Staff Spotlight: Ben Carlson, Director of 7 Corners Coffee

There are two things that are true of everyone who works at 7 Corners Coffee: they love people, and they love coffee. There’s no better example of this than our Director of Coffee, Ben Carlson.

Ben is a certified Q grader with a genuine passion for people and community. What is a certified Q grader? It’s someone whose coffee knowledge and tasting abilities have been tested and approved by a board of coffee experts.

In other words, he knows his coffee.

In fact, before helping establish our coffee shop in downtown Minneapolis, Ben worked as a coffee trader across the world. But that’s only part of Ben’s story.

Moving to Burundi

It was 2010. The coffee sector of Burundi, Africa had just been privatized due to mounting pressure from the World Bank. Being well-versed in what makes a good cup of coffee, Ben was asked to act as a consultant and check the quality of the local coffee beans.

He quickly realized a few things:

  • The coffee in Burundi was incredible.
  • The working and living conditions of coffee farmers in Burundi was terrible.
  • The red tape surrounding the coffee industry in Burundi was a nightmare.

Burundi is one of the poorest countries in the world, and unsurprisingly, they’re also considered to be the least happy. Ben saw an opportunity to take his love and understanding of coffee and use it to try and do some good.

After talking it over, Ben and his wife Kristy decided to move their family to Burundi to see what could be done.

First, Ben became a coffee trader, learning how to find coffee and sell it across the world. This not only built vital relationships with roasters and distributors, but it gave him the knowledge required to cut through Burundi’s governmental barriers.

While his time as a coffee trader gave him great experience, it wasn’t bringing any direct change to the farming communities of Burundi. So, Ben and his wife set out to build a washing station in a Burundi commune called Bukeye.

This washing station would allow the coffee farmers to easily clean and prepare their harvested cherries. Ben was then able to use his connections with roasters and his understanding of Burundian exporting to sell this precious commodity across the world. From a small group of farmers working with Ben and Kristy in 2013, they grew this into two washing stations serving over 5,000 farming families.

Thus, Long Miles Coffee Project was born.

(You can learn more about Long Miles Coffee Project here.)

In addition to establishing Long Miles Coffee Project, Ben had the honor of introducing these farmers to the taste of their own coffee for the first time. Despite having farmed these coffee cherries year after year, the Burundian farmers had no idea why people from halfway around the world cared about them so much. Gathering the local farmers, Ben ground the coffee by hand and boiled it over an open fire.

He then served them a fresh cup of coffee made from the very beans they worked so hard to produce. It was Ben’s dream to build community with coffee. He had found success in Burundi. Now, he wanted to bring that same experience to his own country.

He just wasn’t sure how.

A Case of Perfect Timing

Ben and his family were back in the states, attending church when he got connected with a group of people who needed some guidance. They had recently acquired a coffee shop in the Seven Corners neighborhood of Minneapolis.

While they knew they wanted to create a space for the students and west bank residents, they didn’t know how to setup or run a coffee shop. Seeing an opportunity to bring things full-circle, Ben stepped in and became Director of Coffee of what would become 7 Corners Coffee.

Thanks to Ben’s coffee expertise and the relationships he had spent the past decade building within the industry, 7 Corners Coffee was able to become a place where people in Minneapolis could experience high-quality, single origin coffee from around the world.

In addition to serving as our director, Ben still runs Long Miles Coffee Project, working to help the farmers of Burundi reach a higher standard of living. He also regularly visits coffee farms and roasters around the world, making sure working conditions meet quality standards.

While that keeps him pretty busy, you can still catch him in our Minneapolis coffee shop from time to time. If you see him, go ahead and say hello. He’d love to take some time to share his love for coffee and the wonderful people who make it.

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