A cup of coffee with Jean-Claude Luvini
Founder and owner of Masaba Coffee
As part of our "A cup of coffee with…" series, we talk to people who have turned their passion for coffee into a career. Jean-Claude Luvini is the founder and owner of Masaba Coffee. Under the guiding principle "Good Coffee in Good Company", his company combines social commitment in the growing region of Uganda and in his Swiss home region of Ticino with his high standards of coffee quality.
I actually didn't have much to do with coffee until I started Masaba Coffee in 2011. In fact, I was more of a tea drinker than a coffee drinker. A trip to Uganda together with a group of volunteers – who are supporting the local population in various areas – marked the turning point in 2010. In addition to investments in schools, medicine and water, the ACT-U organisation (Associazione per la Cooperazione fra Ticino e Uganda) also helped a local coffee cooperative. Among other things, they trained small farmers in coffee cultivation and rebuilt local coffee washing stations that were destroyed during the last war. It was then that I first dived into this exciting world and was immediately fascinated, not only by the subject of coffee itself, but also by the philosophy behind Masaba Coffee.
As a native South African – I was born in Johannesburg and came to Switzerland with my parents as a young boy – I have a very close connection to the African continent and have always had the dream of finding a project that would build a bridge between Ticino and Africa. The philosophy behind Masaba Coffee, which at that time was only available in Uganda, convinced me immediately. And when they asked me if I could imagine distributing coffee in Ticino, I immediately said yes.
One is, of course, the quality of the green coffee. The fertile volcanic soil on the mountain slopes and the special climate at the foot of the 4,321 metre high volcano Mount Elgon give the Arabica beans grown here their unique, subtly spicy and at the same time flowery taste. Another factor that speaks for the quality of Masaba Coffee is that only the ripe, red coffee cherries are carefully harvested by hand. And here we are at the second point that makes Masaba Coffee special: From the cultivation and processing on site in Uganda to the roasting and packaging of the coffee here in Ticino, Masaba Coffee focuses on the people.
In Uganda, one of the aims is to impart knowledge to small farmers not only about coffee cultivation but also about agriculture in general. For example, they achieve higher quality by harvesting only the ripe, red coffee cherries. Although the yield is lower, they can sell it at higher prices and thus lead a better life with their families. To ensure that they also have an income in the months when no coffee can be harvested, we also consciously rely on mixed cultivation with banana and manioc plants on the small plantations of the total of 7,000 small farmers. A great side effect is that the plants provide additional nourishment and shade for the coffee. Improved working and trading conditions, fair prices and sustainable production methods – Masaba Coffee has also received an award for this from Swiss Fair Trade, the umbrella organisation of Swiss Fair Trade organisations. Here in Switzerland, we continue this philosophy through our cooperation with the Fondazione Diamante foundation in Lugano and the Places to Live foundation in Lenzburg, both of which have been committed to the integration of people with disabilities since the 1970s. Together we have developed the "Foundation" edition of Masaba Coffee – which is roasted, packaged and shipped directly to our customers by the people employed by the foundations under the guidance of our experienced roaster.
In fact, Masaba Coffee is currently only available in its country of origin, Uganda, and in Ticino. When we started here ten years ago, we initially sold the coffee at markets, restaurants, bars and also online. Many Swiss companies are now among our customers – around 40 per cent of our coffee is drunk in offices of all sizes. This development is partly due to the higher demand for good coffee in this sector. In addition, sustainability and fair trade are increasingly coming into the centre of attention – values that we at Masaba Coffee stand for. Our goal is to be able to offer our coffee throughout Switzerland in the medium term.
Our company has developed very well over recent years and now supplies more and more large offices. In addition to coffee quality, a comprehensive service including a coffee machine is at the top of the wish list here. For this reason, I was on the lookout for a coffee machine partner. I have known Schaerer for many years, but it was a visit to a customer in Bellinzona that tipped the scales in favour of today's collaboration. A Schaerer coffee machine was in use there, and for the first time I was able to enjoy a coffee speciality from Masaba Coffee which was prepared with a Schaerer fully automatic coffee machine. The taste convinced me immediately and I contacted the person responsible for Ticino. In the end, it was the overall package of machine technology, absolute customer orientation and Schaerer's nationwide service network that sealed the deal. I am sure that this partnership is an important step towards achieving our goal of offering Masaba Coffee throughout Switzerland.