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University of Missouri

You Don’t Know Joe

Andrea Woolverton turns coffee distribution on its head in Nicaragua.

Family on hilltop

Andrea Woolverton, BS ’02, PhD ’07, and her husband, Colin Ganley, run Twin Engine Coffee in León, Nicaragua.

The French have been lying to you. Good coffee is not bitter.

It took two graduate degrees, a job at the United Nations, and running her own small business in Nicaragua for one Missouri farm girl to figure that out, but now she is preaching it to the world.

Andrea Woolverton, BS ’02, PhD ’07, grew up near Malden, in Missouri’s Bootheel. She saw firsthand how agriculture could support a family and a community. After earning a doctorate in agribusiness, she worked at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Foreign Agriculture Service, USDA Economic Research Service and United Nations (U.N.) Food and Agriculture Organization, helping developing countries improve their economies through agriculture.

“My big question,” Woolverton says, “was ‘How do local businesses add value in their own countries before farmers’ products are exported as low-cost commodities?’ ”

After her U.N. contract expired in 2012, she and her husband, Colin Ganley, landed in Nicaragua through his interest in premium cigars.

Woolverton discovered that Nicaraguans  have hundreds of years of expertise growing some of the world’s best coffee beans. Unfortunately, about 99 percent of the beans are sold to exporters, leaving foreign roasters and packagers to reap the profits that could stay in Nicaragua.

This was the big challenge Woolverton had been trying to overcome her whole career.

The couple went all in, using their savings to establish Twin Engine Coffee. An at-origin coffee company, they deal directly with coffee farmers, keeping the growing, drying, roasting and packaging all in Nicaragua. But, through the internet, they sell all over the world.

Done this way, 400 percent more of the coffee’s value remains in Nicaragua when it is sold abroad and 800 percent more when sold locally than if the beans had been sold in bulk to exporters.

Being at-origin also lets Woolverton control quality.

She selects the coffee berries she wants while they’re still on the tree, shepherds them through the drying process and handles the roasting in-house.

The rich flavors will challenge how consumers think premium coffee tastes.

“The average coffee drinker in the U.S. has been drinking coffee with a lot of defects for a long time,” Woolverton says, citing the French roast. “The French roast is a burnt roast. They did it that way 200 years ago to mask the defects in the coffee coming in from their colonies. They burned it and added cream to it.”