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‘After all the struggle it was like a dream come true. Having the van made me think: I can’t give up now.’
When the global pandemic struck, instead of closing his struggling coffee wholesalers, Carlos took the bold decision to reinvent his whole business model. The relaunched Coffee Temple now serves authentic Colombian coffee from a van in the historic centre of Cambridge. Whether he was studying in the UK, travelling around the world, making friends or devising business plans – Carlos says English has always played a crucial role in his journey.
My strong work ethic comes from my family. My grandfather was Spanish and went to Colombia when he was 20, and I guess everything is connected from there. My family always supported me, and my mum always told me ‘never say no’. When we were kids in Colombia my grandfather taught me the importance of working hard, as we never had anything for free. He used to say ‘if you want money, come with me,’ and we’d pick fruit and he would give us money – only a small amount to buy a can of cola, but a big life lesson. My father was the same when I used to visit him as he’d encourage us to wash cars to earn an ice cream. Yes, if you want something you need to work hard.
I grew up in Colombia, in a little town called Tibasosa in the heart of Boyacá, and when I was 14 our family moved to Spain. This meant I studied English in my primary and secondary schools in both countries. In Spain I also took some extra classes from a private English teacher who was from Wales and it was a great experience!
I truly believe that when you struggle you learn the most.
I had a great friend from Madrid who lived in Cambridge, Adriana. She told me to buy a ticket and off I went, and I’ve now lived here for 11 years. Soon after arriving in Cambridge, I met my good friend Oggi and he helped me out a lot. He worked for a school that offered summer courses and I worked there for six years. He didn’t speak Spanish, I didn’t speak good English, so it was fun! He helped me a lot to push my English further.
I then worked for an Italian restaurant in Cambridge which was my first contact with coffee in the UK. In terms of my English skills this job was hard, but it was one of the best experiences. When I studied English in school, we studied how you use the verbs and other theory, but in real life it's different, as you come across many different dialects. In Cambridge I came across Irish people, people from London, and even people that spoke BBC English!
After two years I wasn’t sure what to do and I had to make the decision between going back to the army or going to university. I decided to go to university and though it was a big struggle, my brother Norberto gave me lots of support. I truly believe that when you struggle you learn the most. I’m still learning as English is my second language, but it’s always good if you can communicate and deliver your emotions in English. I decided to study in the UK and took the international English test IELTS, but I wasn’t successful the first time. However, I was determined to do it and studied hard, took the test and got a band 7, and ended up studying marketing at Anglia Ruskin University.
During my time at university, I joined the European Business Association (EBA) society and took part in a national business challenge competition called the University Business Challenge. This gave me an idea of what running a company would look like. It was a wonderful experience as I met a lot of people from different backgrounds. I was also involved in promoting sports for new students and I was a student rep in my third year, which was a great opportunity to support colleagues with difficulties. My English skills came in very handy, as it meant I was able to support students who were new to Cambridge by giving them advice on sport and student life.
Then in 2016 I came back to university in the UK to start my Master’s degree in marketing. We studied branding, positioning, and packaging and I became really interested in starting my own company. This is where the idea of Coffee Temple began.
In April 2016 I contacted a coffee farm in Colombia, I shared the idea with my friend Jeremy and that’s how everything started. They said – you pay and we’ll deliver the coffee – and we ended up working together for about a year. With the support of my stepmom Sandra, my brothers, and my friends Joseph and Felipe, I gathered some funds to start buying coffee bags, grinders for the coffee, paper for the labels and many other little things I needed to start running Coffee Temple.
The early days of the company were a great experience for learning the whole business process, from contacting suppliers to choosing packaging to final delivery. It was an interesting journey but challenging. I think sometimes we have a guardian angel looking out for us and of course I had the support of my family.
Then the pandemic struck, which was a struggle for the business, and I considered closing up and going back to Colombia. My mum Maria Teresa supported me with the idea to start a specialist coffee shop back home in Tibasosa, and I nearly went. My colleague Oggi didn’t want me to close the company, so I came up with the idea to reinvent the business and sell coffee from a van. Oggi designed the new brand; he made it look like it does now, and it’s very eye-catching. We’ve had some ups and downs, but we’ve been happy ever since. After all the struggle it was like a dream come true, as opening a coffee shop in Cambridge was out of my reach. Having the van made me think: ‘I can’t give up now.’
We were lucky because we found a great location by the river in Cambridge and people come back time and time again! I’m really interested in languages and now we have the coffee van I like to know different words in different languages – it’s an icebreaker when I’m talking to customers.
I’m now very busy as the Managing Director of Coffee Temple, working on quality control and purchase, and we’re currently working to improve our social media presence. I like marketing and branding so I’m working on different projects to bring Cambridge and Coffee Temple together – such as branded T-shirts and hoodies.
In the future I’d like to deliver on a bigger scale and perhaps get a second van at some point. As the name suggests, a temple is a place you can go and enjoy something and being able to deliver coffee to different parts of the world is my dream for the future.
Each country has different and amazing coffees, and I would like to try all of them and educate people along the way.
About Carlos Latorre
Carlos took IELTS to study Marketing at a university in Cambridge and is the Managing Director of Coffee Temple.
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