We have worked with producer Ricardo Ariz for four years now. This year we were fortunate enough to spend time with him on his farm, El Aguila, in El Salvador. During our visit, we were struck by his passion for coffee, and his fierce commitment to quality and doing things well. Ricardo only took over management of the farm six years ago, but his intimacy with the farm and his understanding of what is required to produce exceptional coffee is remarkable. What we ultimately found most inspiring, though, was Ricardo's commitment to his team and his community.
Here’s a short interview we did with Ricardo:
Market Lane: You lived in the US for many years and worked in venture capital there. What brought you back to your family’s farm in El Salvador?
Ricardo Ariz: My family migrated to Texas in late 1979. It took me a while to adapt to the Texan way of life. The cultural background and attitudes were so different! Notwithstanding that, I successfully completed high school at Houston’s Strake Jesuit school in 1985 and headed off to engineering school at Texas Tech University. I enjoyed West Texas so much that I decided to stay on for a Masters program in Economics, after which came a tough personal decision: whether to stay in the US or go back home to El Salvador.
Even though by the end of college in 1991 I felt fully bicultural, the necessity to reconnect with my native culture and personal ties was an impending item on the agenda. I sought a job as a privatization officer with the post-war government. Eventually, I moved on to a regional Central American consulting job with KPMG and, in 1996, I was offered a junior partner position at a private equity firm. I travelled tirelessly, investing throughout Central America. I gained an understanding of the business models that work in this region, and eventually moved on to become the co-founder of a real estate company that does green field investments.
Farming hadn't been part of the plan until my grandmother, the eldest family member living in El Salvador, sadly passed in 2010. My father, who still lives in Houston, asked me to take on the management of the farm. After much thought, I agreed.
Since then, I've found a passion for coffee – it’s not for its financial reward, it's more of a spiritual thing. I've realised that if people like me choose not to run farms, it really doesn't give the local community a chance to show the world what they can do. So I see myself as part of a team, and together we can do good things and create something that people are proud of. This is the aspect of running a coffee farm that I enjoy the most. And you can't measure that; it's more of a feeling. And its self fulfilling, because the minute the workers realised that I was actually committed to improving the farm and their lifestyle, and understanding that we were going to grow and why, we started discovering a lot of things together.
ML: What do you love most about what you do?
RA: Watching how passion and persistence has rewards for all involved. It’s not always monetary. There are many different rewards for running a coffee business: pride from a job that´s acknowledged by our clients; personal bonds with people involved in the farm; and the challenge of seeking varieties and practices that improve the quality of our coffee. To name just a few.
ML: Describe your typical day?
RA: My life is encompassed in trying to find a balance between family, personal, and business goals. This daily challenge is somewhat cumbersome and almost never the same. Routines are the exception, not the rule. Life is always interesting this way…
ML: You have learnt a lot about coffee in a relatively short period of time. At Market Lane, El Aguila is one of our favourite coffees from El Salvador. What do you think the secret is behind your exceptional quality and complex cup profile?
RA: Clearly, the farm’s location is a crucial factor. We couldn't brag about our work if coffee-growing conditions weren't so optimal at El Aguila. The rest is simply consistent, intelligent, logical, passionate hard work.
ML: What are you excited about?
RA: I’m excited that Australians love our coffee!!! And that we’ve managed to find excellent commercial partners to properly represent our coffee, our values, and our passion for what we do.