Waters look smooth for imported brew
El Lago couple making trip to get Belize coffee beans with own sailboat

Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle

Joe and Terry Butcher have had their fair share of coffee as they worked on crew boats delivering workers and supplies to oil rigs. The two now plan to deliver coffee from Belize to the United States.

The couple, who call El Lago home, are sailing to San Pedro Town, Ambergris Caye, in Belize, where they will load 10,000 pounds of the roasted blend and bring it home.

The Butchers are among the new entrepreneurs entering the coffee business. Unlike others, however, the Butchers plan to use their 42-foot sailboat Red Cloud as a cargo ship. The two, along with Joe Butcher's brother, Doug, will make up the crew.

Joe Butcher calls his venture "the dawn of the new age of eco-sailing."

"We want to become a model of profit using renewable resources," said Butcher, 45, who will captain the Red Cloud.

Added Terry Butcher, 50, "We're not only after the coffee business, but we also want to prove an environmentally friendly way of doing things."

Since coffee has a long shelf life and the coffee they are importing is vacuum-packed, the Butchers see no real problems with bringing the goods back on a sailboat. It likely will take a day to load the cargo, making the round trip about 2 1/2 weeks.

"We tried coffee all over the Caribbean, South and Central America, Mexico, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic before choosing this one," Butcher said of the brew from Belize.

Importing coffee is nothing new to the Houston area.

Last month, the Port of Houston Authority hosted its third annual Coffee Symposium, with workshops for those interested in or just getting started in the coffee business.

The symposium highlighted the Houston region's rising stature in the global coffee trade and provided strategies to help businesses with distribution, transportation, warehousing, logistics, banking, trading, importing, insurance, roasting, packaging and food services.

Houston was designated as a green coffee exchange port on the New York Board of Trade in 2003. Four years later, Houston has become the nation's top-ranked port for imports of coffee traded on the NYBOT, port officials said.

Maggi Stewart, a spokeswoman for the port authority, said more than 147,000 short tons of coffee was imported into Houston with a revenue of $313.5 million.

This year saw a slight decrease with more than 133,300 short tons of imports at a projected revenue of $301.7 million.

Joe Butcher said no tariffs or taxes are paid to import coffee.

Texas voters in 2001 agreed to lift an import tax on coffee, which opened the door for the NYBOT to designate Houston as one of only four coffee exchange ports in the nation and the only one west of the Mississippi. The others are New Orleans, New York and Miami.

The designation means coffee traded on the NYBOT can be stored and distributed from here in greater amounts.

The Butchers are teaming up with roast master Paul Clause from Caye Coffee Ltd. in Ambergris Caye, a small island north of mainland Belize.

Clause, Butcher said, has perfected four different roast combos from his organically grown, sun-dried and hand-sorted coffee beans. The beans, he said, are grown 5,000 feet above sea level in neighboring Guatemala.

The import coffee, which the Butchers plan to initially sell on eBay, is being sold in 1-pound packages featuring Island Roast, an "American-style" coffee; Belizean Roast, a dark espresso roast; Maya Roast, a serious coffee drinker's coffee; and decaffeinated.

Live and let live