A 24-year-old Fife coffee professional in training overcame issues with anxiety to organise his first solo foreign trip – to learn about coffee in Ethiopia and work towards a career as a green coffee buyer.
Leo Hector, from Ladybank, landed a job at social enterprise We Are Zest Café in St Andrews after impressing on an eight-week post-college work experience placement during which he gained more control over his anxiety. The self-funding ethical café provides training and paid work for people with additional support needs to help them learn valuable work skills and maintain or achieve employment.
Leo developed a passion for coffee after learning more about it from owner Lisa Cathro. After he set himself a career goal to become a green coffee buyer, Lisa suggested he go to Ethiopia to learn further on one of the coffee tours organised by her friend Joost Leopold, a Speciality Coffee Association trainer and coffee expert.
So, in September, Leo set about organising the 10-day trip after he got the backing of his parents. The group set off on October 27 and after, arriving in Addis Ababa, they spent a day visiting coffee related places including the Ethiopian coffee exchange (ECX) – the Government market place where coffee is traded nationally and internationally.
They later visited a centre where the beans are graded, a storage facility, plantations and got to pick coffee cherries. Leo even got a pat on the shoulder from a farmer – which means he picked well! The group also visited Mankira forest, the location where the first coffee tree was found, and sampled different varieties. Leo and the group also learned about the financial side of buying and exporting.
“For someone who wants to be in this industry, the trip was very beneficial,” says Leo. “This trip has given me more understanding of coffee processing and lots more on the economics of coffee trading.
“I’m going to continue developing my coffee knowledge and gaining more experience, so I can find a job where I can increase my portfolio and get a foothold in the industry.
“I’m so grateful to Lisa for giving me that opportunity! Lisa is someone who will help to get you where you want to be. She’s made me believe in myself and my capabilities to go forward in life and for that I’m truly thankful.”
“Putting the coffee aside, I learned that I can’t take anything for granted because we can get what we want when we want it but Ethiopian people can’t. Seeing it first-hand has changed my outlook on life – not to take things for granted and to appreciate everything I have.
“One of the highlights for me was visiting a wild coffee plantation which grows in the cloud forests in Kaffa. It was stunning and just listening to the owner talk so enthusiastically about how coffee should be grown and how people should respect the coffee more was inspiring.”
Lisa Cathro says: “The whole Zest team are really proud of Leo for pursuing his goals and pushing himself to keep learning and developing. I have no doubt Leo will get to where he wants to be career-wise and we’re happy to have played a part in his journey.”
Joost Leopold said: “Leo shared a great interest in the coffee trade. Maybe one day in future he will be a green coffee buyer. Leo showed lots of enthusiasm during the trip and it was obvious that this experience was a crucial step for him.”