Virmax was founded in London in the year 2000 as a Colombian specialty coffee importer. We initially struggled to find good quality coffee, despite paying almost three times the market price at a time when coffee growers were facing the lowest prices in history (around 50 cents per lb.).
In 2002, we moved back to Colombia to understand the reason why we weren't able to find good coffee, and search for a solution. After visiting many coffee growers in different regions, we discovered that the problem was simple: producers were being paid the same price for their coffee, regardless of quality. Farmers had no incentive to produce higher quality coffee, instead opting to do a mediocre job.
That year we founded Virmax Colombia, the first Colombian coffee exporter solely focused on developing, sourcing and exporting high quality Colombian coffee, with a business model based on the following core values:
- Direct Relationships
To identify and reward the farmers that produced quality coffee, and to guarantee the quality of the coffee, we decided to cup every single lot of coffee delivered to us, no matter how small. After passing a strict physical quality analysis, only those lots that scored 84 points or higher would be purchased; the rest would be rejected. Additionally, we created a three tier quality/price structure (A, AA, AAA) so that growers would receive a premium for producing higher quality.
This innovative approach allowed us to identify and reward the very best producers. For the first time ever small coffee producers in Colombia were being recognised by coffee roasters around the world for their hard work and attention to detail, and roasters were now able to tell the grower's story to coffee drinkers. Hence the "micro-lot" was born.
As the barriers between growers and buyers disappeared the specialty coffee market quickly evolved. Consumers wanted more of a connection with the producers whose coffee they were drinking, which led to an increasing demand for transparency, traceability and long-term relationships. This provided the opportunity to create a new export-import model that served the interest of the entire supply chain, from grower to consumer.
In 2010 we addressed this demand in the market by establishing our own green coffee importing company in the USA, which we named Caravela Coffee.
The following year we began replicating our origin model into other Latin American countries and expanding our network of export partners. Today we have origin operations in Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Nicaragua, export partners in Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Peru, as well as import operations in Australia, Europe and North America.
Sixteen years later, we have renamed all our operations under the Caravela name. Despite this change in our name, we continue to work and grow under the same guiding principles, convinced that it is possible to build "win-win-win" relationships that add value to the whole specialty coffee industry.