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Bold, Black and brewtiful: Local coffee brings cultural roots to Indiana

Importin’ Joe’s Ethiopian Coffee is one of few minority manufacturers in the city of South Bend and one of three nationally distributed Black-owned coffee companies in America sourcing their coffee from Ethiopia

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Bold, Black and brewtiful: Local coffee brings cultural roots to Indiana
Joseph Luten and his wife, Afomia visits her home country every year to source their coffee. (Photos provided by Importin’ Joe’s Ethiopian Coffee)

When Joseph Luten and his Ethiopian wife, Afomia, would visit her home country, he noticed coffee was weaved into the way of life for the people.

“I actually hated coffee before I came to Ethiopia. When I tasted this coffee, especially with my refined palate, I said, ‘Oh my.’ Fruit and berries and chocolate and all kinds of crazy flavors,” said Luten.

Ethiopia, internationally recognized as the birthplace of coffee, is renowned for its “buna” ceremony. It is a communal tradition involving the roasting, grinding and brewing of beans.

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Ethiopian coffee

A key aspect of proper social etiquette is to inhale the aroma of the roasted beans before they are ground and to enjoy three cups of coffee in the company of others.

“Buna means coffee. They light frankincense and myrrh. They offer a prayer and roast the coffee over a cold fire by hand in a small pan. Then, they grind the coffee and brew it in this old ancient traditional pot called a jebena,” said Luten.

This sparked an entrepreneurial endeavor that the couple called Importin’ Joe’s Ethiopian Coffee.

Bold, Black and brewtiful: Local coffee brings cultural roots to Indiana
Ethiopians grind coffee and brew it in a traditional pot called a jebena. (Photos provided by Importin’ Joe’s Ethiopian Coffee)

The couple brought coffee to Mishawaka, Indiana, introducing the coffee to Indiana grocery shoppers to provide them with a warm way to start their mornings.

They travel to Ethiopia every year and source their coffee exclusively from the country.

“We started in the middle of Covid when I got laid off; ended up cashing out our life savings of $4,000. It ain’t much, but it is what it is. We got to work and built the company from our living room,” said Luten.

Importin’ Joe’s Ethiopian Coffee

He said his wife and he traveled throughout Indiana, Illinois and Ohio to grow the brand at festivals and fairs.

The business grew, with consumers supporting the unique flavor of the coffee.
They are now the primary coffee providers for the University of Notre Dame, north of South Bend.

Meijer, the American supercenter chain that mainly serves the Midwest, introduced the coffee to its shelves last year.

“Our whole purpose for starting the company is to bring awareness to the issue of child homelessness in Ethiopia,” said Luten.

Along with fighting to eradicate childhood homelessness overseas, Importin’ Joe’s Ethiopian Coffee simultaneously invests into the social fabric of marginalized communities in the U.S.

Bold, Black and brewtiful: Local coffee brings cultural roots to Indiana
The couple taste tests for a variety of Ethiopian coffees they want to bring back to U.S. (Photos provided by Importin’ Joe’s Ethiopian Coffee)

Project Impact, an initiative in South Bend, offers resources to support minority-owned businesses like Importin’ Joe’s Ethiopian Coffee.

Luten acknowledges the company’s dependence on such support to attain its goals, which encompass scaling up to a new 4,200-square-foot facility.

They are working to create a small sustainable community in Ethiopia that would accommodate up to 15,000 orphan children.

Contact staff writer Jade Jackson at 317-607-5792 or by email JadeJ@IndyRecorder.com. Follow her on Twitter @IAMJADEJACKSON

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