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History and values

A look at Volcafe's history and the values we bring to business

Volcafe has over 170 years of history in the coffee trade bearing testament to our strong values, our reliability, and the trust our clients place in us.

Explore Volcafe's history, from its founding as Volkart Brothers through to the present day, in the chapters below. You can also learn about the values we share with our parent company, ED&F Man Commodities.

The early years

Simultaneous foundation of Volkart Brothers in Bombay (now Mumbai, India) and Winterthur (Switzerland) by Salomon and Johann Georg Volkart, pictured below.

The Volkart Brothers

Start of coffee operations in Cochin (India) and Colombo (present-day Sri Lanka, then part of India)

First Europe-India telegraph connection increases speed of communications

Telegraph Office, Bombay (Public Domain image by Francis Frith)
The Telegraph Office in Bombay, India (Public Domain, Francis Frith)

Opening of Suez Canal reduces transportation time between India and Europe from four months to four weeks

Port Said (Egypt) on the Suez Canal, circa 1880 (Public Domain)
Port Said (Egypt) on the Suez Canal, circa 1880 (Public Domain)

Expansion of coffee activities by opening Tellicherry branch (India)

Opening of Volkart Brothers Sales Agency London (United Kingdom)

Volkart's first installation of mechanical coffee mill in Tellicherry

Coffee hulling machine, 1880s
An illustration of a coffee hulling machine from the 1880s (Public Domain)

Start of Volkart's purchasing offices in Coorg/Mysore (India)

The 20th century

Opening of Volkart sales office in Osaka (Japan)

Osaka architecture
A contemporary photo of a commercial building in Osaka, Japan (1903). (Public domain)

Inauguration of Volkart's own office building in Winterthur

Acquisition of mechanical coffee mill in Mangalore (India)

Opening of direct telephone line London-Winterthur

Operators at a telephone central, 1920s
Central telephone operators in the 1920s (Public domain).

Inauguration of Volkart building in Bombay (now Mumbai)

Inauguration of new Volkart office building Winterthur

Volkart Brothers office in Winterthur
Crates from India outside the Volkart Brothers office in Winterthur, 1929.
Winterthurer Bibliotheken, Sammlung Winterthur, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Start of telex communication in Switzerland

Volkart acquires three large plantations in India

Expansion of sales activities in Volkart Winterthur and New York

Shift of origin activities from Asia to Latin America and Africa

Start of export operation Volkart Irmãos Limitada Santos (Brazil), the world’s largest producing country

Opening of Volkart Hnos de Mexico as buying representative

Volkart's global green coffee sales reach 1 million bags

International Coffee Organization in London (consisting of 32 producing and 22 consuming members) establishes export quota and price mechanism. Annual world production about 75 million bags

Volkart's global green coffee sales reach 3 million bags

Volkart acquires 35% in two leading Guatemalan exporters, Peter Schoenfeld SA and Juan Waelti Sucs SA. Both companies own mills in the highlands thus Volkart gains access to substantial volume of top quality coffees

Volkart acquires 35% in Café Capris SA Costa Rica, another high-quality producing country

Café Capris SA sets up joint venture export company BENEXPORT with six important coffee millers/producers

Under new Indian Coffee Law, Volkart is obliged to sell its coffee activities to local company TATA Group

Severe frost hits Brazilian coffee areas and leads to coffee price surge from 50 cts/lb pre-frost to peak 340 cts/lb at ‘C’ Contract New York in April 1977

Volkart takes 50% stake in PNG Coffee Exports Ltd, becoming first non-PNG/non-Australian stakeholder in PNG coffee business

Green coffee business between origin and destination countries was initially done by postal courier followed by telegram and telex.

Hansjoerg Brandenberger, former General Manager for Guatemala, recalls the intricate shorthand needed to convey complex positions via telegram:
'When I started my training with Volkart in Switzerland in 1977, we were quite active in India and in order to participate at the coffee auction we communicated by telegram, using letter codes, with each one representing whole sentences. The code book contained thousands of different codes, and we had to find the correct code expressing as much as possible.'

Starting in 1980 telefax becomes the main communication device.

File photo of a person using an early telefax machine
File photo of a person using an early telefax machine (Public Domain, Caj Bremer / Helsingin Sanomat)

Volkart acquires Gollücke & Rothfos GmbH of Bremen (Germany), a mid-sized green coffee importer, opening doors to the largest European coffee market

Volkart buys 33% stake in Taylor Winch Kenya Ltd and Tanzania Ltd, companies in two top quality producing countries

Satellite telephone becomes another communication channel

John DeMuria, who started with Volkart Brothers in 1982 at an office on New York's Wall Street and now manages Volcafe USA, recalls the onset of the tech revolution that would change trading:
'In 1982, there were no smart phones, no laptops, no spreadsheets, no internet, email, or texting, not even a fax machine. We would be on the phones all day with domestic customers, trading by telex with international customers and suppliers. Our telex operator was the backbone of the trading operation. Contracts were done in triplicate with carbon paper and had to be mailed to origin. It would sometimes take months before signed contracts were returned. Business travel to origin was a must and trips would be weeks instead of days...

'In 1985 we purchased our first fax machine which marked the end of the telex era. I believe that year we also bought one of the first Apple desktops with Lotus 123 spreadsheet software. It was a game changer especially for position keeping.'

Volkart buys 30% of capital in Molinos de Honduras S.A.

Volkart enters the world’s then second largest producing country, Colombia, acquiring 47% in Carcafé SA with four dry-mills

A Molinos de Honduras facility in the 1980s.
(Courtesy of Klaus Fülles, former General Manager of Gollücke & Rothfos, Volcafe in Germany)

Volkart's global green coffee sales reach 4 million bags, of which 1.5 million bags are exports of its own companies, primarily high quality washed Arabicas from Colombia, Central America and East Africa

Andreas Reinhart, fifth generation member of the Volkart family, is now the company's sole owner

Drought in Brazilian coffee areas drives ‘C’ Contract from 140 to 280 cts/lb

Carcafé Colombia opens new export company Empresas de Nariño in top quality area Nariño as joint venture with local shareholder

A Carcafe facility in Colombia, 1987.
(Courtesy of Klaus Fülles, former General Manager of Gollücke & Rothfos, Volcafe in Germany)

ERB Group, a large Winterthur-based car importer and industrial group, acquires 80% of Volkart's global coffee organisation, and 20% goes into management hands.

The company's name is changed to Volcafe.

The new owners decide to increase shareholding in all companies, preferably to 100%. This includes PNG Coffee Exports Ltd, Taylor Winch Kenya, Taylor Winch Tanzania, Carcafé Colombia, Café Capris Costa Rica, Molinos de Honduras, and Peter Schoenfeld/Juan Waelti Guatemala, with the two latter companies being merged into Waelti-Schoenfeld SA

4th International Coffee Agreement ends export quota and price mechanism. This triggers an increasing production surplus as a result of remunerative prices leading to a parallel market for non-quota-coffees. These trade at huge discounts which is no longer tolerated by member importing countries, spurring a free market. Annual world production reaches 100 million bags.

Volcafe starts important upstream investment policy in mills and warehouses, especially in High Quality Washed Arabica countries

Volcafe acquires large Costa Rican wet milling companies Beneficios Montealegre and San Diego as well as farm/mill Rio Negro

E-mail gradually becomes main communication channel for global coffee business

Carcafé Colombia takes over export company German Merino from Jacobs (the large European roaster group)

Volcafe acquires its first export company in a Robusta country, Kyagalanyi Coffee Ltd Uganda

Volcafe Santos in Brazil buys 75% of Copag warehouse/mill in Varginha

Another frost in Brazil pushes ‘C’ contract from 80 to 260 cts/lb

Volcafe's green coffee sales reach 8 million bags, of which 4.5 million bags are exported by its subsidiaries in producing countries

Volcafe acquires Mexican exporter Becafisa SA in Oaxaca

Volcafe implements vigorous focus on Specialty Coffees and develops sustainability projects at its East African and Latin American subsidiaries

Volcafe acquires Peruvian export company Prodelsur

A chalkboard showing the coffee price in Peruvian Sol, 1995.
(Courtesy of Klaus Fülles, former General Manager of Gollücke & Rothfos, Volcafe in Germany)

Volcafe acquires Cofi-Com Ltd in Sydney (Australia) and thus obtains a presence on all five continents

Drought in Brazil drives ‘C’ contract from 140 to 320 cts/lb

Volkopi Indonesia
is founded with head office in Palembang and an Arabica gourmet subsidiary in Medan

Volcafe's global green coffee sales reach 10 million bags, of which 6 million are from its own export subsidiaries. Global annual production at the time is around 110 million bags

Into a new era

Volcafe joins forces with the owners of Madison Coffee New York which becomes key operation in North America under the name Volcafe USA

Inauguration of Volcafe Specialty Coffee Inc

Volcafe grows to be a world leader in infrastructure in producing countries:

  • 51 mills, of which 36 are owned and 15 rented
  • 11 warehouses, of which 3 are owned and 8 rented
  • Total processing capacity 6.3 million bags, of which 5.5 million are Arabica and 0.8 million are Robusta

ERB Group, then parent company of Volcafe, is bankrupt. Volcafe Group is sold intact to ED&F Man, a large commodity house founded in London in 1783. ED&F Man integrates its coffee activities (London, Brazil, Kenya, Singapore, Slovenia, Vietnam) in Volcafe Winterthur, which is henceforth the Coffee Division of ED&F Man

14 Management Partners who own 20% of Volcafe swap shares into ED&F Man equity

Volcafe's global sales exceed 15 million bags of green coffee, of which 10 million bags are exported by its subsidiaries in producing countries.

Volcafe is present with export companies or agencies in top 20 producing countries (except Venezuela) and top 20 consuming markets (except Algeria).

Volcafe's market share in Washed Arabica origins is 20%, in Unwashed Arabicas (Brazil) 12%, Robustas 8%.

In all major consuming regions, Volcafe's market participation is around 15%.

Volcafe Way is developed and launched as a comprehensive farmer support programme. Volcafe Way combines technical advice and training for coffee farmers, deploying field advisors with agronomy expertise and creating networks of business model farms.

Volcafe Way logo (historic version)

Volcafe continues to expand its assortment of responsibly sourced coffees through Volcafe Way as well as third-party certifications such as 4C, Fairtrade, Organic, and Rainforest Alliance.

Volcafe engagement with certification schemes
Staff with Volcafe's Ugandan operations at a facility showing the logos of several certification schemes.

Volcafe marks its 170th anniversary. The company has become one of the top three coffee merchants, sourcing 12 percent of the world's export market.

Volcafe adopts a new, purpose-led proposition: Making coffee business better, together.

Volcafe launches new Sustainability Strategy as part of its efforts to foster a thriving, sustainable coffee business for all. Our Sustainability Strategy focuses our activites in three key pillars: Sustainable Profitability, Regenerative Practices and Responsible Citizenship.

Volcafe Sustainability Strategy graphic

Volcafe launches an enhanced approach to responsible sourcing (Volcafe RS) drawing on experience with Volcafe Way, resulting in the Volcafe RS Standard and its two levels of practice: Volcafe Verified and Volcafe Excellence.

There's more to come!

Volcafe's ambition is to be the world's best coffee partner. Work with us as we make coffee business better, together.

Volcafe expresses its thanks to Hansjoerg Brandenberger, Klaus Fülles, Jacqueline Lauebli, and Paul Moeller (all Volcafe alumni) for their contributions to the creation of this timeline.

Explore Volcafe's impact for farmers


Our values

Volcafe shares the values of our parent company, ED&F Man Commodities. Our values define who we are. They are the fundamental beliefs that determine our actions and guide our behaviour. They influence the way we communicate and collaborate, and define the way we engage with our clients, partners, and communities.


We recognise each other’s differences, valuing the rich diversity of our workforce and our customers.

We seek out alternative views and value all contributions, aiming to build positive and long-lasting partnerships based on trust and respect.

We seek to protect the environment and enhance the prosperity and wellbeing of the communities in which we work. We collaborate and communicate openly and honestly.


We create partnerships built on teamwork, trust, and reliability. We challenge what we believe to be wrong and champion fair, honest and ethical business practices.

We operate robust risk management, and we keep our social and environmental responsibilities at the core of what we do.


We believe that we will be successful if we have motivated employees who receive fair rewards for their efforts.

Employees have an equal opportunity to build a long-term career at ED&F Man. An individual’s progression and reward is based on achievements and ability, not position or status.

Leadership is selected on the basis of track record and the capacity to develop others.

Client Focus

We strive to build lasting partnerships with our customers and aim to exceed their expectations by creating additional value.

We are a reliable, innovative, and flexible counterparty wherever our customers choose to work with us.

We are ‘as good as our word’ and can be trusted to perform, something that our customers value in an increasingly uncertain world.

Our capacity to construct comprehensive solutions based on deep commodities and financial expertise is valuable to our customers as they seek to maximise their own profitability and mitigate complex and global risk factors.


We act upon opportunities, creating and championing new business ideas and hold ourselves accountable for their success.

We constantly seek ways to be more efficient and competitive, challenging the status quo. We create new ideas and build solutions that inspire others to do the same. We take responsibility for turning our ideas into reality, we learn from our mistakes and are determined to improve and succeed.

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