Law graduate Menno Simons, the founder of Trabocca, never set foot in a law office. Instead, he chose to venture into the forests of Ethiopia. He explains, “I felt I had to follow my creative capacities and my drive to explore the world.”
A job at a Dutch trading house led him to Ethiopia, where he became mesmerized by the rich history and complex profile of Ethiopian coffee. Throughout these explorative years, Menno developed a vision of his own: “My aim was to develop a niche market. I want to create, to get my boots dirty, to face the challenges and most of all: to add value in Ethiopia. By upgrading the quality of coffee, we would be able to fetch better prices for the farmers and we would be able to keep investing and to help the farmers develop themselves further.”
Menno’s passion, aim, and drive is still deeply embedded within Trabocca. But nowadays, it is shared by a team of more than 20 coffee lovers spread across Ethiopia, the Netherlands and the USA. They have one thing on their mind: sourcing great coffee. This is done by discovering new sources, developing the quality with the growers, and delivering the traceable specialty coffee to the roaster.
After finishing his law degree at the University of Amsterdam in 1996, Menno wanted to find a profession that would satisfy his passion for quality. He started trading spices, seeds and nuts at a brokerage firm and later at a trading house, both in Holland. The last company led him to Ethiopia, where he traded the first organic certified Ethiopian sesame seeds. This was his first experience overcoming serious challenges while trying to accomplish something meaningful in the trading business.
The Ethiopian’s love and pride for their coffee, as well as their appreciation of their coffee ceremonies, is astonishing. This is something which inspires Menno every day and through which he has made personal connections to the growers he works with, “Several farmers call me EthioDutch and Haile Gebre even calls me his Ethiopian son (he has seven daughters) and I adopted him as my Ethiopian father.” He estimates that he has visited this country at least seventy times.
At the same time, often working on a basis of trust to achieve what he has, he has had his fair share of challenges in the business. Many things did not go as expected, but he can also see the beauty in that. Certain milestones took a huge effort, and sometimes he had to accept serious disappointments. But lucky for him, he likes challenges, ‘if the wind is against you, you just need to row harder’, is a phrase he often uses to inspire people to not give up.
After almost twenty years of working in Ethiopia, Menno cherishes many amazing memories. Along the way he has developed many warm personal relationships with growers and exporters. His experience there brings him to the conclusion that it is a beautiful and proud country with amazing sceneries in the countryside, where travelling is more beautiful then arriving at the destination.
In Menno’s own words: “My mission is not complete yet. I always think that things can be done better, the world is not standing still. New opportunities arise. You just need to smell them, pick them up and do something good with it. I like to dream, to take calculated risks, but I’m also results driven. Ethiopia will give me enough playground to explore in this lifetime. I hope I can keep contributing my little share to the specialty coffee world, especially in Ethiopia.”