Nothing brings people – and sometimes countries – together like a good cup of coffee.
Shane Buerster, a 2018 graduate of Mercer University and a resident at Mercer’s Innovation Center, founded Z Beans Coffee last year after a 2016 Mercer on Mission trip to Zaruma, Ecuador. The trip was designed to help mining communities in the El Oro region determine if coffee could be a viable economic alternative to gold mining.
Gold mining is big business in Zaruma, but it doesn’t come without significant costs. According to the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, about 3,000 tons of ore are processed there daily through the use of mercury, which can cause extensive health and environmental problems.
Through interviews with local farmers, the Mercer on Mission team found only 2,000 pounds of coffee and concluded there wasn’t enough of the product in the region to replace gold mining as an economic force.
However, Shane formed a friendship with Arturo Penaretta, a Zarumian government employee, who encouraged him to develop an Ecuadorian coffee business in America. “Arturo and I stayed in touch, talking four to five times a week. From there, our conversations turned from basic conversational topics to talks about business. I told him that I wanted to help the farmers of Ecuador, and he hasn’t turned down an idea of mine since,” Shane said.
Shane worked with Arturo and the region’s coffee farmers to start Z Beans. The first bag was sold in late summer 2017. Since then, the company has sold more than 3,900 pounds of coffee and has employed more than 20 people across its international supply chain. Z Beans even sources its bags from Ecuador and has imported more than 5,000 custom bags from a small warehouse in Zaruma.
“We are working as hard as we can to grow our business,” Shane said. The company has sold over 2,000 bags of coffee via direct sale, website, and Amazon channels and has partnered with eight retailers, started monthly catering for 12 businesses, and started supplying two coffee shops.
Shane said the Mercer and Macon communities have been essential to his business’ success. Last August he applied and was accepted into Mercer’s Innovation Center, which allowed him to grow his business without any overhead costs.
“Mercer University and the Macon community have supported my endeavor wholeheartedly,” Shane said. “As a young entrepreneur, building relationships with experienced businessmen has helped me learn and grow. All the successful people I have met in Macon have welcomed me with open arms. They have given me advice that has been directly applicable to what I am trying to do. Because of this, I will be forever grateful and loyal to the Macon community.”
What’s in store for Z Beans’ future? “I hope to grow Z Beans throughout the Middle Georgia area,” Shane said. “I want consumers to understand what Z Beans truly stands for: a business built around the idea of empowering others by creating sustainable platforms for them to sell their most prized products. Coffee is merely our vehicle to do just that.”
To learn more about the Z Beans story and purchase coffee, visit www.zbeanscoffee.com.