Don Miguel Fernandez dreamed of launching his own line of coffee using the beans he cultivated on his farms in Honduras. While he was not able to achieve his dream because of his untimely passing, the coffee beans he grew did help send his three children to Texas A&M University.
When the siblings inherited the farms following Don Miguel’s death, they were inexperienced in the ultra-competitive world of coffee.
They had seen their father produce and sell coffee beans for market price in Honduras. The buyers, in turn, would mix the product with coffee from other farms, selling it as commercial coffee that fetched a higher price.
The siblings understood that to keep a profitable business, they would need to explore the option of exporting the coffee beans themselves. Lacking knowledge of the industry, however, they were unsure how to proceed.
That is when Irene Fernandez ‘05, the youngest of the siblings, began to look for help. During her research, she learned that Texas A&M was home to The Center for Coffee Research and Education. The center, housed within Texas A&M AgriLife Research’s Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture and Development, is one of only two centers for coffee in the U.S.
Irene Fernandez contacted the center, hoping it could provide the knowledge and guidance she and her brothers needed to operate the farm.
“They needed training,,” said Eric Brenner, assistant director of the Coffee Center. “We started working with her to see if we could set up training for them.”
A crash course in coffee
Brenner arranged training for Irene and her two brothers, Miguel IV ‘00 and Francisco ‘02, setting up a week of instruction that Brenner described as “from mountaintop to tabletop.”
The siblings learned the ins and outs of coffee production. They learned how the crop is grown and what needs to be done from an agricultural perspective to ensure a good product.
“We had to learn about the industry and the things we had only heard about as kids,” said Miguel Fernandez. “We needed to make it an industry and a business for our family.”
They were educated on cupping — the practice of observing the tastes and aromas of brewed coffee for quality — and learned about the roasting process. Since Brenner is not a roaster, he connected the siblings with Rodrigo Chavez, who owns What’s The Buzz Specialty Coffee in College Station. Additionally, one of the coffee center’s partners, Voltage Coffee, shared business insight with the Fernandez siblings.
“We were able to create a tailored training that addressed every link of the value chain from the production side all the way to the commercial side,” Brenner said.
Putting the new-found knowledge to work
Armed with information and a new perspective on the coffee industry, the siblings returned to their native Honduras to begin working toward Don Miguel’s dream to roast and export his own brand of coffee.
That was in February, and seven months later, the siblings returned to College Station and What’s The Buzz, which purchased the first pallet, 1,600 pounds of coffee beans, to launch the Don Miguel coffee brand.
“We are so happy to celebrate this wonderful achievement of yours,” said Roger Norton, Ph.D., director of The Center for Coffee Research and Education and research professor in the Department of Agricultural Economics in the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “Hats off to you because in one year, here we are, and it is amazing that you’ve gone this far so fast. Coffee is a complex industry, and we are just delighted that you reached out to us, and we want to continue this relationship.”
An emotional day
The launch day for their product was emotional for the siblings, not only because they were fulfilling their father’s vision, but also because it was taking place on his birthday and in a town that held a special place in his heart.
“We would not be here if not for Eric and Rodrigo,” said Irene Fernandez. “And the fact that it is Aggieland and that my dad loved this town so much is really a blessing.”
The emotions were evident as the siblings scooped their coffee beans into the roaster and then filled the bags with their father’s name on the final product.
“I am never going to let this go,” said Francisco Fernandez as he clutched a freshly packed bag of coffee beans with the Don Miguel label.
A full-circle moment
It only seemed natural to the siblings that they reach out to the coffee center to help provide the business acumen they needed to take over the family farm. After all, Texas A&M provided them with their college education, and the coffee farm made it possible.
“They told me that if it wasn’t for coffee, they would not be here,” Chavez said. “The coffee farms and their father’s hard work paid for their studies at Texas A&M. He would be so proud.”