5 Minutes With: Frankie Volkema, Joven Coffee

Frankie Volkema at Sparrows Coffee. Courtesy of Frankie Volkema

Francesca “Frankie” Volkema, the world’s youngest Q grader, has created her own coffee line, Joven Coffee, to “support the future of the coffee industry by providing financial stability to young farmers in at-risk regions and raising awareness of the opportunities for young people in the industry.”

The daughter of Sparrows Coffee and Schuil Coffee owner Tim Volkema, Frankie, now 14, passed the Q when she was 13 years old. She recently took the time to speak with Fresh Cup about launching her new line, the importance of supporting producers, and how young people can become empowered to achieve their goals.

Fresh Cup : What is your first memory of coffee?

Frankie Volkema: As young as I can remember, I woke up to my parents making coffee in the morning. When I first tried a coffee drink, I was about 8, my family was living in New York City, and my mom suggested that I try a mocha. I remember I liked the mocha because it tasted like chocolate, but I knew that I still preferred just hot chocolate at that point.

FC: Given your father’s position in the industry, had you always wanted to pursue coffee yourself? Do you see coffee continuing to be your future, professionally?

FV: My father and I both mostly learned about coffee together because he hadn’t worked in the industry prior to a few years ago. As his interest and knowledge of coffee grew, so did mine. It was fun to learn about it together. Early on, he hired David Pohl (Q grader) to help him learn more about how to buy and evaluate coffee, and David taught us both a lot. I definitely see continuing in coffee as a possible future for me, but who knows. I’m keeping an open mind given how young I am.

FC: You visited Colombia with your father. How did you become connected to producers in Burundi?

FV: The Joven Burundi beans were bought through JNP from Jeanine Niyonzima-Aroian, who my dad had met at some point earlier. After we found the Colombian youth program through Cafinorte (with the help of the Coffee for Peace team), we were looking for at least one other youth program. My father called JNP to see if they had a youth program in Burundi, and Jeanine had an amazing option with these seven young women in Ngozi, Burundi.

FC: Did you always intend for Joven to be mission-oriented? How has the idea for Joven changed from when it first came to you, to its implementation?

FV: The original idea for Joven was mission-oriented, to provide support for young farmers. It all started when my father and I learned about the average age of a Colombian farmer being 55 or older. Then when we visited Colombia, we realized how big of an issue it is for producing countries. Heading down there, we knew about it, but didn’t understand its importance. Joven was solidified on that trip to Colombia. Now I’m excited to continue to find more young farmers producing great coffee!

FC: You’re launching a business in a COVID world. What concerns you most? What are you most hopeful for?

FV: Probably the most concerning thing about launching Joven in a COVID world is that the message of Joven might be drowned out by the current events of the world, but I am hopeful that many people will see Joven as a ray of positivity. Actually, the young farmers need our support now more than ever. So I hope we can get the word out!

FC: Not many young people are empowered to make decisions like buying from producers, let alone starting their own business. What advice would you give to your generation when it comes to pursuing their dreams?

FV: I know that Generation Z is a very powerful generation and has great ideas, so I want every young person to know that their passion is worth pursuing. Also, ask for help! I’m only 14, so even though I’m on the ambitious side, I needed help to bring this to life. I think the team really loved working with someone my age. At least that’s what they told me!

Follow Frankie on Instagram @kidqgrader.