Twin towns produce winning Sheffield coffee company
Sheffield social enterprise Twin Café imports coffee from a farmer’s co-operative in Estelí, Nicaragua, and uses profits from sales to support life-changing projects.
Sheffield Unchained contributor, Emma Wells, meets one of the Twin Café founders to find out more.
In the summer of 2013, Sam Matthews was part of a group of eight students who went on an exchange visit to Estelí to teach English for six weeks. He fell in love with the place and ended up staying for four months. Whilst teaching, he helped out with farming and lived with a host family in Miraflor, just outside Estelí, which enabled him to form genuine relationships with local people. Sam says this gave him
…a real sense of the culture, the people, their idyllic family life and the place with its stunningly beautiful nature reserves.
Sam reports that his stay in Nicaragua showed him how…
…twinning can be something really powerful.
It allowed new friendships to be formed and experiences to be shared. Sam saw first-hand the poverty that many people in Nicaragua live in, and he wanted to do something to help.
Sam, 22, is originally from Norwich, but came to the University of Sheffield to study politics and philosophy. Whilst at university, Sam became involved with the society Students for Estelí, which links with, and helps to support FAREM University in Estelí, Nicaragua. Sam shared his desire to help with the president of the Students for Estelí Society, Sarah Murphy, and the concept of Twin Café was born.
Sam, Sarah, and their friend Tom Ramsay developed their idea around a social enterprise, which would import coffee and use the profits to support social projects both in Estelí, and back home in Sheffield. Sam admits:
None of us are coffee experts, we just wanted to do something positive.
They set about recruiting volunteers, making connections with a farmers’ co-operative in Estelí, and contacting local coffee bean roasters. From the initial idea in March 2014, the team went on to win the University’s Enterprise competition in June, and the first beans arrived in October!
A huge amount of support for Twin Café has come from Simon Bower of Pollards. As Sam explains:
Simon receives endless requests from people with slightly implausible ideas, much like ours was at the time, but our enthusiasm drew him in. Twinning is not about helping Estelí and giving things to them, it’s about exchange and forming an equal partnership. That’s what we wanted Twin Café to be about – supporting social projects in both countries, and Simon liked that.
Green coffee beans are imported from Estelí, Simon provides free storage and roasts the beans at a price normally offered to large-scale importers. The beans are also packaged by Pollards, ready to be delivered to the shops it’s sold in.
The Twin Café website was designed by volunteers from both universities, with two graphic designers giving free time to help with branding and packaging. Sam says:
Twin Café has come about because we have been lucky enough to find people who have been generous with their time and expertise.
The name ‘Twin Café’ does not refer to an establishment, but the Sheffield twinning with Estelí, and the Spanish word for coffee.
Twin Café currently have two types of coffee available, a light roast which is suitable for cafetieres, and a darker roast which is better for espresso. Sam tells me espresso is his favourite kind of coffee, although he is also rather partial to a cortado (espresso with a small amount of milk to reduce the acidity) which he first tried whilst in Spain. The coffee can be bought ground or as whole beans from a variety of independents in Sheffield:
- Mr Pickle’s Yorkshire Food Emporium
- New Roots
- Theatre Delicatessen
- Beeches of Walkley
- Just Natural
- Hartley’s Fruit Cabin
- Students’ Union – Our Shop.
Sam explains that theTwin Café team wanted their charities to support young people in both cities. In Sheffield, they chose Roundabout, which provides accommodation and training for young homeless people, and the 393 Youth Club in Hillsborough. Sam tells me that many youth clubs are having to shut due to a lack of funding, however he says:
Sheffield’s youth clubs are a valuable part of the community, allowing interaction between young people and the adults who want to support them.
In Estelí, Twin Café supports the Los Angelitos music project in a deprived part of the city, which provides a safe space and an opportunity for young people to get involved with music. The team also want to develop their relationship with the coffee farmers further, to enable Twin Café to support their community.
Ten percent of the money Twin Café has made since October 2014 will go to the social projects, plus money from ongoing fundraising activities. The rest will go into buying next batch of coffee. Sam, Sarah and Tom currently all have other jobs, and don’t take wages from company at the moment. Sam says this makes their lives unbeliveably hectic but enjoyable too.
The team have big plans for the future, continuing to support social projects and setting up a permanent café in Sheffield. It is an important part of the Twin Café ethos that people understand where the coffee has come from. Sam says:
We can challenge the disconnection that people have with their food and drink. In Nicaragua people are more connected with their environment. We hope that when people drink our coffee we can give them a sense of the journey it has been on, and what it means to everyone along the supply chain.
Twin Café will be running their first pop-up café from 20th – 24th April, 9am-5pm on the ground floor of Union Street (18-20 Union Street, Sheffield, S1 2JP). They will have a full range of coffees for sale, as well as cakes and pastries from the Depot Bakery. All the profits from the week will be going directly to the three organisations that Twin Café supports.
This clearly means a lot to Sam, Sarah and Tom. I am sure their passion, enthusiasm, and eagerness to make a difference will see Twin Café achieve its ambitions.