Proyecto Diaz Coffee Builds on Four Generations of Tradition
Emily Peterson, CUESA Intern
April 17, 2020
Fernando Diaz and his family have a lineage rooted in coffee. Though Proyecto Diaz Coffee started roasting beans in 2014, the Diaz family’s history stretches back to the early 1900s, when Fernando’s great-grandfather began growing coffee in Oaxaca, Mexico.
That legacy persists today; Fernando’s grandfather Juan continues to grow coffee on his farm, El Carmen. The company lives out its slogan—”caffeinate with purpose”—through direct trade sourcing from small producers, investing 10% of its profits back into El Carmen, and buying at above fair-trade prices.
You can now find Proyecto Diaz Coffee at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market on Saturday, Tuesday, and Thursday. Fernando shared his family’s history in coffee, as well as how they have been impacted and are adapting amidst the current crisis.
First off, how are you doing? How is the current crisis impacting Proyecto Diaz Coffee, and how are you adapting?
Our wholesale business, which is our main business, has dropped 80% as of now. We had to layoff two employees, take salary cuts, and of course, there’s added uncertainty. We’ve pivoted by asking friends and family to order online and share our online webstore. We’ve also begun to tell everyone that we’re at the CUESA farmers market serving coffee in what we believe is a healthier grocery shopping setting, outdoors and in the open air. In terms of safety, we’re taking extra precautions to limit exposure, and taking extra sanitary measures, such as sanitizing our POS system, counters, and other equipment frequently.
How did you get started in coffee?
I was working at an immigration law firm right out of college and started drinking a lot of coffee. I grew up knowing my grandfather had a coffee farm, but it never quite clicked—I only ever thought of it as a generic farm, and not so much, “Oh, we grow coffee!”
We’ve been in coffee for over one hundred years. My great-grandfather grew coffee, and my grandfather grows coffee. My uncle and cousins are growing coffee in Oaxaca, Mexico. I grew up in California, so I wasn’t on the farm myself, but I grew up hearing about the coffee farm. I already knew a lot about coffee, but only from the stories my grandfather and dad would tell me. I took a job at a coffee roastery to introduce myself to it, and that’s really where I got a lot of my hands-on experience with the coffee industry.
What inspired you to start Proyecto Diaz Coffee?
I saw the special care and attention that goes into roasting, selecting, and importing coffee. My family has been growing coffee for generations, and I wanted to continue that legacy. Many roasters aren’t actually coming from a coffee-producing country or family—I wanted to tell this story in a way that’s not just a story, but a history embedded into who we are as a family.
Proyecto means “project” in Spanish and Diaz is our last name. I wanted to create a company that would help with projects. The first project was rebuilding my grandfather’s coffee farm, El Carmen. We’re always undertaking an ongoing project that the company is helping rebuild. I want to make sure that we’re consistent in building on history and being a catalyst for change and revitalization with projects like El Carmen.
Can you tell us a little bit more about the art on your coffee bags?
Right now we have two primary designs: a green one and a red one. I painted those two images; originally, I wanted to go into fine art, but I decided that starting a business was probably a better career choice! The green design conveys a feeling of freshness, with leaves and plants; the green ones are all single-origin coffee. The red ones are a blend; when you look at them, there are layers of brushstrokes. My wife Hannah does all of the design—everything you see on the bag, like font and logo placement, are details that she carefully places to guide the eye. We are very hands-on.
What values drive your business?
At the end of the day, we’re a coffee roasting company. We’re not reinventing the wheel. We are doing something that’s been done for a very long time, but that’s also what makes it special. In regards to our values and philosophy, we value impact. We give 10% of our profit back into the farm. We want to be able to help out the small producer because in the end, we are the small producer.
In terms of sustainability, we purchase our coffee by making sure that much of it is direct trade. If we go through an importer, we make sure that all of the information is transparent—how much is the importer paying its growers? Who and where are the growers? What programs are being used at farm level to help sustain their coffee farming? Our producers do not use pesticides or herbicides because the entire coffee ecosystem is affected.
Is there anything else you want people to know about Proyecto Diaz Coffee?
One coffee that many people love is our El Corazon
What sets us apart from other roasters is that we are one of the very few roasters that is rooted in coffee. We didn’t wake up one day and decide to start working with coffee—it’s been in our blood for a very long time. We share the same story with all the small-scale producers that we’re working with.
My wife and I started the business itself, but we didn’t start off as husband and wife; we were business partners that fell into romance. My dad played a role by supporting us financially. A year and a half ago, he quit his job to come work full-time with us as a coffee roaster. My dad roasts the coffee, I do outreach and coffee selection, and my wife does production and design. At the core, everything is done by family.
What gives you hope in these uncertain times?
Honestly, it’s been wonderful to see how everyone is rallying around each other and, personally, how people are rallying around us. Another thing that has been keeping us really hopeful is this farmers market; it is one of the only steady forms of revenue we have at the moment. Finally, we’ve been fortunate to see people thank us for being at the farmers market, which has been humbling and an honor to be here with the other producers.
Photos courtesy of Proyecto Diaz Coffee.
Topics: Food makers