10 Minutes With Abhinav Khanal

We talk to the cofounder of Bean Voyage about the company, and how he and cofounder Sunghee Tark got to where they are today.


Cover photo by Anisha Dongol

In Costa Rica, Abhinav Khanal founded Bean Voyage, a nonprofit focused on supporting smallholder coffee producers, especially womxn and youth. We sat down with him to chat about how he got interested in the coffee industry and what success means for Bean Voyage.

Valorie Clark: What is your earliest memory of coffee? 

Abhinav Khanal: My earliest memory of coffee is from my childhood. Growing up, it was commonly believed in Nepali culture that children were not supposed to consume tea and coffee, as it relates to the growth of one’s height. However, the elders in my family consumed coffee regularly, and I loved the smell of coffee. I would secretly drink leftover coffee from my parents’ cups and would pray that it would not impact my height (although I later realized that physical appearance was a mere social construct). I was not allowed to consume any coffee until I went to high school in Canada, where coffee was the drink of choice among students pulling all-nighters to complete the International Baccalaureate program.

You’re one of the founders of Bean Voyage. Can you tell us a little bit about how you got started with this mission? 

In 2015, our cofounder Sunghee (Tark) and I traveled to Costa Rica to organize leadership workshops for local youth and womxns’ groups. During our stay, we exchanged meals and stories with the participants and learned that most of them were heavily involved in coffee production, but were considering exiting the coffee industry due to low prices. At the time, most producers were making a loss due to the high cost of production and low earning potential from international buyers. We suggested an alternative: sell us the coffee in its roasted form, and we’ll connect to the market. We started an e-commerce platform and sold origin-roasted coffee among consumers. Soon, we realized that the challenge was not just limited to direct market access, but also limited knowledge, causing an asymmetry of information for smallholder womxn coffee producers who are not able to engage in learning opportunities due to gender-based discrimination. That led to the mission for what Bean Voyage is today—a nonprofit social enterprise that provides training and market access to smallholder coffee producers, notably womxn and youth, so they can drive their communities toward a sustainable future. Our big vision: to eradicate gender-based discrimination in coffee-producing communities.

With the support of Bean Voyage, Ericka Mora has gone from submitting her cherries to cooperatives to building her own micro-mill and even roasting her own coffee for local sales. Above, Abhinav is having a meeting with Ericka to get a status report on the harvest and discuss strategies for growth in 2019-20. Photo by Marlies Gabriele Prinzl.

Did you work in the coffee industry before Bean Voyage?

Bean Voyage was my first official engagement with the coffee industry, although Sunghee and I took various courses in coffee prior to launching Bean Voyage to better understand the industry.

How does Bean Voyage measure success? 

Success to Bean Voyage is measured in three key metrics—productivity, income, and agency. Our goal is to ensure improved productivity for the participants of our programs (higher quantity and quality yield), improved incomes for the producers from coffee (currently seeing a 2x increase in income compared to base-year income), and greater agency (focused on greater engagement of womxn in their decision-making processes at home and in business).

Bean Voyage’s inaugural cohort of smallholder women coffee producers from the Frailes area of Costa Rica after successfully completing a financial planning workshop. The workshop was hosted in collaboration with Root Capital. Photo by Marlies Gabriele Prinzl.

Why Costa Rica? Do you plan to expand beyond there? 

The idea for Bean Voyage was conceptualized in Costa Rica during our trip in 2015, and we had strong relationships of trust with the producers in the communities that we visited, so it made sense for us (a Nepali and a South Korean) to move to Costa Rica to launch Bean Voyage. We are currently in the process of expanding our programs globally. Announcements coming out soon!

One of Bean Voyage’s goals is to encourage producers to consume coffee in its various forms. In collaboration with a private foundation, Bean Voyage provided its partner producers with a French press, and taught them the basics of using it to make coffee. Photo by Marlies Gabriele Prinzl.

What have you felt most proud of with Bean Voyage? 

I am proud of many things (proud cofounder here!), but the most important thing that I appreciate about our work at Bean Voyage is the culture that we curate not only with our team, but with the various stakeholders that we work with, and the way in which we form a family of coffee lovers who just want to take care of the people and planet that produce our favorite morning beverage! Personally, I am also super proud of how Sunghee and I have built up our own skills and knowledge in the coffee sector, considering we were brand-new to the sector. In fact, this year Sunghee was awarded the prestigious LEAD Scholarship, and I was honored to receive the Re:co Fellowship, which I believe is a testament to the work that we’re doing at Bean Voyage. We’re also super grateful to the entire specialty-coffee sector for welcoming us, mentoring us, and supporting us!

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Valorie Clark (@TheValorieClark) is a freelance writer with a background in specialty coffee. She is based in Los Angeles.

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