When Josh had his first cup of coffee as a boy growing up in Cambodia, he could not possibly have known how deeply the story of his personal journey will be intertwined with the local coffee growing and roasting ecosystem. Running Three Corner Coffee Roaster for over a decade, he grew committed to supporting local and regional farmers not just by generating demand for their coffee beans but also by advocating for the cultural significance of flavourful coffee grown locally but roasted to an international standard.
“Three Corner Coffee Roaster got its name from the three original coffee-growing countries in Indochina: Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos,” he explained to me. Coffee was brought in during the colonization period in the 1800s and many generations of indigenous farmers have made the practice of coffee-growing very much part of their heritage and legacy. Josh knew this from partnering and working directly with indigenous farmers especially from the Bunong tribe in Mondulkiri Province. Honouring how their lives function and what matters to them, inspired his vision to see the reestablishment of their coffee legacy: “The design on the front of our coffee bags incorporates the commonly used stripes of Bunong tribe cultural style.”
The coffee beans grown locally are distinct from those grown in other climates. They tend to get over-roasted when using the French style of roasting and people would mix butter or soybean in the coffee to try making it more palatable. But since 2010, when Three Corner Coffee became the first international standard roaster in Cambodia, Josh and his team have jumpstarted a fresh-roasted coffee ecosystem locally to bring out the true flavour of these coffee beans.
In the first 3.5 years, Josh was managing the operations as General Manager. “I really cut my teeth and had to learn it all from scratch,” Josh shared. Now, he continues to lead the business development and digital functions of Three Corner Coffee Roaster. Juggling all these functions is not easy even after all these years. In his words, “I am more a one-track minded kind of guy - the work is too varied for the way I work. That’s why I am thankful for my wife supporting me, making sure everything gets done. She is really the Chief of Everything!” From scheduling this interview with me to hosting visitors to the shop and covering for a staff on leave, I knew Josh was not exaggerating.
“In our team, we also have a wonderful success story: someone who started working as a delivery person. But he had the willingness to learn business practices on the go. And now he is our Operations Manager, handling sales when we were struggling with no sales staff during COVID,” Josh continued, beaming with pride. Hearing this, I marveled at how Three Corner Coffee Roaster has been a nurturing soil to bring out not just the true flavour of the coffee beans but the best of the small team who have worked together on it through challenging times.
The small team certainly has big dreams. They are looking for investment to establish a trading house in Mondulkiri as a first step to a directly sustainable, full-value chain for fresh roasted coffee. Constantly coming up with unique roasts and blends, they want to make good Cambodian coffee affordable to all and accessible around the world. Returning to the original inspiration for the name Three Corner Coffee Roaster, Josh says, “It expresses our hope to support local and regional farmers. Maybe it can become +1, +2 in the future with Burmese and Thai coffee!” It’s fascinating how coffee beans grown from each country brings its own unique personal stories, culture, and flavour. As we bring the interview to a close, Josh said with an excited smile, “I would just say, explore! You never know what you might find.”