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Samoan coffee beans secret to thriving N.Z. coffee business

From street vending in New Zealand to corporate events serving coffee, Aufai Jessica Rawiri is the Samoan side of "Samaori Coffee".

The daughter of Malia Schmidt of Saleaula and Safotu and Michael from Nelson who also lived in Samoa for many years, Aufai said Samaori's point of difference in the industry is not just the unique name, but also her mission to stay true to the Samoan part of it by sourcing green coffee beans from Samoa.

The corporate and coffee cart hire was established, though it was an opportunity that took a leap of faith and running with it, she told Samoa Observer an in interview.

"It was a lot of phone calls, a lot of hunting around, Google and just talking with people and I was very fortunate to make contact with Les Betham from Aleisa Coffee [Plantation].

"Didn’t answer my phone a couple of times but we made that connection and I'm really grateful that he is part of our journey and is bringing in the green beans for us, so that is now a point of difference for us – bringing green beans from Samoa, and incorporating it into our blend."

In an interview on the New Zealand radio station 531pi Pacific Breakfast Show, Aufai talked about how the business name came about, as just something that her Maori husband's family would call their family, which eventually stuck throughout the years.

Asked why they chose coffee as a business, she said: "Well I love coffee, everyone loves coffee."

"I wasn’t sure if it was going to start with coffee but we ended up buying a coffee cart two and a half years ago and we thought we’d give it a go.

"I came from a corporate background and I wanted a change in my life where I would be more available to our children so I was looking at another option of work."

Basically, the couple bought a coffee cart, started tagging it to their children's sports serving coffee, and now Aufai is making coffee full-time.

"We don’t have a background of business, a lot of hard work, a lot of sacrifice, we don’t have a business skills; we’re life skills.

"We just took an opportunity, a leap of faith and ran with it," she said.

Aufai, the eldest living granddaughter of the late Telesia Aufai Paselio Schmidt of Saleaula and the late Gus Schmidt from Safotu, said Saleaula Savai'i is where her heart and identity stems from.

"Although born and raised in Auckland, I have had the privilege in spending valuable time in Saleaula which have created many memories over the years and continue to do so," she added. 

"I have held almost all of my immediate cousins in my arms as babies, sat at many village/family fono and witnessed firsthand the hard work of my aunties, uncles and my late grandmother Telesia."

The strong passion she feels for her Samoan culture is a blessing within her family, saying her grandmother Telesia, is her inspiration.

"My grandmother, a strong prayer warrior, has inspired me in my business journey. I spent many hours in her store, weighing, counting, learning to speak Samoan and hours of listening to gospel music," she revealed. 

"I saw her work ethic, but most importantly learnt and witness the greater love for her whole family, village and more.  

"Last year I was gifted and bestowed the title Aufai, while she was still alive, I hold that with very high regard and I am committed to honouring my duties."

Speaking on the radio station 531pi, she revealed that her thriving business is very much family-oriented, with her sister and daughter already into the coffee-making grind.

She told this newspaper that Samaori has always sourced Koko Samoa directly within her family, and from there, she is also planning bigger things for her families and community back home in the big island.

"We have always sourced Koko Samoa directly within our family. It is my mission to create income, sustainability and opportunity within all of Saleaula and open the doors to our wider community.  

"A regular supply is now coming to Auckland and the quantities are fast growing monthly."

Aufai also plans to lead her generation into reviving her grandmothers "much beloved" store, as well as connecting Samaori in Auckland to Saleaula.

"[This is] another way of inspiring others to visit our beautiful motherland.  

"Samaori is a small business that supports the economy of Samoa at the same time," she said. 

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