Curating a Better World
I had the pleasure of spending an afternoon with Amyie and Daniel Kao, owners of Mariposa Coffee Roastery, as they did a production coffee cupping session. For those who aren’t coffee aficionados, a production cupping session is a process for quality control. The roaster will make a mini brew of each of their flavors, breathing them in and tasting them to ensure the roast has picked up the desired aspects of the bean.
In all honestly, I am not much of an avid coffee drinker (blush), but learning about the process and experience even made me want to join in, especially after chatting with Amyie and Daniel and hearing more about their story and passion for their product. Even beyond that, I was captured by their heart for creating and nurturing a socially- minded company that has a positive global impact.
Amyie and Daniel set aside a portion of Mariposa’s proceeds to partner with Water4, a local nonprofit that helps give people access to clean water, specifically in the regions where Mariposa’s coffee beans are grown (like where?). Last year, Amyie recently gave a TEDx talk about how your cup of coffee can connect you to the world; one of her most resonating comments was the statement, “local actions can have a global impact.” I love this way of thinking big-picture, and I love Mariposa’s goal: “To honor the hard work that is poured into every single coffee bean that’s gone before us.”
I asked the Kaos to tell me a little bit more about themselves and their business:
Names?: Amyie and Daniel Kao
Business Name?: Mariposa Coffee Roastery
When did you start Mariposa? 2009
Are you Oklahoma City/Norman Natives? If not, how did you end up here?
Amyie: I am an Oklahoma City native, born and raised between Midtown and the Plaza District off of Northwest 10th Street. My parents still live there today.
Daniel: I consider myself to be a Norman native. I was born in Bartlesville and lived in Norman and Tulsa as a child. I was the first class to graduate from Truman Elementary in Norman, left for Tulsa when I was 12 and returned to Norman for college and have been here ever since.
What is your most vivid food memory from when you were young?
Amyie: I remember walking barefoot in my grandmother’s garden and feeling the soil between my toes. She grew most of the veggies that we ate. I was fascinated by smells and bright colors. Many of her seeds were heirloom varieties that traveled with her throughout the years, each with its own story.
What is your favorite bean variety?
Amyie: Ethiopia Sidama Ardi
Daniel: Ethiopia Yirgacheffe Kemgin
What inspired you to start a coffee roastery?
Daniel: It was serendipitous, really. I was fascinated by how far each bean had to travel, the transformation of taste during roasting, and the endless tinkering that comes with crafting specialty coffee.
We were just two broke college students, really. I didn’t have money for an actual roaster so I used an old-fashioned popcorn popper and later built one from a barbecue grill. In the beginning, we planned to use our passion for coffee to fight injustice in the industry, yet we both ended up falling in love with the actual art of craft coffee. There is so much injustice tied to the specialty coffee business, and we realized that perfecting our craft and operating rightly is just as important as partnering with nonprofits and trying to have a positive impact outside of our industry. We want to do the coffee itself justice by creating the perfect cup that celebrates taste notes from its origin—but we also want to do what we can to help our local and global community by trading fairly.
What do you do to help ensure that your company is having a positive global impact?
Amyie: In the beginning, we rotated between different local and global causes, but then we realized that there is so much unmet social responsibility within our own industry. We were shocked to find that our number one ingredient and the very tool we use to curate some of the best-handpicked coffees were often not available to the very people picking coffee cherries. After we discovered the overlap between economic water scarcity and coffee growing regions, we haven’t stopped advocating and saving funds to build wells in these regions.
What would you say was your biggest challenge to overcome?
Daniel: Running a business together and making sure our family didn’t get caught in the crossfire. With both of us heavily involved, it’s easy to constantly talk about work, especially when we first started. We had to realize that work would always be there. That’s not the same for family—kids don’t always stay kids.
How have your family backgrounds impacted the way you run your business?
Amyie: We do things like leave our phones by the door when we get home. It means a smaller social media presence, but we feel like its makes our presence more authentic. We want to be fully present in life but it’s also important that the Mariposa coffee consumer feels a part of the things we do, too. We don’t have the balance completely figured out yet, but we are trying to stay true.
What is the most rewarding part of your business?
Daniel: Crafting and curating coffee is a magical process. Each coffee shrub takes years of cultivation, endless hours of picking, processing, and travel. When it gets to us, we obsess over the perfect roast profile. We feel that we hold in our hands the responsibility to create something meaningful.
We love that coffee is more than just a beverage. It holds the power to enrich the atmosphere of an ordinary gathering, but also has the potential to create economic change.
Tell us about your food & business theory.
Amyie: There are some things that make coffee feel ephemeral. It’s an adventure for us as small business owners. We find there is always something new to learn, and the more we delve into the science of the coffee, the more we experiment with our brew parameters and roasting technique. Food is both subjective and universally experienced—it’s interesting how the context of culture can shape one’s perception of taste. Yet for a business, it can be a challenge to balance identity and craft.
What is your favorite part of your business?
Daniel: For us, coffee is more than a beverage. Endless hours of labor and sweat are poured into the cultivation, harvest, and processing of each coffee bean. Locked within each bean are delicate flavors and aromas waiting to be released. We handcraft each small batch with the hope of honoring all the hard work that preceded our step in the process.
As craft roasters, we value the art of coffee. A single origin coffee can vary so much from season to season. The terroir of the coffee— the soil quality, altitude of growth, origin, and roasting technique— brings out the finer details of flavors hidden within a coffee bean.
If you had advice to anyone who might be starting a business like yours, what would it be?
Daniel: You will never truly know how passionate you are about something unless you sacrifice every ambition to run after it. I look back at our old ambitions, and all of them have been shelved for Mariposa. Was it worth it? Absolutely. It’s helped us come to know ourselves in a truly authentic way.
Where do you hope to see Mariposa in 5 years?
Amyie: Hopefully, we’ll continue to hone our craft and technique but also have an inviting cafe space of our own where we can host gatherings and events. We want to add value to our community. And we hope we’re inspiring those that have a dream to share their creativity with others.
Is there anything else about your small business that you’re passionate about?
Enjoying coffee is, in many ways, a universal experience. It wakes us up on weary mornings, transforms the atmosphere of gatherings, and, warms us on chilly days. There’s something magical about stories shared over coffee and the traditions that include it. We believe coffee is a key component in building community and encouraging creativity.
Where can we find Mariposa Coffee in Oklahoma City?
SHOP GOOD, Native Roots, Collected Thread and occasionally, Kitchen 324.
What is your favorite dessert?
Amyie: It depends on the season and the occasion—maybe meyer lemon sorbet during the summer and creme brûlée in the winter.
Daniel: A homemade Chinese egg tart—it brings me back to the memories of my childhood.
What is your favorite artist/album?
Amyie: This one is tough—all time favorite? I’d say “Winter Trees” by the Staves.
Daniel: I never thought I’d say it: Elton John. His “Tumbleweed Connection” album, is definitely an all-time classic.
What would an ideal night on the town be for you?
Amyie: Having grown up in OKC, I am pretty content with a run or stroll downtown/ dropping into a local joint for a snack. We haven’t had much space to pursue other hobbies since starting our business, but it would be fun to hit up the rock gym and climb again.
Daniel: Enjoying the unique aspects of the city with each other and having those memories.
Thank you so much Amyie & Daniel for sharing a little bit of your vision and heart behind Mariposa!