Coffee & The Peace Corps

Posted by Cesar Murillo on

            If you’ve been following our blog at all, you likely know that the Peace Corps has a bit of a special influence in our line of work, or at least in how Mandela Coffee came to be in the first place. One of our founders, Cesar Murillo, spent time serving with the Peace Corps in the Madagascar community of Ambohitrambo, where he learned the true value of clean drinking water through collaborating with international charities and community members to build a water well. Needless to say, that experience left an incredible mark on him and changed what he wanted to do with his life, but we’ve already discussed that at some length (check that blog out here if you’re interested in learning more about it).

            Cesar’s experience in the Peace Corps helps us here at Mandela Coffee every day. Not just because the virtues of service and selflessness promoted through the Peace Corps - and also through Co-founder Lance Zaal’s time in the Marine Corps - are beneficial in the workplace, either. Rather, his experience helps us remember that we aren’t in the fight for equal water access alone, that there are in fact thousands of people dedicated to making the world a better place through ensuring access to clean and pure water around the world. We just choose to do it through coffee.

            As it turns out, though, our choice to pursue this mission through the lens of coffee isn’t as isolated as you might think, either. In fact, the Peace Corps mission of selfless service, our research has shown, seems to be inextricably intertwined with coffee. Strange? Maybe, but we’re quite certain it’s a good thing.

            With that in mind, we wanted to highlight some stories, statistics, fun facts and interesting narratives that we’ve come across that bridge those two worlds: coffee and The Peace Corps. In keeping with that, take a look at these profiles of coffee-producing countries where Peace Corps volunteers also serve. We hope you enjoy these as much as your next cup of Mandela Coffee!

Former Efforts and a Changing Economic Picture: Brazil, Coffee & The Peace Corps

            If you know much about coffee, you might already know that Brazil is the single largest coffee producing country on the planet. And when we say ‘largest,’ we really mean it – in fact, according to Investopedia, Brazil produced approximately 2.7 million metric tons of coffee in 2014 alone, and that figure accounted for roughly one third of the total coffee produced globally that year.

            What you may not know about Brazil is that, contrary to popular belief, coffee isn’t actually indigenous to the area. In theory, it’s an invasive species – in one of the truest senses of the word. The first coffee plants were introduced to the Brazilian ecosystem in the early 1700s by settlers from France, and quickly became an extremely popular staple of the Brazilian economy, accounting for a massive share of their exports even today, some three centuries later.

            Brazil’s relationship with the Peace Corps is a bit complicated, to say the least. Service members from the Peace Corps began serving there in the 1960s, but unfortunately began to be ousted from the coffee-producing behemoth shortly thereafter. While many factors contributed to the shrinking number of corps members within Brazil, it’s largely attributed to a displeasure on the part of Brazil’s government with President Carters foreign policy, which was critical of Brazil’s human rights policies. 

            Nonetheless, it’s not hard to imagine that some of those volunteers may have had an impact on the countries development as a coffee powerhouse, as many of them are reported to have worked in community development programs aimed at assisting local businesses, merchants and farmers. One thing is for certain: Brazil’s place as a coffee powerhouse isn’t going away anytime soon – Statista reports that the nation is forecasted to produce more than 45 million 60-kilogram bags by the end of 2017.

Emerging Markets and Emerging Service: Vietnamese Coffee & The Peace Corps

            Second on the Investopedia list of total coffee producing countries cited above is Vietnam. What’s surprising about this isn’t the emergence of the country as a coffee production mainstay, but rather how quickly it’s taken on that role – and how convincingly.

           Basically, in the mid 1980’s, the Vietnamese government made a series of economic and infrastructure-driven bets on the coffee industry, hoping that it would help to propel to countries exports meaningfully. Suffice it to say, that happened, and then some; Vietnam currently produces the second largest amount of coffee in the world, with a whopping approximate 1.65 million metric tons produced annually.  

            Now, as coffee producers and distributors, we at Mandela find this on it’s own to be exciting enough cause for celebration. Where we derive additional optimism, though, is in the recently established connection between the Peace Corps and Vietnam. Becoming the 142nd nation to develop a relationship with the Peace Corps, Vietnam signed on with the global service organization in mid-2016 following a trip made there by former President Barack Obama. 

            Obviously, this opens up significant doors for both the Peace Corps and Vietnam as a coffee producing nation. Initial efforts in Vietnam from Peace Corps service members will focus on establishing ELL (English Language Learning) programs across the nation, as indicated in the report cited above. This blend of cultural education will undoubtedly go a long way towards making in-roads for global business within the Vietnamese community and the coffee production industry there. We’re excited to see what happens!

Roles in a Changing Coffee Economy; Mandela Coffee & You

            There is no mistake to be made about whether or not the ways in which coffee production takes place are changing - they most certainly are. The fact of the matter is that as the coffee production landscape is influenced by a seeming barrage of factors both internal and external (climate change, workers’ rights movements, product innovation and consumer demographics - to name a few) there is an undeniable need for a changing, evolving support base to go along with the industry.

            At Mandela Coffee, that’s exactly what we’re trying to do: Act for the good of the world throughout our efforts as coffee producers and distributors. We find inspiration in the selfless acts and service of Peace Corps members, not to mention the ways in which they continually innovate and better the industries that surround them, one of which is coffee.

            Do you have an idea about how we could work even more effectively towards our mission of providing water access around the world on a greater scale? Or a manner in which we could continue to give back to the coffee community? We’d love to hear from you! Feel free to reach out at any point at


Happy Brewing!


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