Buna was conceived in the afternoon of the last day of the last millenium, in our family kitchen in Denmark, over cups of coffee with friends from Ethiopia.
I'd done the research - it was the best coffee to be found in all Copenhagen. Locally roasted! We laughed. For years, we'd all been drinking locally-roasted bun'na in the planet's biological source of arabica. We knew the difference. A really delicious cup from a Bodum pot every morning, robust espresso with uncomplicated flavors after lunch, office homebrew in the afternoon, and a full-tilt coffee ceremony most weekends. Espresso macchiato at Mokarar - that is special coffee, we nostalgically agreed.
By the end of the day, it made sense for the unemployed communications consultant, neé journalist, to jump into the coffee business. Wondwossen could obtain an export license, I'd get one to import - and sell Mokarar in Denmark! Danes'll love it!
As things would play out, getting into the roasted coffee export and import businesses - a unique category - was a surprisingly relatively straightforward process. The Ethiopian government, very protective of its primary natural economic resource, had already opened the statutory pathways to exporting roasted beans, though hadn't figured out how to pull it off in the international marketplace: The tail, as is it's nature, thought only of wagging the dog.
Denmark not only presented no prohibitions, but in certain circumstances offered assistance to businesses importing products in their "finished" stages from certain developing nations. Unfortunately, Ethiopia wasn't on the list, so nevermind. Within a week of conception Buna Etiopisk Kaffe (Ethiopian Coffee) was a registered import and retail sales company.
In all of Ethiopia's 83 languages,
buna means "coffee". Buna motto
Although I'd made my way, marginally at least, in freelance journalism and photography for more than a decade, "Business" lay totally outside my previous experience. That was my first mistake. But the idea was solid: the numbers added up.
For every good reason for something to succeed, there are 12 perfectly good excuses why it can fail.
A typical bunabet, in Jinka, serving traditional afternoon coffee brewed in the urn over the smoking firepot.
The best espresso in the world is brewed just a hundred meters up the road from the Jinka airport, at the Oorit Hotel bar. Take my word for it!
#1: Never get into business for the idea;
get into business for the business.
A business that does not turn a profit is not a
business, which does not bode well for the idea.
The most exciting thing happening in Jinka is not watching the scheduled arrival of the Ethiopian Airlines plane -
- it's the departure!
Virtually all coffee on the planet is grown in developing countries. Buna was the first company in the history of coffee to import roasted beans from the country of origin - creating a niche market, while transferring a portion of the product's value directly to the nation's small businesses, stimulating local economies, encouraging employment, opening... Anyway, that was the idea.