Creating a Stir: The well-crafted cuppa

Tal Bodenstein’s coffee amounts to much more than a hill of beans.

Tal Bodenstein (photo credit: Courtesy)
Tal Bodenstein
(photo credit: Courtesy)
At the Loveat cafés, there’s a story in every cup of coffee.
Tal Bodenstein is the founder of the six cafés, all in the Tel Aviv area.
He makes sure that every steaming cup is brewed from organic, fair-trade coffee beans. In fact, he personally visits the plantations to ensure quality.
“I travel often to Mexico, Papua New Guinea, the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica and Ethiopia,” says Bodenstein. “It’s easy for me to call up a supplier in Germany and order this or that, but I prefer to tour the plantations and bring the coffee back myself.
I seek out farmers who use organic agricultural methods and who sell by fair-trade rules. My local representative takes me to the plantations, where I meet the farmers and their families.
We take photographs of each other.
They take me to the kids’ schools and out to the coffee groves. I’ve become good friends with many of those farmers.
They have a personal feeling for the coffee. Like me, they understand and want high quality.”
A dedication to excellence, a slowfood approach and a certain idealism form the backbone of the Loveat concept.
Bodenstein partners with an ecological coffee project based in Milan that is helping save Indonesia’s orangutans.
Investors adopt one of 200 coffee plantations in Borneo or Sumatra, ensuring the farmer’s livelihoods on condition that their crops don’t damage the rain forest habitat essential to the apes’ survival.
“And the coffee is perfect, grown and processed with love,” remarks Bodenstein. “That’s the sort of project I like to get involved with.”
Fair-trade principles are defined as fair payment and sustainable development for poor farmers (or producers) and their employees. An important proviso is that no child or forced labor is involved in the production of goods.
Certification by a respected third party ensures trust in the international market. But obstacles sometimes stand between a farmer and fair trade.
Certification costs can be much higher than marginalized small farmers can afford. In addition, many governments in developing countries have hide-bound repressive policies that impede local co-op societies.
These societies could potentially unite small farmers and help them export their goods. Politics aside, what should be normal procedure sometimes develops into a logistical puzzle.
“In Ethiopia, for example, arranging transportation is a huge headache,” says Bodenstein. “You never know what you’re going to get or when you’ll get it. But I’m dedicating time and effort to overcoming these problems.
I want Ethiopian coffee to make up about 20 percent of my stock.”
With regard to ensuring that no child labor is involved in Loveat’s coffee, Bodenstein emphatically says, “There is no child labor on our plantations.
Our farmers must agree to our agendas. But understand, in many cultures children naturally help in the family business. My own 14-yearold comes to help sometimes. It’s a good thing for a child with a little extra time to help his father out, to get a real feeling for crop production. But there’s a difference between that and a child who’s forced to work in the coffee groves all day to bring money in instead of going to school.”
But how can he check compliance on every farm all the time? Bodenstein explains, “There’s a certain trust between us and the farmer.
There has to be trust in business.”
The seasoned businessman adds, “I think that fair trade is moral. That’s how my parents brought me up. And if that sounds naïve, I’m not against sounding naïve. I opened a nonprofit called Face to Face Coffee in Costa Rica and in Mexico seven years ago. The local governments wouldn’t allow it to take off. I proposed eliminating third parties, sidestepping government brokerage in coffee and even the coffee cooperatives. It means taking money out of one’s pocket and paying the farmers directly in cash. The farmers would gain from this. They could afford more and better equipment, have a higher quality of life. They could afford to pay their employees more if there were no more commissions to intermediaries. I gave a lecture in a Costa Rican hotel about Face to Face Coffee in English. Farmers, bankers and coffee businesspeople came to hear. The response was great. Scores of people approached me to hear more afterward. We didn’t manage to make this into a successful company – I got into some legal hot water with my ideas. But I believe that we’ll succeed in the end. You need a lot of energy and ambition to overcome these problems,” he says.
Bodenstein’s wife, Liat, manages the finances of the business.
“Without her, there wouldn’t be a business,” says Bodenstein with a smile, “because I deal with people and coffee, the romantic side, the creativity. We have two marvelous children, who have drunk coffee from an early age. They haven’t had ill effects from drinking a little coffee in lots of hot milk.”
What else is eco-friendly about Loveat’s coffee? “We roast the coffee in an artisanal way, over gas heat,” Bodenstein explains.
“It takes 35 minutes, compared to other commercial coffees processed in hot air and cranked out in 10 minutes.
It’s not as profitable as the quick way, but it’s our way. I myself drink at least 10 cups of coffee a day, and I feel great. My medical exams are fine. Loveat coffee is relatively low in caffeine.
It’s pure, from roast to cup.
“The coffee bags and takeaway bags and even the cups and plates are biodegradable.
We import this packaging from the US or Germany, true, but no one sells these items in Israel. We give our coffee grounds for compost to the organic farm that supplies our vegetables.
We make everything on our menus in-house. And all our ingredients are fresh, seasonal and bought locally,” he elaborates.
Every Loveat branch houses a recycling bin, where glass and paper are separated.
Bodenstein concludes, “I hope that with a successful model based on fair trade, I’m helping to change the way business is run.”
At the Loveat branches, freshly ground coffee may be bought by weight, almost right out of the roaster.
Apart from coffee, Loveat offers breakfast, sandwiches, salads, fresh juices and pastries.
As for new developments, Loveat is soon opening a new line of chocolate beverage that contains 80% to 100% cocoa. Bodenstein says that the management is debating about opening a kosher branch in the future but that currently, most of the focus is on opening a Loveat branch in Manhattan.
Loveat is on Facebook, and its branches (not kosher) can be found at (in Hebrew).