Guillermo Morán, the man who brought Eco-Delight Coffee to Sonoma County

Ricardo Ibarra
Written by Ricardo Ibarra

[Spanish version]

We only had 20 minutes to talk. The precise time Guillermo Moran needed for the coffee beans to reach its right roast in the production cellar of Eco-Delight Coffee in Petaluma, a coffee initiative the 63-year-old man undertook in Sonoma County in 2015.

— Where does your passion for coffee come from?

— I come from a coffee family of the Republic of El Salvador, in the department of Ahuachapan. My family has been there for six generations, growing coffee in the mountains of Apaneca and Amatepec, which is where a good part of the coffee plantations in El Salvador are.

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 grandfather from his great-grandfather, from generation to generation until it came into my hands. And now I have a daughter who will be part of the seventh generation.

— What has been your relationship with this legacy?

— Since I was a child, I related to the farmworkers children. They were my playmates. I looked forward to summer vacations because those days coincided with the coffee harvest. The whole family would move to the farms and lived there for three months.

I always kept in mind that I had the great advantage of attending private schools, private universities, had good public health, a good house and those boys, who were my playmates, did not have those opportunities because they were the farmworkers children.

Once I grew up, this came into my hands. I had the good fortune to study chemical engineering at the University of Texas in Austin and then I got a master’s degree in business administration at the University of Pennsylvania at the Wharton business school. I graduated in 1983. At that time, I returned to El Salvador and we were immersed in a violent and bloody civil war that devastated the country. There I began to think that 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 an added value in order to give more money to our producers and at the same time they could help support their own workers so that they had a more dignified living condition.

— What do you mean when you say ‘give it an added value’?

— We as coffee producers, have generally sold green coffee beans to roasting consortia here in the United States, such as Starbucks, Peet’s, General Foods and Folgers, but they pay us relatively little for our coffee because they give it added value. They toast it, market it, pack it and sell it. What they pay us for our pound of coffee —which is generally less than one dollar per pound— because they end up selling it at 15, 16 dollars a pound. That is the added value to which I am referring.

The idea was that we could get a part of that added value to give better living conditions to our workers.

— What was your plan to add value to your coffee?

— I agreed with other producers on the idea of ​​installing a roasting plant in the United States and a coffee importer. Now we bring it from different farms and countries in Latin America such as Brazil, Colombia, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, and possibly later we will bring from countries in Africa and Southeast Asia.

— Why does the variety in the origin of coffee depend on the final product?

— Like wine, coffee depends on several details like the kind of land it grows on because it has different minerals, consistency and chemical composition. From there we have different plants, varieties of coffee, bourbon, arabiga, pacas, caturra. Then there are the ones that are robust that usually come from Africa, Vietnam or Brazil. It’s another variety of coffee. It’s another flavor. Other conditions that give it a unique flavor depends on the region and each country’s varied climatic conditions. All that, plus the processing that is done to the coffee bean is what provides the different flavors and aromas.

— When did you start to roast coffee in the United States?

— We started in 2011, in a small roastery in Suisun City, in Solano County. We had a small ‘coffee shop’ there because we thought it was the model to introduce our coffee, that people would try it and that people would hear our story. Unfortunately, Suisun City is not a place with a lot of ‘food traffic’ and we weren’t successful in attracting many people. But our history transcended and reached Silicon Valley. A person from Apple was changing their coffee supplier and they gave us the opportunity to give them a sample. In three months, I became Apple’s coffee supplier for three years and from there we were able to move to our current home in Sonoma County, in the city of Petaluma.

— Why did you choose Sonoma County?

— There are similarities between all of us and Sonoma County. This is a place for food producers. There is milk, cheese, eggs, good wines and now we have coffee.

— What business model did you bring to Sonoma County?

— The plan is to distribute excellent quality of coffee to people, businesses and establishments. We have the two types of coffee, in whole grain and toasted or the grain already ground. We offer 5-pound, 12-ounce, 2-pound bags in which we’re offering to coffee shops in San Francisco, in restaurants and hotels in the Bay Area and Northern California. We are also in all three Lola’s Market in Sonoma County.

— What type of coffee do you market in stores?

— We have coffee with different origins, which I previously mentioned. We also make ‘blends’, compositions with different coffee from different countries to create a more complex flavor. For example, we have our Eco-Delight Espresso Blend or the Premium Blend Medium Roast and Dark Roast. According to a recipe that our ‘master blender’ helped us develop, each of these has from four to nine different coffees that are combined after toasting.

— Since you toast all this variety of coffees, where does your learning and experience come from?

— Because we were coffee producers, my grandfather had a toast shop in El Salvador. Since I was very young, I saw what the procedure was like and it stuck in my mind, on my palate and in my nose. As I got older, I decided I wanted to learn more about toasting, beyond than its numbers and production. I wanted to learn the art of toasting. I went to Costa Rica a couple of months with the manufacturer of this machinery that we used. Once there with the specialist I learned how to not burn coffee, because he was called “El Quema” —The Burner.

— How do you like to drink your coffee?

— I don’t like coffee that is too bitter. Here, the perception is that ‘the more bitter the stronger, it has more caffeine,’ but no. The more roasted and dark and burned, the less caffeine you have. I like a ‘medium roast’ coffee due to its subtle flavors that the coffee, chocolate, citrus, red fruits give off.

— Sugar and cream?

— I drink coffee since I was a child and since then I have learned to drink it without sugar or ccream. A good coffee does not need masks to think that one is having a good drink. Here coffee is very bitter and people put masks on them. Ours are savoring, you find sweet flavors because they have low acidity and you do not need those masks.

— What time do you like to have your coffee?

— 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 around mid-morning, after lunch and mid-afternoon.

— Many people do not drink coffee at night. Is there a time to stop drinking it?

— There is not. I leave out the myth that ‘if I drink coffee I can’t sleep’. After a good dinner, I can eat a coffee with a dessert and I still sleep well.

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Reach La Prensa Sonoma’s Editor Ricardo Ibarra at 707-526-8501 or email ricardo.ibarra@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @ricardibarra.

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