Yolima Taborda Rojas’ story begins on her parents’ coffee farm in Colombia called Finca La Vega, located in the small village of San José in the town of Amagá. (And that’s not even an exaggeration. She was born on the coffee farm.)
Yolima not only grew up on the coffee farm; she was put to work. While her brothers were picking coffee, fertilizing, or cutting the weeds with machetes, Yolima was
“planting seeds at the nursery, washing coffee, drying and sorting the beans as well as helping with the drying and packing process.”
However, there was more to Yolima’s life than coffee. Although her parents were not able to have an education, they made sure her brothers and she did.
After Yolima obtained her high school diploma, she moved to the city of Medellin to live with her aunt in order to attend Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana. Due to the high cost of her college, her family had to take out a loan and put the whole farm as collateral for it. In order to keep that loan and preserve her parents’ farm, she had to maintain a high GPA. Fortunately, Yolima ended up getting a scholarship during her second year at Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana and was able to graduate with a degree in business management.
Once Yolima obtained her degree, she flew to the United States to become an au pair for a family in Bowie, Maryland. Despite leaving home, Yolima never lost her connection to the coffee world. In fact, living in the United States caused her to be around coffee all the time. Yolima said,
“I noticed how much coffee…people consumed here, way more than what I was used to in Colombia, and also how much people were willing to pay for a cup of coffee. I mean, I paid six dollars for a cup of coffee once and when I translated that to pesos I was blown away…I thought that maybe there was an opportunity to start a coffee business here and bring my family’s coffee to the U.S.”
This realization caused Yolima to set her idea into motion. After doing a small trial run to prove this business idea worked, Yolima started Paisa Coffee LLC in 2015. She recalled,
“I bought my first seven bags of coffee in 2016 in collaboration with my parents. I was able to turn a small profit which I split with my parents of course, and this is how we realized this business was possible.”
Although the growth of this business has been slow, it has also been quite successful. Through Yolima’s small business, she has been able to achieve things even the entirety of the coffee industry has yet to achieve. She has been able to pay the coffee producers at a much better price than what they would receive within the Colombian market. She has been able to improve the quality of the coffee by using other processing methods after receiving feedback from customers and roasters. And she has been able to make strong connections with coffee roasters that have a desire to connect directly with producers, as well as the desire to pay for higher prices for the coffee while taking into consideration sustainability and quality.
Yolima is trying to make the coffee chain more transparent.
“I want the coffee roasters to be able to meet the people behind the coffee they purchase and I want the farmers to taste the roasted product and realize how great it is and how much of what they do is reflected on the cup.”
Even though her work has proven to be successful, it wasn’t always easy getting there. She recalls the tediousness of the first time her parents transported coffee to the United States. She remembers the time one of the trucks almost drove off the road. She laments that she is almost
“always in debt”
because it takes a while to rotate the money since she purchases the parchment coffee directly from the farm. Then she needs to take the coffee to the dry mill in Colombia, get the coffee hulled. Finally, she has to get the coffee packed, exported, imported and sold.
Just being an entrepreneur is a struggle in itself.
Despite these hard times, she still finds beauty and joy within a moment, like when she went to her very first coffee show—SCA Boston 2019—and was surprised over how many people were stopping by her table and wanting to learn all about her business.
“I was so excited, I had nothing but coffee the whole day!”
So what is Yolima’s dream? Or better yet, who is this dream for? Yolima’s dream is not necessarily one that belongs to herself; it belongs to coffee farmers from all around the world. She hopes that one day, every farm has a chance to try their own cup of coffee and realize:
“‘I grew this coffee and it put my soul into it to make it good, and then X roaster made it great, and here I am enjoying a cup of it.’”
Although Yolima herself is ahead of the curve within her own business, she is starting to see improvement within the coffee industry. She is noticing a shift in the industry. There are new and exciting processes on the coffee farms. Moreover, communication between roasters and farmers has improved, thus allowing innovations to take place.
When asked where Yolima looks for inspiration, she mentioned four things. The first is the people in her life. The second is her own drive to do better every single day. The third is her dreams. And the fourth, of course, is coffee. Yolima declared,
“I am always looking to grow as a person and as a professional, and I feel the need to do better every day and to work harder to continue to move up in life in every way. And that keeps me inspired.”
When Yolima is not working and drinking coffee, she somehow finds the time for a million hobbies. From cooking to painting to dancing to listening to Latin music to kayaking to watching thriller movies to reading business and mystery books to listening to podcasts, it seems like there is nothing this exceptional woman hasn’t tried.