Success Story: How Samuel Ngwa Moved From Picking Coffee Beans In Cameroon To Owning His Coffee Import Business In The U.S.

by Duke Magazine

Samuel Ngwa is a coffee business owner from Cameroon who lives in Minnesota, United States. Ngwa started on his way to becoming an entrepreneur when he picked coffee beans on his father’s farm to help pay for his school fees, even though he didn’t like doing it.


In 1973, after he had come to the United States as a foreign exchange student and was now studying at the University of Wisconsin–Stout, he realized that his family’s coffee farm had business value. He said that almost everyone he saw was drinking coffee, which made him want to find out more about how coffee is made.


I saw everyone moving very quickly. The majority of them were holding these white cups. Ngwa said in an interview that everyone was drinking coffee. “It hit me that while my dad was kicking me in the behind to pick beans, people all over the world were drinking coffee. At that point, I knew I wanted to learn more about how the process worked.”

After getting his master’s degree in industrial technology and management, he went back to Cameroon to make his dream of becoming a big player in the coffee industry come true. Twin Cities Daily Planet says that he first worked for the Cameroonian government and then for a USAID program that helped coffee farmers with technical issues.


Ngwa met local farmers and started importing coffee from West Africa when he went back to the U.S. in 1994. Ngwa, who lived in Brooklyn Park, started his first line of coffees, which he sold under the name “Safari Pride,” in 1996.


First, he focused on single-origin beans from Cameroon and other African countries, but later he added a variety of blends. He said that the Azobe Blend, named after a tree in the lowlands of Africa, was his “most powerful eye-opener.”


“We sell the highest-quality coffees, which are grown in nutrient-rich volcanic regions at high altitudes and respect the terroir. The website for his company says, “These coffees are picked, processed, and graded by hand, and only the highest-graded beans are chosen for roasting, which is then confirmed by high cupping rates.”


Ngwa said that since he is the only one doing everything, he works 12 to 14 hours a day. But he hires temporary workers when he has shipments. He says he started his business in a space he rented on Franklin Avenue in South Minneapolis.


But since 2004, he has been roasting his beans at a business incubator in a North Side industrial area. The Cameroonian business owner also runs Dessco International, a food import company that sells African spices, smoked frozen fish, palm oils, and other foods.


Ngwa said that the journey has not always been easy. When he first started his business, coffee shops liked his coffee, but they didn’t want to work with him. Things were so bad that in the first two years, he almost lost everything. The Cameroonian immigrant also lost a lot of weight and was about to give up until one of his friends, who met him when he was trying to get money from NGOs, told him he would help him grow his business.


“I told him to keep 20% of what he sold,” He told Ngwa, “That’s how I was able to stay alive.”


Today, he sells coffee to restaurants and malls in Somalia. Now, he roasts more than a ton of coffee every day. “I have lived by roasting an average of 200 pounds every two weeks,” he said.

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