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Coffee is liquid gold.
According to Business Insider, it’s the second most sought-after commodity in the world. It’s worth $100 billion. But as lucrative as the coffee business is, it’s not an especially stable one.
If Wize Monkey has anything to do with it, that could soon be a thing of the past.
Wize Monkey makes tea out of coffee leaves. It’s an unconventional business, so it’s fitting that it started in an unconventional way.
When they were students at the KEDGE business school in France, Wize Monkey co-founders Arnaud Petitvallet and Max Rivest learned about a study that showed that coffee leaves had a surprisingly high antioxidant content. Neither had ever heard anything about coffee leaves before, but pretty soon, they learned everything there was to know.
I spoke with Arnaud recently, and he explained their fascination: “At first what piqued our interest were the health benefits, but as we started looking into the intricacies of it, we realized that the 25 million coffee farmers all over the world only harvest the beans. They throw the leaves away as part of the maintenance process – they trim the trees down, but don’t do anything with the leaves. Plus, they only work about three months out of the year…That creates a very seasonal income, lots of instability for the coffee community, and lots of migration in the off-season. Actually, lots of the people who are coming in the caravan to the United States are former coffee farmers who have been crushed by the prices being too low. They can’t harvest anything. It’s not worth the money.”
They realized that by finding a way to utilize the coffee leaves they might make the coffee industry a little more stable. As they began to research, they discovered that drinking coffee leaf tea wasn’t new. People had been doing it for hundreds of years, but nobody had ever put a concerted effort into making a real business from them.
Armed with this knowledge and brand new business degrees, the pair hopped on a plane to Nicaragua. There, they started working with coffee farmers, spending three years borrowing techniques from traditional tea processing and trying all kinds of experiments to make a product they could be proud of. They also met third-generation fair trade coffee farmer Enrique Ferrufino.
Enrique loved the idea of using coffee leaves to make his business more productive year-round, and Arnaud and Max loved his thoughtfully designed farm. Enrique became Wize Monkey’s third founder, and the business grew from there.
Now, Wize Monkey teas can be found in Sprouts, on Amazon, and in some Whole Foods stores. There are lots of varieties, some that take their inspiration from tried and true tea blends, and others, like Mango Party and Strawberry Hibiscus, that are a little more imaginative. It’s won all kinds of awards, most notably one from the 2015 World Tea Expo, where it won the Best New Product award. It was a nerve-wracking experience, since, “At first everyone was looking at us pretty strangely, saying, ‘Oh, who are those guys.’ We were 25 and 26 at the time and they were treating us like this was unholy since we weren’t using the tea plant but were calling it tea…The first day, not too many people showed up to our booth. The second day, more people came. Then we won the whole thing, which was pretty great validation from all the Tea Masters in the world.”
Wize Monkey’s tea is mild in flavor, can steep seemingly forever without getting bitter (the package claims that you can steep as many as three cups from a single “sachet”), and has a caffeine level that resembles that of green tea. While people who have a strong preference for coffee or tea might not change their habits any time soon, Wize Monkey’s product provides a tasty (if relatively expensive) new way to get your caffeine fix. If the company keeps growing and tinkering with its recipe, Wize Monkey could make a very real impact on a multi-million dollar industry.
December 19, 2018 at 10:53AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs