A young Grand Rapids coffee brand is branching into chocolate.
Joven, a spinoff of Sparrows Coffee and Shuil Coffee, recently launched its expansion into chocolate making. The brand started in 2020 when Frankie Volkema, daughter of Sparrows and School owner Tim Volkema, hoped to help support young coffee farmers from across the globe.
The industry is facing a shortage of coffee growers as the average age of farmers continues to increase. Multiple coffee growing regions, from Colombia to Tanzania, are fighting a generational gap in farmers.
Volkema became the world’s youngest coffee grader when she passed the Q test in 2019 at age 13. Joven was a GRBJ Newsmaker nominee in 2021.
Late last year, Joven expanded into sustainably sourced coffee and chocolate bars. The flagship of the bar collection is the coffee bar, made with coffee, extracted cocoa butter and cane sugar.
“On the product side, the cocoa industry is facing the same issues as the coffee industry,” Volkema said.
The idea came from Atucun Chocolateria, which is based in Honduras and has a Grand Rapids operation. The chocolatier knew of Joven’s mission to help support young coffee producers and thought it could extend toward cocoa growers as well.
Along with the coffee bar, Joven’s bar products also include a 60% dark chocolate bar. Joven’s coffee portfolio also now features the coffee used in the bar, grown in Honduras by farmer Abraham Pacheco.
The rest of Joven’s coffee portfolio includes coffee grown in Burundi, Colombia and Guatemala.
For Sparrows Coffee, which the Joven brand sits under, Tim Volkema said the coffee’s also hit on quality marks.
“We’re not just trying to buy young coffee, but it also has to be great,” he said. “The reason is so we can pay a lot for it, because a lot of these farmers don’t think they can make a good living.”
Along with local retailers, Tim Volkema said Joven is experiencing solid growth through its distribution partner Trade Coffee, a New York-based coffee company that helps promote small roasters from across the country.
“These products have really caught on the platform,” he said. “With the volume we’re able to do, we’re able to buy a meaningful proportion of a co-op’s entire harvest.”
The price is important because, adjusted for inflation, coffee growers are earning less per pound than they were 40 years ago. Many products, not just coffee, are seeing small family farms with children uninterested in continuing the family business.
Frankie Volkema is working to ensure young coffee and cocoa farmers continue in the industry, but what is in her future?
“I would love to continue with it into the future, but I’m not sure that’s exactly what I’d like to do,” she said. “I still have four years of college ahead of me, but I’d definitely love to see Joven continue and grow. I’d also love to see other companies do what we’re doing, adding more coffees from different origins and supporting young farmers.”