Invalsa Coffee is a family-owned and operated, vertically integrated coffee company. We export specialty coffee and micro-lots from Bolivia, and import organic, FTO, micro-lots, and Cup of Excellence coffees to the East Coast of the US. We have co-headquarters in Boston, USA, and La Paz, Bolivia. We buy all coffees in their origin countries, directly from producers.
What Makes Invalsa Different
As an exporter, Invalsa is the only Bolivian-based coffee buyer that is internationally integrated with fully bilingual management.
As a coffee importer in the US, Invalsa USA is different from other importers because of our vertically-integrated structure. Some big differences include:
- All coffee is purchased directly from farmers – we are the only middleman between coffee farmers and our customers. We don’t buy coffee from other brokers or exporters. All Bolivian coffee is bought directly from farmers that we have long-term partnerships and relationships with, and coffee from other countries is bought directly from farmers that we have met and formed personal relationships with while judging Cup of Excellence competitions in their country. We visit the farmers that we buy coffee from outside Bolivia at least once a year, and on a weekly basis during harvest-time, in Bolivia. This means that we can always share detailed farm information and farmer photographs for all of our coffees, and our customers know exactly where their coffee comes from.
- “Fairer than Fair Trade” – while we have some Fair Trade certified coffee that we have bought from cooperatives in Bolivia and Costa Rica, most of our coffee is not certified Fair Trade, because the certification requires that you buy coffee from a cooperative and doesn’t allow for buying from an individual farmer. What we do is buy farmer’s best bags of coffee, directly from the farmer, at a higher price than the required minimum Fair Trade price. This rewards farmers for the extra time that it takes them to produce high-quality coffee. Typically, a farmer might sell us their best bags of coffee, and then contribute the other bags to his or her cooperative, which could then be sold as Fair Trade certified coffee. So, farmers that sell to us get highest available prices, and also get rewarded for the extra time they have spent trying to make high quality coffee; something that is not guaranteed by the Fair Trade certification.
- We have relatively large amount of micro-lots and Cup of Excellence coffees compared to other, much larger importers, and can always provide photographs and farmer information for each of this unique coffees, which roasters can use for their own marketing materials.
- We ship in small amounts – all of our coffees can be bought online on a secure website, in sizes as small as one pound and as large as a wholesale pallet (12 bags). Many importers require you to call them to ask the prices for coffees, which change every day, and you can only place orders on the phone, not online. Our prices are always listed online, and you can place orders on the website whenever you want.
- We ship from Massachusetts – the only other websites offering a range of green coffee choices in small amounts ship from the West Coast. So if you live closer to the East Coast, your shipping charges will be less when you buy coffee from us.
Invalsa is a member of the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA), the Alliance for Coffee Excellence (ACE), and our management has served on International Juries in Cup of Excellence competitions in eight of ten COE origins, as well as coordinating the Cup of Excellence in Bolivia during the last two years that Bolivia COE competitions were held.
Our customers range from passionate home roasters, to among the largest specialty coffee roasters in the world.
About Our Team
Invalsa was founded in 2004 by the Valverde brothers, Nelson & Jorge. They were both born and raised in La Paz, Bolivia, and attended universities in the United States (Dartmouth, Columbia, University of Pennsylvania). They started their first commercial enterprise when they were 16 and 10 years old: a retail aquarium store in Bolivia. Since then, they have worked on Wall Street, State Street and Main Street, for large, international corporations, as well as businesses that they started themselves.
Jorge is Invalsa's EVP and Chief Coffee Buyer, and manages our offices in Bolivia. He was the Coordinator of the Cup of Excellence (COE) Bolivia program from 2007 to 2009, the last three years that the Bolivia COE was held. He lives in La Paz with his wife, Nasha, and sons, Nicolas and Diego.
Rounding out our Bolivian management team is Elva, our Quality Control Manager and Chief Cupper; Mery, our Cacao Plant Manager, German, our Technical Assistance and Cacao Nursery Manager, Erik, our Infrastructure Manager; and Milenka, our Chief Accountant.
In the US, Nelson is the President & CEO of Invalsa, and also the Roastmaster for Valverde Coffee Roasters. He has served as an International Judge at Cup Of Excellence competitions in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico, Rwanda, and Burundi. Eleni, Nelson's wife, manages Human Resources and Special Projects. Cristina, Nelson's oldest daughter, joined the company in 2012 as Director of Strategy and Marketing. She studied international development and agribusiness at Harvard and at Tufts University, and previously worked in micro-finance institutions and on agricultural projects with the World Bank and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation.
About Our Producer Partners
Invalsa offers coffee grown by selected farmer families, cooperatives, indigenous enterprises, and eco-friendly coffee estates. Our Bolivian coffee comes from Caranavi region, in the Yungas climatic zone. Most of these high-altitude, shade-grown coffee beans come from Colonias San Ignacio, Siete Estrellas, Cima del Jaguar and Uchumachi.
In Bolivia, most coffee producer families are organized in cooperatives and formal "indigenous enterprises", or membership-based agricultural communities. Cooperatives' objectives are to improve the coffee quality of their members, and they receive technical assistance from several NGOs. Coops and indigenous enterprises have levered their Cup of Excellence® winnings and Invalsa sales income by investing in their communities, building mills, collection stations, nurseries and self-managed training & development programs.
Most Bolivian farming families have on average five hectares (about 10 acres) of land, with about half of it dedicated to coffee production. Most labor is done by the family, with occasional additional local workers during the busy harvesting season. Cooperatives normally run a coffee mill ("beneficio") and the coffee is first wet-processed by the families themselves on their farms, and then fermented and washed by the cooperative, the indigenous enterprise or the coffee estate.
Learn more About Bolivian Coffee here.
Our growers in Costa Rica & Brazil own small farms or eco-friendly coffee estates that have been involved in Cup of Excellence® competitions in their respective countries. Our Costa Rican coffee comes from the well-known Tarrazu region, and the West Valley. Our Brazilian coffees come from farms in Sul Minas, Alto Mogiana in the state of Sao Paulo, and from the renowned Fazenda Rainha farm in Sao Paulo state.
Almost all coffee in Bolivia and Costa Rica is grown by small family farms that do not have the capacity to grow the minimum commercial international shipment. Not so in Brazil, the world's largest coffee producer, where we also work only with small farms or estates. Because we do our own exporting, we keep coffees separated by grower and grade at origin until we complete a container. Our farmers appreciate our approach and actively seek us out when they have an exceptional crop. Exceptional (cupping scores above 85 points) coffees are kept separate and bagged in 15-kilo vacuum-packed foil bags, or hermetically sealed, GrainPro bags inside a burlap bag, at origin before exporting them to the US. Such exceptional coffees are sold as micro-lots. Traditional coffee exporters mix together coffees from several growers until a container is filled, where the quality becomes the lowest common denominator. We believe ours is a better way to supply quality green coffee beans. Our vacuum-packed green coffee, when opened, still has the fresh, nutty and flowery aroma that it had when it was bagged in-country.
Most of our growers have participated and won awards at the Cup of Excellence competitions, which are internationally judged. We have growers that have placed in the top ten places, some obtaining scores above 90, earning the prestigious and rare Presidential Award rating --a top world-class rating, indeed!
When working with the cooperatives, indigenous enterprises or coffee estates we sign long term contracts detailing the quality and quantity of the coffee to be purchased. We pay above-market prices (also above Fair Trade minimums) for quality coffees, so farmers and cooperatives seek us out. We also provide pre-shipment financing to assist farmers and cooperatives that cannot access traditional banking channels. We have signed renewable, three-year contracts with several cooperatives & indigenous enterprises granting Invalsa Coffee exclusive marketing rights for their coffee in the US and Canada.
Our Sourcing System
We have a unique system of buying coffee based on price per quality, as measured by the SCAA cupping standards score. When we purchase coffee from our growers, we start with a minimum price (higher than the Fair Trade price). We then complete payment based on the cupping score of a random sample. We regularly provide feedback to our farmers as to how to increase their cupping score by teaching them modern, sustainable cultivating and processing techniques, beyond simply gathering and harvesting. This technology-transfer step is one of the most important, and for us, the most rewarding. There is no better feeling that seeing a farmer beam when his cupping score increases and s/he gets a higher price after s/he followed a recommendation that we made. We accept coffee from farmers and/or their cooperatives "en pergamino" (in parchment). We store our pergamino coffee in climate-controlled warehouses in Bolivia, Costa Rica & Brazil.
Only when we have enough pergamino coffee to fill a shipping container, and we are ready to export it, do we finish processing by removing the pergamino, separating the beans by size according to graded screens, and by hand-selecting and removing coffee bags with faults and/or defects and low cupping score. Our coffee, even at our lowest grade, is so good because we use these time-consuming but necessary steps for assuring quality. We are responsible for our coffee beans from the farm gate until they are delivered to our customers. This is why we can tell you with certainty where and by our coffee was grown. Cupping is done first by our own buyers and then confirmed in our own cupping labs.
Any coffee with a score below 75 is rejected. We ask the farmer to replace it with acceptable coffee; we do not ask for our money back. The higher the score, the higher our price. Thus, farmers are incentivized to improve the quality of their coffee, because it will not be blended with those from other growers and averaged down. Because cooperatives provide important services (technical assistance, short-tem credit, moral and community support) we provide coffee-grower cooperatives with grants and percentage of sales contributions when coffee is bought directly from one of their members. Each coffee lot is then labeled and warehoused separately. We also pay the cooperatives separately when we use their processing facilities.
We are always searching for unique, quality coffees from an unbeaten path. Coffee quality doesn't happen by accident nor happenstance; it is a continuous process of doing the right thing from planting the appropriate varietal for the terroir, pruning, fertilizing, & weeding the coffee plants. In fewer words: cultivating, not simply harvesting. But it does not end there. Even more important is the process of picking only the ripe beans, carefully processing (removing the fruit flesh right after the coffee beans have been collected, even if it means working thorough the middle of night with candle lights), and fermenting the beans, only for the right amount of time, to remove the remaining flesh (mucilage), and drying the beans in pergamino (parchment) so that they reach 10-12% humidity, without ever getting them wet by the frequent rainforest rains. And finally, cupping and selecting the best beans to be vacuum-packed at origin, to maintain their harvest-fresh condition, until they reach the consumer markets.
All those steps take a lot of work and effort (mostly by the farmers) and it is easy (and profitable) to take shortcuts if farmers are not economically compensated for not taking them. We pay above market prices for our coffee because we want to reward farmers for their efforts and because, truth be told, at the end of the day it is the only way to get the best coffee. Please enjoy our coffee with the knowledge that the farmer that toiled cultivating it was treated with the respect s/he deserves and also received fair compensation for her or his additional efforts. There is no secret formula to find the perfect coffee. It is a continuous process that requires dedication, love of coffee, and economic reward for all those that make it happen.
Learn more About Coffee, here.
About Coffee Gear
Since home coffee roasting is, happily, an increasing popular activity, we sell the latest technology in home coffee roasting, grinding and brewing equipment. Prior to World War II, many American households roasted and ground their own coffee. Give it a try! With a modern home coffee roaster, there is no mystery to in-home coffee roasting. You will be ready to brew a pot of the freshest coffee that you have ever made. Freshly roasted coffee tastes better than any store-bought coffee, period. Furthermore, once you have started roasting your own coffee, you will be able to savor the truly finest coffees in the world, freshly roasted in your own home! And you will also save money. The price of green coffee is usually about a third of the same bean roasted. So, go ahead, recover a lost skill, save money, and start roasting your own coffee today. Our goal is to provide the home coffee roasters with an exciting rage of green beans, as well the latest coffee gear, knowledge, trivia and information.
Salud! (To your health!) Please make yourself at home, "nuestra casa es su casa" (our home is your home).
-The Invalsa Coffee crew.