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Refugee-Roasted Kavka Coffee Sends Support from Maine to Ukraine

Maksym Isakov Kavka Coffee

Kavka Coffee Founder Maksym Isakov. All images courtesy of Kavka Coffee.

A new company in Maine called Kavka Coffee has started roasting and selling Ukrainian-style blends while donating at least $1 from each purchase to humanitarian efforts in Ukraine.

Kavka Coffee owner Maksym Isakov, a refugee from Ukrainian city of Vinnytsya, launched the website for the company in December of last year, roughly four months after relocating with his young family to Lincolnville, Maine.

Green coffees are purchased through Lincolnville-based Green Tree Coffee & Tea, a seller of green and roasted coffees and teas that also operates a retail cafe. Green Tree owner John Ostrand trained Isakov on roasting using his Diedrich, and Isakov now rents time on the machine for Kavka production.

“I came with almost nothing to the United States, so John made me a generous offer to teach me and share his experience,” Isakov told Daily Coffee News. “I tried to reach out to a couple local roasters just to chat with them, to exchange experience, but they were afraid of competition. John was laughing from all this stuff, and he said if you do your business properly, you should never be afraid of competition.”

Kavka Coffee Roaster

Isakov with John Ostrand of Green Tree Coffee & Tea.

In order to achieve the cup profile Isakov recalls from his home in Ukraine, blending is essential. While preferring to keep the specific components of his Ukrainian-style blends a secret for now, Isakov said that Indonesian coffees play a strong role in forming the balance of flavors.

“About 75% of the coffee I’ve tried here, and I tried a lot of coffee, is bitter,” Isokov said. “Americans love this kind of stuff, but I’m offering something different, and already people are really liking it.”

Kavka is not Isakov’s first coffee business, nor is this his first time living in Maine. In 2015, Isakov came to Lincolnville on a four-month work and travel program organized through a student exchange network. He opted not to travel much, instead staying put to earn money working at a local motel where he met the woman who would later become his wife.

In Ukraine, the couple started a retail coffee company that eventually grew to three company-owned locations and seven franchises before it was acquired by a larger company. By that time Isakov had also started a small car dealership business that he was able to expand after the sale of the coffee company.

Kavka Coffee bags

All of that came screeching to a halt in February, 2022, upon the launch of Russia’s military invasion. Within a week of the first shots being fired, Isakov sent his wife and children to Poland, and he began volunteering his time, money and resources to support Ukraine’s defense and especially the civilians affected.

“My friend started this NGO [Zhytomyr Humanitarian Hub] and we were just working as volunteers buying food with our private money. We never raised money,” said Isakov. “Elon Musk sent a lot of Starlinks, so we used to pick them up in Poland and brought them to Zhytomyr.”

For every bag of coffee now sold by Kavka Coffee, the company gives $1 to The Zhytomyr Humanitarian Hub. When providing free delivery service to local customers around the Camden and Lincolnville areas, Isakov also collects clothing, food and other donated items for shipment to Zhytomyr.

Kavka Coffee green

Within a year, Isakov intends to purchase roasting equipment and secure a production space for Kavka’s continued expansion via wholesale sales and e-commerce. All the while he will continue to welcome and encourage as much support for the people of Ukraine as anyone is willing to give, in whatever form it takes.

“When [the war] first started we had plenty of support, we had plenty donations and now the situation is even more terrible, but people get tired,” said Isakov. “I see my mission as just to remind people that some people need macaroni, some people need water, a piece of bread. Let’s forget about politics. Let the politicians do that job. Let’s be human beings and let’s just support regular families.”

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