An El Segundo resident and her siblings have started a single-origin specialty-coffee business that improves quality of life for a community in Mexico.
By Maureen Kingsley
Producing high-quality roasted coffee beans with complex flavor takes time, care, and attention from start to finish. El Segundo resident Liz Carrillo and her two siblings, Daniel and Guadalupe, know this to be true. They are leveraging the expertise of their extended family in Nayarit, Mexico to bring top-quality, small-batch-roasted coffee beans to California for discerning coffee drinkers while significantly increasing the wages of those growing and harvesting the beans. Ultimately sold as Good Juju Coffee, in a variety of roasts (light to dark), the beans are cultivated, harvested, roasted, and packaged by the trio’s family and additional workers in Nayarit in western Mexico, then purchased for a fair price by the Carrillo siblings, transported here to Southern California, branded, and sold through various channels, including at special events, at pop-ups, directly to consumers, and via community partnerships.
“Once the coffee arrives, we turn it over very quickly,” Liz says. “It goes from the roaster to the consumer within seven days,” ensuring a fresh final product, she adds.
Good Juju’s Origins
Last year, when Liz learned the pittance her hard-working family members in Nayarit were making from the large corporations that bought the coffee beans they grew and harvested at their farm in La Bolita, a small ranch located atop a mountain in Nayarit, she was disturbed and knew there had to be a better, more ethical way to do business and compensate coffee producers. “I discovered that my aunt, who owns a coffee-producing farm in La Bolita ranch in Nayarit, was only bringing in around $5000 per year, before expenses, for the beans she and the others grew and harvested for those big corporations,” Liz recalls. “La Bolita is a very small ranch. In that particular town, education isn’t accessible,” she says, and resources for inhabitants are scant, so inadequate pay is especially hard on the community. Additionally, Liz explains, there are indigenous people from the Aztec culture, the Cora and the Huichol, who live in Nayarit on the ranches. Many don’t have permanent homes but instead stay on farmlands, helping to harvest crops. “My aunt has opened up her farm to these folks,” Liz says. “They help her pick the coffee.” And unfortunately, when Liz’s family’s farm sells its beans to large corporations, no one in charge of the land or working it is paid a true living wage.
For a few years, Liz had wondered on and off about importing the family’s coffee beans herself—and in 2021, she and her brother and sister got serious about it. “Daniel and Guadalupe and I decided to buy the coffee ourselves from La Bolita at a fair price, brand it, market it, and sell it here in the United States,” Liz explains. As of January of this year, that is exactly what they are doing, to the benefit of both the La Bolita ranch community and coffee drinkers here in the greater Los Angeles area.
“One difference between us and the big guys, the corporate coffee buyers,” Liz says, “is that for the big guys, the beans at La Bolita were simply removed from the plant, washed, and dried, and off they would go.” It was an impersonal process with speed and volume as the goals. Now that La Bolita is selling its beans to the Carrillo siblings, however, those working the land are taking their time and employing more traditional, careful methods that vastly improve the final product. “When you let things in nature run their course, you will benefit from that,” Liz points out. “Now in La Bolita, we hand-pick the coffee beans, put them in a tub with water where the bad beans float to the top, and we set those aside where they are sold to the big corporations. After the soak, the good beans are removed and put out to dry in the sun and in nature for 20 to 30 days, and they are turned daily every couple of hours. This allows each bean to extract the natural oils and flavors from the cascara, or shell.” The method is hands-on and traditional: “We want people to taste the coffee the way my family prepares it,” Liz explains.
Those good-quality beans are then roasted in a neighboring village in small batches of 20 pounds or less, which results in more even heating and better flavor, Liz says. After roasting, the coffee is packaged and quickly transported to the United States, where Liz, Guadalupe, and Daniel—with the help of roommates; their mother, Gloria (who immigrated to the United States from Mexico in 1979); and a niece and nephew—market and sell it throughout the LA area. The crew is kept very busy, running their coffee-import business in addition to working their day jobs, but the effort feels worthwhile. “I believe we are giving hope to people in La Bolita,” Liz says, “including the indigenous people helping to work the land there. Because we are paying my aunt well for the coffee produced on her ranch, she can then better pay the indigenous persons on the land who help out. And,” she adds, “we can pay a teacher to visit the ranch and educate the kids of the indigenous adults on the farm there.
“This is where the name ‘Good Juju Coffee’ came from,” Liz says. “We want to make sure that with every sip, we are supporting all the people who have worked tirelessly to produce this coffee, ensuring they are paid a livable wage. That’s good juju!”
Good Juju, Good Change
The positive change Liz and her siblings are making to the lives of those who produce Good Juju coffee beans in Mexico is substantial—but they are also making positive change right here in the Los Angeles area, too. The trio puts 3% of its earnings toward helping unhoused people in LA, particularly by feeding them. “We are big on community service,” Liz says.
What’s more, the siblings dream of eventually expanding their import business to other coffee-producing countries in which workers are chronically underpaid, including Nigeria, Guatemala, and Thailand, to make positive change in communities there as well. “We would love to make this business so big that we can help other families in other places. So many farmers in coffee-producing nations sell their beans for so little because they don’t know. Yes, it’s awesome if people get to know us and buy our product—but we also want to expand to help farmers all over the world,” Liz says.
Interested in supporting Good Juju Coffee and purchasing beans for your household or business? Follow the brand on Instagram @goodjujucoffee, place orders directly on the website at goodjujucoffee.com, or reach out to Liz directly at liz[at]goodjujucoffee.com.
This story appears in the May 2022 issue of The El Segundo Scene.