The Ubuntu Coffee Cooperative was founded in in 2012 by longtime floating homes resident Ted Levit and two friends. The worker-owned cooperative grew from a desire to market organic, fair trade coffee in a work environment that respects the rights and dignity of all who work to produce it.
Ubuntu’s roastery is in Emeryville and, until the Covid-19 shutdown, threw its doors open on Saturdays for free tastings. Since March, they have concentrated on local, online sales—direct to coffee drinkers’ homes.
Shipping by priority mail, says Ted, “In most cases, we can get the beans out of the roaster and into a coffee mug in about 2-5 days. We can send whole beans and/or ground coffee to specification.” Mailing direct helps people minimize outings and supports the post office being in business, all while delighting coffee lovers.
Ted came to the Bay Area in 1995 and initially lived aboard the S.S. Vallejo. He fell in love with the waterfront, and after moving away for a few years, always longed to get back here. In 2016 he and his wife (who had anchored-out long before they met) were finally able to return. Having lived on both Issaquah and Yellow Ferry, Ted says, “We love it here and, in these times, we appreciate the beauty and the good people around us more than ever.”
Coffee has a long history of exploitation and to a great extent that remains so today. Despite it being one of the most highly valued globally traded commodities, “most coffee is still produced by small hold farmers often without clear title to the land on which they grow,” Ted points out. “Very little of the vast sums of money spent on coffee makes it back into the hands of the growers. This is one reason why buying at a premium above fair trade and being transparent along the whole supply line is important to us.”
The name Ubuntu is Bantu for a southern African philosophy of generosity and equality. It can be said and shown in many different ways. Humanity cannot exist in a vacuum but must be reflected off another person. “By caring for our brothers and sisters,” says Ted, “we become more human and while success is celebrated, it should not be at the expense of another.”
For more information, or to order coffee by mail, visit the Ubuntu website.