[Note: Click here to go directly to the Gofundme campaign to help Botánica rebuild following an April 19 break-in.]
Noting a lack of specialty coffee options in Quito, Ecuador, in 2014, Camila Khalifé founded Botánica (Instagram link), offering coffee and fresh fare in a comfortable and welcoming environment.
“In the first years I got more and more involved in learning about coffee quality,” Khalifé recently told DCN. “I was amazed with the fact that coffee could have all these layers, flavors, complexity — and also by the fact that, despite living in a coffee-producing country, very few people knew about this.”
Soon after opening, Khalifé dove headfirst into the coffee side of the business, traveling to the United States to gain skills and knowledge, earning Q Grader certification and becoming a WBC Certified Sensory Judge.
By 2018, Botánica’s official name changed from Botánica Café Jardín to Botánica Laboratorio de Café, reflecting the business’s focus on specialty coffee quality development and experimentation, with a particular emphasis on supporting Ecuadorian producers.
“I started investing in lab equipment — a huller, a sample roaster, screens, cupping tables, etc. — so we could do both training and provide quality analysis services to producers and buyers, while continuing being a café,” Khalifé said.
After a short stint as a quality coordinator for an Ecuadorian exporter while managing to navigate through the pandemic with the help of her sister and now business partner Juliana, Khalifé partnered in late 2021 with Ecuadorian coffee expert and Q Grader Betania “Beta” Campo to host more community-focused programming.
“In 2022 we developed Girlsplaining, a community event designed to highlight women’s professionalism, experience and ability to share knowledge,” Khalifé said. “We consider Botánica a safe space where everyone can come and learn with no fear of being ashamed or judged, which may sound obvious, but to be honest, our learning and working experience has been spiked with biases, condescension [and] sexism… We wanted to make sure to get rid of all these and build a space where anyone can feel comfortable.”
The business also recently launched Baristeen, a program designed for teenagers who are interested in working in coffee.
All these efforts came to a screeching late last month when Botánica’s brick-and-mortar business was broken into. Assailants made away with the lab’s prize possession, an approximately $4,000 sample roaster, as well as an audio console, smaller coffee equipment, all the shop’s merchandise, coffees and cash. (A Gofundme campaign is currently helping Botánica rebuild.)
Unable to guarantee the safety of staff moving forward while realizing the costs that additional security might require, the partners made the heartbreaking decision to shut down the cafe side of the business.
However, Botánica is determined to grow again, this time focusing exclusively on the lab and community development and training side of the business.
Within Botánica’s spacious and comfortable environment, the business has started hosting some SCA courses and plans to soon host its first Q Grader skills workshops and courses through a connection with seasoned coffee professional Todd Arnette.
In the first week of June, the Botánica crew plans to host a new Girlsplaining event in collaboration with Latinas in Coffee with the support of local producers. In August, Botánica plans to host a roasting training course in the Amazon in collaboration with Witoca Coffee, a young coffee company focused on fine robusta production. The team is also planning to host its first Coffee Camp, a coffee-focused summer camp for teenagers.
All these efforts naturally require investments and community participation, which is why Khalifé’s colleagues at The Chain Collaborative stepped up to launch the Gofundme.
“We want to focus on recovering the lost equipment and expanding training opportunities,” said Khalifé, noting that she and Campos are both continuing to pursue various coffee trainer certifications. “We may have the knowledge and the skills, but the reality is many people seek certificates. We have a beautiful, almost fully equipped space, and we want to put it to use for the whole range — from community events to highly specialized certifications.”
Does your coffee business have news to share? Let DCN’s editors know here.
Nick Brown is the editor of Daily Coffee News by Roast Magazine.