Mercer trip to Ecuador inspires alumnus to start sustainable coffee business


Growing up, baseball was life for Shane Buerster (’18). He dreamed of one day playing at Turner Field — a dream that started in childhood and stayed with him as he played college baseball at Mercer, until in November 2015, when his baseball career suddenly ended.

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Struggling to find purpose, it was only a few short months later when Buerster saw a poster for a Mercer On Mission (MOM) trip to Ecuador between classes in the Stetson-Hatcher School of Business. As a triple-major in Economics, Marketing, and Spanish, he thought it would be a great opportunity to take his education beyond the classroom, so he applied for the program and was accepted.

The 2016 MOM Ecuador program was focused on small-scale artisanal gold mining in the El Oro region, particularly in the cities of Zaruma and Portovelo. However, the initial goal of finding safe ways to discard mercury waste evolved into finding out if coffee was a viable economic alternative to gold mining.

Findings revealed that the reason for a lack of coffee production in the region was due to a lack of demand, so they concluded that there wasn’t enough coffee in the region to support business.

Nonetheless, Buerster struck up a friendship with one of the government officials, Arturo. They even exchanged phone numbers, and once Buerster returned to the United States, he and Arturo began talking once a week, so Buerster could improve his Spanish. Pretty soon, they started speaking more and more frequently.

It was during one of their phone calls when Buerster and Arturo revisited the idea of importing Ecuadorian coffee to the United States. Within one day, Arturo produced a list of 43 farmers willing and able to supply coffee.

Not knowing where to begin, Buerster started learning as much as he could about importing coffee, and the more he read, the more he realized it might not be as difficult as he thought. After eight months of hard work, Buerster and Arturo imported 65 pounds of coffee to the United States. When that was well received, they imported 300 more pounds of coffee. And when Buerster returned to Ecuador in July 2017, he and Arturo collected 4,000 more pounds of coffee, arranging for it to be imported as well.

This was the birth of Z Beans Coffee.

Soon enough, Buerster talked with professors from the Stetson-Hatcher School of Business and was given space in the Mercer Innovation Center — Mercer’s own on-campus business incubator — to not only store this 4,000 pounds of coffee, but to roast, grind, and package it.

What began in 2017 with Buerster roasting coffee 11 ounces at a time in a popcorn popper in the Mercer Innovation Center has now expanded into an online storefront and business wholesale, and coffee shops in Atlanta, Columbus, Hinesville, Macon, and Warner Robins, Georgia, as well as Dothan and Jacksonville, Alabama.

If you ask Buerster, he’ll tell you that Mercer On Mission restored his sense of purpose after baseball was taken away and gave him a platform to help change the world through business development in Ecuador. Now, he is running Z Beans Coffee with a core mission to create sustainable solutions for as many Ecuadorian coffee farmers as possible.

If you ask us, we’d say that’s a home run!


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