Emilio López and Jose Roberto Santamaría come from two multigenerational coffee producing families in El Salvador. Over the years, they have developed a deep connection with their land. It’s precisely because of this that they joined forces to build Odyssey Coffees in the first place.
Long story short, Odyssey Coffees is a farm-to-cup operation. On the production side, we have 7 core farms: Ayutepeque, El Manzano, La Cumbre, Las Isabellas, Las Piedras, San Jorge, and Tapantogusto, as well as a network of smallholder producers from the Apaneca & Ilamatepec region that supply us coffees year-round. Aside from this, our operations at origin also include two state-of-the-art mills: Beneficio El Manzano and Tequendama which handle all de-pulping, dry-milling, and exports.
What truly came as a result of our merger was the ability to reach international markets. While our heritage is deeply rooted in coffee-producing countries, we are actually a multinational business. Our importer is based out of Portland, Oregon and we have strategic partners in Europe to cater to clients around the world!
As you can see, we like to play our role in the entire coffee supply chain. However, it wasn’t always like this. Jose Roberto and Emilio both came from similar backgrounds in production and exports. However, aside from that Emilio states that “Jose Roberto has expertise on building the team, processing, and procedures; and in my case my relationships in the industry overseas and in general I’ve been focusing on relationship building with customers and my part of the trade.” This division of tasks has allowed them to grow both on the operational and commercial sides respectively, but it didn’t happen overnight. Emilio and Jose Roberto spent 6 months planning the merger, trying to figure out how to join their respective operations.
Odyssey at origin
During this time they worked together to align all farms under the same methodology to ensure that quality is sustainable in the long term and to widen their coffee offerings for clients worldwide. To further build upon this goal, the newly merged Odyssey team also began working with the communities around Finca Tequendama and Las Isabellas. These families already supported their operation at the farms, but many of them are also smallholder farmers themselves.
After some time working together, Joser Roberto says that it’s a huge part of his motivation and made him realize that “this was an opportunity to have more coffee from the same origin,” and he was right. These small farmers, who average 2-3 acres each, now constitute around 80% of Odyssey Coffee’s offerings!
While these suppliers constitute a significant amount of coffee, Jose Roberto assures that
“we’re focused not only on quantity but also what kind of coffee we’re putting under Odyssey’s name. It’s very important to us not only quality but [to source coffees] from farms that have more or less the same principles as us.”
That being said, we understand that the smaller the producer the more immediate needs they have. This often leads to short-term planning and investing on their end so, in an effort to allow them to be sustainable in the long run, the Odyssey team came up with a valuable way of supporting them through access to education and farming knowledge.
Between Emilio and Jose Roberto, they have almost 40 years of coffee-producing experience; not to mention their operations’ multi-generational expertise. After all this time, they have been able to build a successful farming model. The first and most immediate action was to share their knowledge with them, which Emilio says a great starting point is teaching them “how [they] can prune plants to have a high yield response to your volume and train them on other techniques that we have seen work in our farms and how can we pass that along to our partners.”
We loved to see the result of this training, so what started as an initiative to help our producers ended up as “Growing Together,” our community development program focused on the sustainability of our suppliers, workers, and their families. However, over the years we have seen how the industry as a whole loves the word sustainable, and it’s one of those words that gets thrown out very often but at the same time, it’s a lot of times misused. When we talk in this industry about ‘sustainable’ we tend to only focus on the environmental and social part of the word, and not the economical one. Emilio emphasizes that “we want to be sustainable economically because coffee should be a way of living, not only for our business but most importantly, for our suppliers.”
By living up to our meaning of sustainability, we are able to guarantee the long-term sustainability of our suppliers and their coffees as well as providing our clients with a wide array of coffees that are not only high quality but also responsible in every way.
From El Salvador to the World
Growing on the production side has been a key goal for us at Odyssey, and after a few years working hand in hand with our suppliers we are excited to say we have successfully expanded that side of our business. Our next goal is to get closer to the roasters and the end consumers. A fun fact about us is that our company actually opened doors in 2013 as one of Emilio’s efforts to unify and vertically integrate his supply chain.
However, now with Jose Roberto’s support, we’re finally at a point where we’re expanding our import side of the business. Our goal is to make our coffees, both from our farms and from our suppliers, accessible to our friends across the world whether it’s by working directly with roasters or with importers to make sure anyone can enjoy the fruit of all our work. To do so, we like to emphasize what relationships mean to us. In the words of Emilio: “our goal as a company is to be transparent, but also to add value to the farms that we work with, the product that they produce, the product our customers are selling and that sustainably we all grow together and are in it for the long-term.”
One of the benefits of having a completely vertically integrated business is that we are hands-on in every step of the seed-to-cup journey. That allows us to identify the best solutions for both our clients and our suppliers while maintaining full transparency and traceability for our coffees!
As we mentioned earlier, our goal at the moment is to continue to expand on the commercial side to make sure anyone can enjoy our coffees. However, you can expect to see a few new offerings in the upcoming years! Now that we have solidified our production operations here in El Salvador, we are excited to begin sourcing coffees from friends and colleagues in other coffee-producing countries, primarily Central America. Over the years working in the coffee industry we have tried exciting coffees from Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Brazil so we’re very much looking forward to being able to share some of these amazing offerings with you soon.
With the goal of maintaining our high standards in both ethical sourcing and quality of our coffees, we will continue to build upon our Growing Together program. You’ll be hearing a lot more about this in future blogs, so make sure to stay tuned.
To learn more about our merger, exclusive facts and history behind our farms, and Emilio and Jose Roberto’s thoughts on the industry, check out our podcast. Out now on Spotify!
See you next time!