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Third-generation coffee farmer brings taste of Colombia to Minnesota

In celebration of National Coffee Day, meet the Minnesota man who launched Norte Café.

PLYMOUTH, Minnesota — Yair "Leo" Carvajalino grew up in Colombia, surrounded by coffee.

Carvajalino's grandfather, Concho Guerreo, was the first coffee farmer in the family. It's an industry he was involved in for 94 years. Guerreo used to load the coffee onto mules, then transport it seven to eight hours away from the farm to the closest city. 

"My grandpa lived until he was 100 so I give credit to the coffee he drank," Carvajalino said. 

Carvajalino is a third-generation coffee farmer. After moving to Minnesota in 2018, he wanted to share a taste of home. 

Credit: Heidi Wigdahl
Yair "Leo" Carvajalino with a portrait of his grandfather, Concho Guerreo.

Carvajalino noticed that while Americans drink a lot of coffee, there is a lack of knowledge when it comes to the industry. 

During the pandemic, COVID-19 drove a record amount of at-home coffee drinking. According to a National Coffee Association report in 2021, 85% of coffee drinkers had at least one cup at home (up 8% since January 2020). Workplace coffee consumption was down 55% since January 2020. 

Noticing this trend, Leo Carvajalino and his wife, Sally Carvajalino, launched Norte Café in December 2020. 

"Norte Café started mainly to offer more trade civility... show people how the coffee gets ground, how it gets produced, the people behind our coffee and what we do, who we are," Carvajalino said. 

The family owns a coffee farm about 10 miles from Chinchiná, Caldas. Carvajalino's dad and cousin help with the farm in Colombia and they also employ seasonal workers. The farm consists of about 45,000 trees for their fair trade coffee. 

Credit: Norte Café
Norte Café's farm is located about 10 miles from Chinchiná, Caldas.

While the farm is in Colombia, the couple lives in Plymouth with their nearly one-year-old son. 

"That's how we make a living. That's how we pay the bills. That's how I'm raising my family too. That's how I help people too. I own a farm and that's how I employ people. So that's how I do my part for the society, creating employment," Carvajalino said. 

Since launching, Sally said customers tell them, "They love it. They think it's the best coffee they've ever had." 

While the coffee comes from Colombia, it's roasted in Buffalo, Minnesota. Carvajalino will be traveling to Colombia in November to ship green beans to Minnesota. 

Norte Café appears at about 10 farmers markets in the Twin Cities metro area per week. On Tuesday morning from his booth at the Roseville Farmers Market, Carvajalino called out to people asking if they wanted to sample their coffee. 

Credit: Heidi Wigdahl
Norte Café launched in December 2020.

Sally describes the taste as smooth and "not bitter, not too sweet." 

"Seeing the pictures of where it comes from and knowing that so much obvious care went into getting them here, I love it," said Kate Wagner of St. Paul. 

The 100% Arabica coffee caught the attention at the farmers market of two Latinas.

"I love Colombian coffee," said Gladys Rosa of Roseville. 

"Being able to engage with the community and with people through coffee is also a big incentive for me to keep doing it," Carvajalino said. 

Norte Café can be purchased online with free delivery or free shipping in the U.S. 

The family is also at farmers markets in the metro area. Follow their social media for updates. 

Norte Café will be at the St. Paul Farmers' Market at House of Hope Presbyterian Church from 1:15 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday and the Bloomington Farmers Market on Sunday. They'll be at the Minneapolis Farmers Market on Saturday and Sunday. 

Know a local business we should feature for our Behind the Business segment? Email Heidi Wigdahl at hwigdahl@kare11.com. 

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