Coffee at the Capital Roasting Company

by Larry Sharp

This month we are featuring stories from Larry Sharp. Larry’s new book ‘Mission Disrupted: From Professional Missionaries to Missionary Professionals’ tells 27 stories and is out now!

Some years ago, I found coffee in a tea-loving country in central Asia, which I will call Tealand, at the Capital Roasting Company (CRC).

Tea is a wonderful drink with a complex history of more than two thousand years dating back to China. But it is not coffee. As legend has it, coffee originated on the Ethiopian plateau and by the 16th century moved east to the Arabian peninsula where it was cultivated.

Coffee made its’ way to Europe where Pope Clement VIII finally gave his approval, and it no longer was considered the “invention of Satan”. By the mid-17th century, there were 300 coffee houses in London. Apparently, tea still dominated the American colonies until the Boston Tea Party, after which Thomas Jefferson called coffee, the “favorite drink of the civilized world.” Who wouldn’t want to switch from tea to coffee?

After the collapse of the Soviet Empire in 1991, the residents of the new Central Asia republics developed an intense interest in the rest of the world, and this included Tealand. However, Russia did not leave Tealand in the best of shape. When I arrived for my visit I discovered how much the citizens wanted to be like the western world and some of the young people even wanted to leave Tealand, hoping to migrate to the west. Women began to shed their head covering and other social customs began to change. The intense interest in the west included viewing television programs from the USA and western Europe, learning the English language and social customs formerly unknown.

The Capital Roasting Company began as the vision of a small group, all of whom had arrived in Tealand in 2008. As the startup team began to learn the language and make friends, they saw an opportunity in this milieu of social change. The Capital Roasting Company (CRC) began to build their business model around the current needs.

A business model starts with the need or problem of the customer; some call it their pain point. It then sets about providing a solution to the problem with a value proposition which delivers value in such a way that the need is met. Everyone is satisfied as the entrepreneur earns a living, creates jobs and the customer is satisfied with her problem solved.

And so it was that the owners of the CRC developed a business model around the demand for coffee since it represented the west and a prerequisite to building a modern Tealand. They then began with focus groups and lots of market research on everything from the sources of the best green coffee beans to what would be the best coffee tastes to intrigue the citizens of Tealand’s capital.

Emily was the obvious team member to lead the product development and market research. She had recently graduated from a California university with a degree in international business and had funded her way through college working at Starbucks for four years. Although the lean startup model canvas had not be invented yet, she and her colleagues intuitively knew to ask lots of relevant questions and pursue necessary answers, gradually determining who the customers might be, the primary problem to be solved along with potential solutions, a well-articulated value proposition, needed resources, and key metrics of success.

Starbucks had prepared her well. She took advantage of the knowledge inherit in the Starbucks history and became well informed in the types of coffees grown in specific soils and at specified elevations. She understood how the cherries were harvested, the various methods of drying and processing, and she knew how to read the grading reports.

It was not an easy task to test – pivot – test and then start over again; everything from importing the machines to discovering the best international coffee source to experimentation with sugar coffees at the counter. Customers were permanent locals with long-term buy-in interest in the success of CRC, as well as tourists and other foreigners visiting or working in the country.

Emily was part of a larger team – all committed to the central values of blessing the community, making disciples, creating jobs, and building a profitable business. The team began to meet to pray, plan and proceed. In the simplest of terms, they agreed that the customer really needed three things to reach their modernization dreams, whether they stayed in Tealand or emigrated:

1. They would need to learn English, to use at home or abroad.

2. They would need to enjoy coffee, especially if moving to western Europe or North America.

3. They would be greatly benefited if they understood the Judeo-Christian history, Protestant work ethic and the principles of Jesus.

They knew they could help them with all of those.

I arrived at the CRC that day expecting a sleezy hole in the wall, with poorly trained waiters offering me a sub-quality cup of something they called coffee. What I experienced was the total opposite. This place was the first of two stores and except for the branding, the stores were not unlike Starbucks. CRC was meticulously clean, with multiple drink offerings, attractive artwork, efficient baristas, and relevant international food. It was an amazing experience.

The owners of CRC had captured three things. They had made coffee an attractive, tasty, and fun experience, they had rooms in the back where English classes were taught, and they had classes on economics, western history, and religion. They had captured the Starbucks “experience” model and they had developed a place to live out the values of Jesus and stimulate a conversation about who He is.

But how did they get to the point of having twenty-two employees in two stores? How were they making an impact in the community? How had they become profitable? How come several had become followers of Jesus and were studying the Bible?

The answers to such questions deserve much more than a few blog paragraphs because they involve the twists and turns, ups and downs of a typical startup. But it was clear to me that it had much to do with a clear purpose – to meet needs and bless people, to bring faith in God, to create jobs, to love people and develop them to their full potential.

The team sought out mentors so they could be successful and so they themselves could mentor others. They sought funding sources and communicated with them regularly and with transparency and truth. The result was success – the quadruple bottom line of profitability, job creation, discipled followers, and stewardship of creation.

Today there is a strong faith presence connected to CRC which continues serving the community, teaching and mentoring, making a difference in a country that in many ways still faces the challenges of modernization, on-going corruption, discrimination, political tensions, and endemic poverty, but many of the goals have been realized.

The company is profitable, independent and a spiritual lighthouse in the capital city. Best of all many individual lives have been changed – some have moved on and others who have stayed are serving their generation as King David of old (Acts 13:36).

Larry Sharp is the Founder and current Director of Strategic Training and Partnerships of a Business for Transformation (BAM, B4t) consulting firm, International Business and Education Consultants ( Larry served 21 years in Brazil and then 20 years as Crossworld VP of Operations and as Vice President of Business Partnerships. He is currently a VP Emeritus and consultant with Crossworld. Since 2007 he has devoted energies toward Business as Mission (BAM) and currently is a consultant on BAM and education themes. Larry travels within North America speaking and teaching in conferences, colleges and churches on themes related to Business As Mission (BAM, B4t) and missions.  His travels abroad relate to BAM, crisis preparation and management, and team building. 


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