A cup of coffee, iced, hot or blended, is important to almost everyone’s morning routine, and sometimes their afternoon and evening routines, too. Whether it’s from Starbucks, McDonald’s, a bottled cold brew, your chosen bag of grounds from the market or from a local café, it’s a necessary part of one’s day that allows for no interruptions.
And because it is such a staple within our daily lives, where we’re spending our money or where the coffee comes from is often overlooked and overshadowed by means of ease and price. Yet, it’s crucial to understand not only the origins of the beloved beverage, but also the livelihoods of those who work hard to make these drinks possible.
The consumption of coffee largely takes place in nations such as the United States, Germany and France, which are the biggest importers. According to the International Institute for Sustainable Development’s 2019 “Global Market Report: Coffee,” more than 90% of coffee exports come from developing countries such as Brazil, Vietnam, Colombia and Mexico.
Perched atop a tall, narrow mountain in Nayarit, Mexico, at an altitude of 2,700 feet, lies a little coffee bean farm on La Bolita Ranch that exports to the U.S. and has belonged to the Carrillo family for generations. Elizabeth (Liz) Garcia-Carrillo recalls visiting her family’s ranch every year as a young girl, alongside her brother, Daniel Garcia-Carrillo, and their mother, Gloria, who immigrated to the U.S. at age 14.
As the two siblings grew older, they fondly remembered picking coffee beans alongside the Huichol farmhands, an indigenous community descended from the Aztecs. One day, they were told to pick beans and fill up a basket, and six hours later, with the basket nowhere near filled, their mother handed them a few pesos for their hard work.
“She said, ‘That’s hard work. That’s the value of hard work right now. Just because you essentially own the farm, doesn’t make you different from the people who are here helping you. This is the amount of money that you would make for the six hours of labor.’ It was really eye-opening,” said Liz Garcia-Carrillo, 32, co-founder of Good Juju Coffee.
While it is a memory remembered with fondness, picking coffee beans first-hand put the process into perspective for both Liz and Daniel.
“The crazy thing is that one bucket is not worth that much. We’re talking about pennies for a big bucket. That’s what makes it even more real for me, I actually had to pick up coffee beans when I was a kid. It was very time-consuming, and it was also very hard on your hands,” said Daniel Garcia-Carillo, 33, co-founder of Good Juju Coffee.
Good Juju Coffee bag of coffee 3 – Courtesy of Daniel Garcia-Carrillo
GOOD JUJU COFFEE’S ORIGINS
Many years down the road, in March 2022, Liz, Daniel, and their younger sister, Guadalupe (Lupe) Garcia-Carrillo, 22, all Los Angeles residents, founded their LA-based, all-inclusive Latina and LGBTQIA+-owned coffee brand, Good Juju Coffee.
The single-origin, specialty coffee is organically grown on their family’s ranch and imported to California where the siblings and their mother, “serve all the people who have worked tirelessly to produce this coffee while providing you with high quality, great tasting coffee,” states Good Juju Coffee’s mission statement.
When it came to creating a name for the coffee brand, the concern that the sibling’s family had about starting a coffee business in the world of Starbucks and other household names made the choice an obvious one.
“I really am a firm believer in good juju. I don’t believe that if you do something with good intentions and heart, the universe is there to mess it up,” Liz said. “If anything, I feel like if you put in the work, and you do it with good intentions in your heart, the universe just has a way of working your things out. Give good juju, we shall receive good juju.”
Realizing at such young ages not only how difficult a task it is to pick and harvest coffee beans, but how little pay farmers make after such long, taxing days, drove the Carrillo siblings to create a coffee company in the U.S. that sells their family’s coffee from Mexico, but that isn’t what got them there.
After visiting her grandmother’s farm in 2016, Liz grew even more in love with the process of harvesting coffee. Seeing her grandparents, aunts, uncles and Huichol farmhands work in the community sparked the desire to bring her family’s story to the U.S. But because her brother and younger sister could not take action at the time, the idea fizzled – until last year.
Working at Nestlé at the time as their marketing manager and making over $100,000 annually,, Daniel reached out to his Tía Rocio, who owns and harvests coffee beans on La Bolita ranch, and out of pure curiosity asked how much she was being paid when selling to large corporations. The total: $5,000 per year.
“What was mind-blowing is that it would take my aunt 20 years of growing and selling coffee to make what I was making in one year at Nestlé. It just kind of didn’t sit well with me,” Daniel said. “I was like, ‘I can’t believe we’re all making this much money sitting on our asses, behind a computer, when these farmers are getting paid so sh** for their coffee. How is it that we’re making so much money, and they’re not making anything?’ It didn’t make any sense.”
Members of the Huichol community harvesting coffee beans at La Bolita ranch – Courtesy of Daniel Garcia-Carrillo
MAKING GOOD JUJU COFFEE
The farmers on La Bolita Ranch, like many other coffee harvesters, work grueling, six-plus hours of harvesting, picking, sorting and transporting their coffee beans each day and are paid significantly less than their work is worth. As the Borgen Project mentions in a 2020 article, because this process has so many steps between growing and importing, only a small fraction – often 7% to 10%, but sometimes as low as 1% to 3% – of the retail price reaches the hands of coffee farmers.
This very realization is what set the Carrillo siblings down in January 2022 and pushed them to officially map out the Good Juju Coffee journey, which started with buying their family’s coffee and importing it themselves. As soon as March 2022 rolled around, they were finally able to get started.
“I told my aunt that I would buy her entire coffee stock,” Daniel said. “I said, ‘I’m going to buy all the coffee for the season and I’m going to pay you twice as much as what they were going to pay you, so you don’t have to sell it to the big corporations. Let me buy your entire crop, and I’ll pay you double.’ That’s kind of how it all started. My sisters and I kind of came together and said, ‘Let’s do this ourselves.’”
Launching their own brand with no prior knowledge was, while overwhelming, made much easier by having such a strong, loving family dynamic as a foundation.
“Everyone took on an arm of the octopus, so to speak. We learned a lot from our aunts and uncles about coffee, the love and nurturing the lands need to grow good coffee, and altitude. My mom and my grandma were the ones roasting the coffee. It all rolled out real quick, we all mobilized. We were like, ‘We don’t like what’s happening. We don’t want our grandma to be ripped off again this year.’”
The harvesting process of coffee beans takes much longer than one might think, with many steps that can last months at a time. Once coffee seeds are planted and coffee cherries, the fruit that coffee trees bear, are harvested, the months between June and January consist of nurturing the plants. Once February and March roll around, coffee beans are handpicked, washed, and roasted on La Bolita Ranch.
After the coffee is roasted, it is transported to Rosarito, Baja California, and either by truck or trailer that is already traveling there or one of the siblings will pick it up in San Diego and drive it to LA. From there, Good Juju coffee is bagged and brought to its distributors and stores that carry it.
Imported directly from Nayarit, Good Juju Coffee offers small, one-pound batches of their light, medium and dark roasts for $17.99 and their Latina-owned, special edition small, half-pound batch of medium roast for $9.99, all purchasable on their website.
A PERMANENT HOME: POCHA LA
In addition to their website, Good Juju Coffee is also available and served at their coffee bar within Pocha LA, a modern, vegan-friendly Mexicana restaurant, merging both Mexican and American cultures, located in Highland Park. Although the partnership between the two companies began in May 2022, Daniel’s connection to Pocha goes back to the year prior.
Hiring Pocha in August 2021 to cater a vegan breakfast while still working at Nestlé, Daniel immediately thought of the restaurant when Good Juju was finally up and running. Driving by Pocha in April 2022, he decided to stop and ask the restaurant’s owner, Claire Risoli, if they served coffee and if they’d like to combine their offerings.
“Two months later, we had a coffee bar. We purchased the espresso machine, we purchased all the equipment, and made that investment,” Daniel said. “And now, it’s thriving. We went from not selling that much coffee to a fairly decent amount of cups of coffee every month, it’s been great. This has been a really good partnership. It makes sense to us, right? For both brands and businesses, it just makes sense.”
With the strong relationship that not only the two companies have, but which the Garcia siblings also have with Risoli, it’s difficult to believe that their partnership only began around 10 months ago. As Good Juju and Pocha have joined together, their love and respect for each other have only grown.
“They have something special, and it’s more than the coffee, ” Risoli said. “Just how hard they’ve worked to create this, what we’re building together, what they’re building independent of Pocha…I’m just really proud to be partnered with them. I feel like our mission, and our values, they’re really in alignment. Liz and I say this all the time, ‘A rising tide lifts all boats,’ and I’m just really excited about what we can do just as a community.”
While Daniel focuses more on marketing for Good Juju and Liz has taken on the role of working at the coffee bar full-time, Lupe is, as Liz has coined, the ‘beverage alchemist.’ Not only does she come up with each and every coffee drink they serve, but just as Pocha is vegan-friendly, Good Juju is vegetarian-friendly, with vegetarian syrups and sugar handmade by Lupe every few days.
Typically, once she thinks of a new recipe, it takes Lupe about a day to test it out and make it perfect. The majority of recipes she creates are based on her favorite Mexican desserts, such as buñuelos, which inspired the Buñuelo latte that is served with a homemade buñuelo on top, courtesy of their mother. In addition to the house drip, Café de Olla, americanos, lattes, cappuccinos, cold brew, and affogatos Good Juju serves at Pocha, the youngest Carrillo sibling has also created Good Juju’s horchata latte, as well as a new latte inspired by their grandmother.
“I also have a lechera cloud,” Lupe said. “I personally love cold foam or whipped cream, and my grandma’s favorite was lechera – she could eat it by the spoonful – so I decided to make a latte inspired by her. It’s called the Lechera Cloud latte. I make a cold foam sweetened with Lechera, and it’s just a delicious, good latte.”
WHAT MAKES GOOD JUJU COFFEE DIFFERENT
Good Juju Coffee is already drastically setting itself apart from its fellow competitors, big and small, for a number of reasons, one being how differently they harvest and pick their coffee beans.
Picking coffee beans can be done one of two ways: by hand or by machine. And because larger corporations often buy coffee from various different farms, the job becomes too big for it to be done by hand. The use of machines, according to Liz, lessens the quality of the final coffee product and often picks too soon, unlike when it is handpicked.
“We lay out what’s called the Cascara, the shell of the bean, for 30 days and pick it up by hand for 30 days, every day. If the sky decides it’s going to rain, we’ve gotta get out there and pick them up before the rain falls on it. There’s a lot of work that goes from the field to your cup of coffee in the morning and the more that we step away from large corporations and more into the people that do this for a living that is small, [the better],” Liz said.
Creating a fair, ethical and sustainable business model to both protect and serve those working on the farm and the world is the Carrillo siblings’ vision for Good Juju Coffee, and they are actively working toward this goal.
Fairtrade coffee, the certification that coffee has met certain standards in relation to pay, environmental impact and labor, isn’t guaranteed when it comes to specialty coffee, especially outside of the US, which is why Good Juju makes it a point to pay those on the La Bolita ranch a liveable wage.
“We’re paying two to three times more for the coffee, depending on the season,” Liz said. “Sometimes there isn’t very much coffee, so we’ll pay that three times because workers will have to go longer with that wage out of season. And when there’s more abundant coffee or a surplus, we’re still doing the 2%, and then the surplus will get divided amongst all the farmers cultivating it.”
Often, within developing countries that are exporting to larger industrialized nations, because the wages are so low, families who work on these coffee bean farms bring their children with them to work as well. And seeing this happen first-hand as children themselves, the Carrillo siblings wanted to put a stop to child labor on the farm.
“I don’t believe that any child should be four or five years old having to pick coffee to put bread on the table,” Liz said. “That was something that I really wanted to change because making a profit is great, but we’re not profit-driven. We’re human-driven.”
Supporting the livelihoods of the Good Juju farmers is a main focal point for the siblings, but understanding the lasting impact the process has on the environment is just as critical to them. Working to be as sustainable as they can, instead of transporting the coffee in trucks that produce gas, they have horses that take the bags to the next ranch, where the coffee is roasted.
“Whenever we can, we try to do that. And we also use glass. I was inspired by Erewhon because they use a lot of glassware and people return it,” Liz said. “So, I’ve been selling a lot of our coffee, instead of in bags, they’re going in glassware where people can return the jars, you get credit, and we refill your container.”
A proud women-owned coffee company, Good Juju heavily promotes gender equality, especially as traditional roles between men and women lie strongly in Mexican culture.
“I’m a feminist. It was imperative for me to be able to give women on the farm positions of leadership, [a woman] is the boss, it’s not a man anymore,” Liz said. “That’s one of the things that we do as well, promoting gender equality and abolishing those old sentiments that a woman can’t get an education or a woman is only good for tortillas, like that’s insane.”
A YEAR’S WORTH OF GROWTH
As Good Juju celebrates its first birthday this month, it is easy for the Carrillo trio to reflect on the challenges they have experienced as they’ve faced, head-on, this never-been-done-before task. Transporting mishaps, not having enough hours in the day, and the difficulties of getting recognition amidst other flourishing brands are all consistent, everyday obstacles, but Liz tries her best to remain positive through it all.
“I feel like we really have to keep the purpose and the goal in mind. When I think about what I’m missing and things like that, I think about the people that are picking the coffee in the heat and what they’re making,” Liz said. “I hope to one day be able to do what we’re doing for our family and our farm for other people around the world and their families and their farms. And if that’s to happen, we need to keep going. Despite the fact that it’s going to be hard and tough.”
Where challenges lie, there is always growth, and being able to not only share their family’s coffee with the world but with themselves, is a reward in and of itself.
“The most rewarding part has been sharing everything that we’re doing with our family back in Mexico,” Lupe said. “It just blows their mind, they’ve never had anything like a latte or a Frappuccino, they have no idea. So, it’s super fun to share and say, ‘Hey, we made this with our family coffee, look at this recipe that we created.’ So I think that’s the most rewarding.”
Despite how competitive the world of coffee can be, and how taxing it can be to stay afloat amongst numerous brands, Good Juju has rapidly grown, with an increase in sales with exposure from Pocha and visits from celebrities, such as Latina singer, Becky G, and Mexican-American tattoo artist, Kat Von D.
“It’s just crazy, the outpouring of love and the growth. From where we started to now, it’s a very short time, and it’s grown into something that I didn’t expect it to,” Liz said. “I’m really excited to see how it’s going to change and what’s going to happen in the future. And more so, education. When people hear our story, I’m so excited to get the opportunity to try and change the way that we consume and really let people know, ‘Hey, coffee is awesome, but if you drink a cup of coffee every day, and you want to do the most good and really know what you’re buying, know your buying power.”
Not only has the coffee company become more recognized around the world and within the media, but the siblings who once had no idea how sacred the process of growing coffee is or how to import it, now have an appreciation for it that runs deep.
“I feel so good about drinking my coffee because it’s a labor of love, and that feels good. When I’m taking a sip, I appreciate my coffee, and it just grinds my gears when other people don’t appreciate their coffee,” Daniel said. “I’m like, ‘Yes, it’s a cup of coffee, but it takes so much to get that cup into your hands. No idea how labor-intensive it is. I have that appreciation of it now. It’s not just a cup of coffee, it takes a whole community to get that cup of coffee.”
THE FUTURE OF GOOD JUJU COFFEE
The future is bright for Good Juju, with many goals and aspirations at the forefront of each Carrillo sibling’s mind. Although they have no plans to leave Pocha anytime soon, a permanent location of their own is definitely on the to-do list.
“I would like to own our own little coffee shop. And ideally, we could throw in some recipes. I love making pastries,” Lupe said. “I’m a baker, I love baking. I would love to have those little storefront coffees and desserts that are handmade by me, knowing everything that goes into them.”
Seeing bottled Good Juju Café de Olla in markets such as Target, Sprouts or Whole Foods, or even smaller retailers is a definite priority for the brand this year, as well as partnering with other farms in Nigeria, Colombia or Costa Rica down the line.
“I would like to be able to travel to places where there are families who have their own farms, just like my Abuelita does,” Liz said. “To be able to assist and build those relationships and those partnerships with other people who are going through the same thing we are, because I don’t want them to sell their coffee for nothing. I want them to have that recognition and to be able to get their coffee in the hands of consumers too.”
Although making it a goal to help and support other coffee bean farms around the world is bringing everything full circle for the Carrillo siblings, it is not the only reason. Seeing the ranch that has been in their family for generations not only be finally appreciated but also have its worth recognized is beautiful, especially when they’re part of the process.
“Everything is so intertwined, and there has been so much work and sacrifice, generational sacrifice, in this coffee, and in us,” Liz said. “It just means the world to me, for me to be able to represent every sacrifice that my family has made for that to grow, to nurture these plants, and have this coffee. This coffee has been in our family for generations and it remains there. Being Latinos in this space, you don’t see it a lot, and it’s nice to be there. It’s nice to get a seat at the table, or to make new seats at the table.”