could attain the best education I could before getting into the trade. At the same time, I started bouncing more and more ideas off of my parents and they seemed to really start buying into the dream. At first, I thought we were talking about the very distant future, but I quickly began to realize that my parents wanted to make this coffee business a reality much sooner than I intended.
As we spoke less abstractly and focused on the possible business itself, my father and I came up with the name: “Baba Java”. It was perfect. It rolled right off the tongue, it rhymed, and it represented our connection to the middle east. There was only one problem with the name. . . we both still take credit for it to this day. But regardless of who came up with it, we knew that the logo needed to incorporate a camel. The camel was a perfect mascot. It tied in perfectly with our Arabian name and help us brand certain coffees (such as our Yemen coffee).
The more my dad and I talked, the clearer it became that we wanted the focus of the business to be subscription coffee. We knew of great roasters from other states who sold coffee subscriptions online, but there were no subscription-based coffee businesses in the Birmingham area. The idea was to start nationwide, but eventually start doing business overseas as well. The only thing we really knew for certain was that we wanted to make good coffee and help bolster an international community that loved coffee.
Hunter, who was by this point also along for the ride, began helping my dad do a lot of research. He carefully studied everything he could about the roasting process and why sourcing specialty coffee carefully is critical. We were able to learn together that the quality control process involves many steps- primarily the farm, the roaster, and the brewing process. This meant that we would need to source our coffee from farmers who value quality of the coffee over quantity, roast our coffee to best bring out its natural flavors, and brew the coffee to the best of our ability. Specialty coffee means excellence from farm to cup. Thus, the idea and soul of our coffee business was born: Baba Java, a coffee business that values its international community and the quality of its coffee from farm to cup.
No matter if you are brewing for one person or fifty, from pour over to drip machine to French press, and for any coffee type, there is one factor that is more important than any other. It’s the thing that happens after the perfect cup of coffee is enjoyed.
The big secret to making great coffee is...cleaning!
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