Growing up in Colombia, good coffee was a part of life. But when Carlos Latorre-Martin arrived in the UK, he realised that the coffee trade, though burgeoning, lacked the quality control that he took for granted in his home country.
“It’s very trendy to sell lots of different coffees here, but do we know which ones are good?” he asks.
To Carlos, the secret to a good cup of coffee is process. “When you make a coffee, it’s not a recipe. Like whisky, it’s the brewing method that influences the flavour.” He thinks people are starting to appreciate this, and credits the new generation of hipster coffee bars with “understanding the essence of coffee-making; they have their own identity, their own flavours.”
It’s that pure, unadulterated flavour that first gave Carlos the idea behind Coffee Temple, the specialist coffee supplier he founded while still a student at ARU.
Coffee Temple works with small-scale growers in Colombia, sourcing green coffee beans from regions including Tolima, Risaralda and Antioquia that are famed for the high quality of their crop. Beans grow at high altitude, and are dried in the sun before being artisan-roasted and shipped to the UK. When they arrive, they’re ground as close to the brew time as possible for maximum freshness.
Carlos is not only passionate about the alchemy behind good coffee, but the production and sourcing of coffee beans. His commitment to transparency is refreshing: “We use a direct trade model, and there’s no hiding anything,” he says. “I speak directly to the small-scale growers in my country and make sure they are supported. Everything I import is fair trade.”
With quality though, comes cost. “Coffee is not an essential commodity, and so my costs are high. The prices are too, but it’s about offering people something different. Something unique.”
A business model as uncompromising as this doesn’t come easy, but it’s clear that Carlos isn’t one to shy away from a challenge. When he first came to the UK at the age of 24, he didn’t speak any English. In the ten years that followed, Carlos learnt a language, graduated twice from Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, and set up his own company. He was studying for his Masters when Coffee Temple was born – balancing his studies with promoting his start-up business.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing since. Carlos is still navigating the demands of a market dominated by corporations. “To challenge big brands, you need the capital to put [your] coffee shop next to [a branch of] Starbucks. I don’t have that, but my product is different. It isn’t impossible, but it’s hard.” Part of the struggle, he says, is trying to educate people about good coffee. With a poetic fervour evocative of his Latin American roots, he tells us that “getting people to learn about the process in coffee-making is a long but beautiful process.”
What next for this ambitious entrepreneur? To bring the best coffee flavours from around the world to the UK, using the direct trade model. “It’s easy for me as a Colombian to sell Colombian coffee, given its reputation,” Carlos explains. “But I want people to have the option to experience coffee from everywhere. I want a Brazilian to be able to walk into Coffee Temple and try a Brazilian coffee, too.”
Carlos’s secret weapon is, in fact, one of the oldest marketing tricks in the book: word of mouth. “My father always told me, tell ten people about your idea every day. Of those ten people, at least one will be interested in it. I already have the support of a local coffee shop in Cambridge, and through word of mouth, I’m excited to see where Coffee Temple can go. It’s just a process of challenging expectations.”
Carlos studied BA (Hons) Marketing at ARU in Cambridge. Interested in following in his entrepreneurial footsteps? We're accepting applications for September 2019: visit the course page to apply.