21 Apr Bean to Breakroom: A chat with Fred Cowell
A high-quality breakroom is all about creating a space for connection, collaboration, and rejuvenation in the workplace. It’s where you grab a cup of coffee while chatting with colleagues before work. It’s where you wind down for a much-needed break between tasks. Coffee is central to Coolbreakrooms and that is why we have introduced Bean to Breakroom, which focuses on the coffee industry and the unique professionals shaping it.
We had the opportunity to meet Fred Cowell, General Manager of Kauai Coffee, during our recent trip to Kauai, HI. There we explored the company’s incredible facilities and learned about their coffee’s journey from Bean to Breakroom. Fred is an expert in his field with years of experience, and he gave us his perspective on all things coffee. Check out the video from our trip and our conversation with Fred below.
Can you provide some background about what you do at Kauai Coffee Estate?
As the General Manager of Kauai Coffee, I lead and direct all aspects of the company’s operations. What’s cool about my job is that we’re vertically integrated and we’ve got a little bit of everything. We’ve got the production aspects with the orchard and the factory and the roast plan. And then we have sales aspects – online sales, our onsite visitor center, our sales to hotels and restaurants, and then our sales into retail accounts and stores throughout the state.
We’re a team of teams. For me, if I were to boil down my role, it’s to keep all of my teams operating at full capacity, matching our production with our sales, and working on brand messaging. For instance, our shift towards sustainability was a personal desire of mine, a passion that I began introducing to the team when I first came on with the company. Everybody has jumped on board and it has been great. I call myself the “Chief Troublemaker” but really, my role is to coordinate amongst our senior leaders.
How did you end up where you are today? And what does working in the coffee industry mean to you?
My family got here in the 1830s. So when I grew up in Hawaii as a child, I thought, ‘This is home. This is where we belong’. My father was in the military, so we moved around a bit, but we got to live in Hawaii quite a lot. Then I joined the military after college and went away for 20 years. My entire time away, I was dreaming of my opportunity to come home. I waited until I did a full 20 years before I retired and moved home to Hawaii. But, I was plotting my return the entire time.
When I returned, I thought to myself, ‘What can I do that would be of value?’ I was studying Japanese for a while. I got a master’s degree in international relations to go with my business degree and I began studying the coffee industry. In the mid-80s, My parents moved back to Kona and began growing coffee. Coffee was the coolest thing to me. I didn’t know that much about it as a kid. Didn’t think about it when I was in college. But, it became a passion. It connected me closer with my mom and dad and their growth in the coffee industry. I studied product, I studied marketing, and I tried to follow what was going on in the coffee industry as a whole.
Ironically, in the early ‘90s, my dad told me about the consulting job he had with this firm on Kauai that wanted to put in thousands of acres of coffees. So, I knew about Kauai Coffee even as they were being formed. In 2015, I was hired by Kauai Coffee. I now see very clearly the path that I was destined to take and now that I’m here, I pinch myself every day.
Most people drink coffee in the breakroom without giving it a second thought. What’s something they should consider?
We tend to think of coffee as a drink, and it is, but people don’t know that it’s the seed of a fruit that’s grown. I think what most people don’t think about when they order their coffee or buy it at the market is how much work it takes to produce a cup of coffee. If you were to try to grow a tree and produce coffee from that tree, it would be hours and hours of labor for literally a few cups of coffee. Each tree will yield about a pound and a half of coffee per year. So think about that in terms of maybe 80 cups of coffee. Wow! It’s very difficult work – and there are a lot of steps to the process. And all of those steps have to be done. And if you’re gonna get an exquisite cup of coffee like Kauai Coffee, they have to be done extremely well.
Aside from the caffeine kick that coffee offers, why else do you think it’s such a loved and popular beverage across the world?
I think one of the reasons that coffee is so loved, is that we’ve created a culture around coffee. What was once Folgers or Maxwell House in your kitchen percolator is now enjoyed with others in a café or the breakroom. It isn’t just about ingesting a stimulant drink. It’s about associating with other coffee drinkers. Coffee has become much more social. Even in the way that we talk to our friends about it or the way that we prepare it. Even in how we try to understand more about where it comes from or who produced it. It’s a broad world coffee community.
What do you appreciate most about coffee or the coffee industry as a whole?
The coffee industry is truly worldwide. Personally, I love when people say, “You grow coffee? I’ve never met anybody that grows coffee before.” Well, I actually don’t grow it. But my team grows it and my family grows it so I guess in a way I do grow it. I think people are genuinely curious about where their coffee comes from. The same can be said about every other food product at this point. People are curious about where it comes from. That curiosity personalizes a commodity.
I think about where I am with Kauai Coffee and where the coffee world is going. The coffee world is becoming bigger, but at the same time, it is becoming more personal. The connections are getting stronger: from the consumer to the industry, or in our case specifically, the team or grower. And I believe we will continue to see these better and better connections within the coffee world.
Coolbreakrooms is dedicated to creating better breakroom experiences in the workplace. We provide guidance, support, and a vast network of Authorized Providers who deliver superior office coffee and refreshment services. To contact us, visit our website or call (800) 795-6799(2665).