The Roasterpreneur Series focuses on inspiring up-and-coming roasters and offers advice on running a successful roastery. This week, we spoke with the founder of Rascal Coffee, Alex Dalton, as she continues the legacy of her great-great-great grandfather, Manuel Matheu Ariza, who started one of the first coffee farms in Guatemala.
Over 150 years, Don Manual had one of the first coffee farms in Guatemala. Specifically, he was the first coffee farmer in Antigua. During a devastating recession in 1864, Don Manual borrowed the land to plant coffee crops and then travelled to London to sell his first harvest.
Upon his successful return, Don Manual was commissioned by the President of Guatemala to show small farmers how to grow coffee – beginning what has developed into a 6-generation family trade.
Building a coffee brand on a family legacy
“He was known as the ‘grandfather of coffee’ in Guatemala,” Alex explains. “Or, as I like to call him, the Original Rascal.” Building on the family’s rich history with coffee, Alex launched Rascal Coffee in Hackney, London, during the Covid-19 pandemic.
While she is proudly Guatemalan, Alex grew up on coffee farms in El Salvador, before moving to Miami and settling in the UK. She began working with her mother and sister, who run Coffee Bird: a family-owned, female-led direct trade importer of specialty Guatemalan coffees.
For years, the family has been importing coffee from several farms across Guatemala. The brand has built strong relationships with the producers because of its focus on ethics, stability, and quality. Despite this, Alex was disheartened and frustrated at the specialty coffee industry, believing many players were focused on the wrong topics. So, Alex created Rascal Coffee to take a different approach to specialty coffee.
A “rebellion against the coffee industry”
“Rascal is a kind of rebellion against the coffee industry. I decided I can do coffee the way I want, and I don’t have to follow any rules.”
She explains everyone drinks their coffee a certain way, whether it be black, or with milk and sugar. “And that’s ok! If that’s the way you like your coffee, you should be able to drink it that way. We encourage our consumers to be rascals and go rogue!”
Alex adds that Rascal Coffee was launched to celebrate Guatemalan coffee producers, and so, exclusively roasts coffees from the region. Being of Guatemalan descent, and having visited coffee farms so regularly, Alex believes this gives Rascal Coffee an edge within the UK specialty market.
“While many roasters share stories about the coffee farms they work with, very often, they don’t fully understand the complex socio-economic background of the country. I can share the history of Guatemala and the lives of the producers in detail.
“For instance, the country is 45% indigenous, which means there are many producers who speak the Mayan language in a local dialect. As a result, several of the farm owners and workers need an intermediary translator to be able to communicate,” Alex says.
Due to the brand’s direct relationships with its producers, Rascal Coffee is able to educate its consumers about the struggle in the country, and the true impact of buying coffee from the region. Furthermore, Rascal can share intimate details about the region’s varieties and processes, giving it a unique advantage when introducing coffee to consumers.
Growing a coffee roasting business
“Growing a business is not easy. It’s slow work, and it takes consistency and patience. I’ve had to learn not to worry about what other people are doing or achieving. It’s about focusing on myself and what I want to achieve,” Alex says.
She admits it can be challenging to compete with other coffee regions. However, “we’ve had an incredibly positive reception to our exclusive focus on Guatemala,” Alex explains. “I’ve also found many consumers are unaware of what Guatemalan coffee can offer, until now.”
For Alex, Rascal Coffee is not just about supporting Guatemalan producers, but encouraging all Guatemalan talent. Notably, the brand is working with a Guatemalan seamstress in order to upcycle old fabrics into bags.
Additionally, all the vibrant branding on the Rascal Coffee bags was done by a Guatemalan designer. The design of the coffee bags is influenced by the Mayan civilisation and the bright, bold colours complement the brand’s playfulness.
Beyond selling coffee, the Rascal Coffee website features an array of coffee brewing equipment. Offering customers suggestions on how to brew coffee can quickly add value to their purchase. Some roasters opt to custom-print brewing instructions on coffee bags but can take it a step further by duplicating this information across their website.
One consideration to keep in mind is that the range of equipment must match the needs of all experience and interest levels. This can help lower the possibility of alienating customers who are looking for something simple and easy to use.
Along with brewing equipment, offering additional kit items, such as scales, grinders, and filter papers, can provide customers with the option of levelling up their coffee set-up. In turn, this may help raise a consumer’s perceived quality of the coffee.
When asked how she thinks other roasters can make an impact and spread the value along the supply chain more fairly, Alex says any further distribution of wealth shouldn’t be out of pity.
“Rather, it should be through working with them transparently. Farmers are not a charity, they are a business.”Alex explains. “The best thing a roaster can do is create and nurture stronger business relationships.
“For example, Coffee Bird has been importing green coffee for years. We are a family with integrity and so, we wish to source with integrity. We negotiate with the producers to get the best for everyone involved.”
Did you enjoy this edition of our Roasterpreneur Series? Learn more about running a successful coffee roastery by reading our interview with Canada’s Off-Grid Camper Cafe, which is not only solar-powered but also North America’s first and only hand-pressed espresso café. Or dive into articles that revolve around our coffee community, with exclusive interviews with roasters, importers, and coffee shop owners.
Photo credits: Rascal Coffee