Conceived in the foothills of Mt. Kilimanjaro, a new kind of coffee culture is coming to New Haven.
“The Happiness Lab,” a café that offers collaborative office space, will serve direct-trade coffee from the company “A Happy Life.” The new café will be located next door from The Grove, a company that rents out desk and cubicle space on Chapel Street. Entrepreneurs Vishal Patel and Onyeka Obiocha created A Happy Life in 2012 with the goal of helping disadvantaged coffee farmers around the world.
“We wanted to find a sustainable way to break cycles of poverty,” said Obiocha, president of A Happy Life.
After traveling to Tanzania and working with coffee farmers during college, Vishal Patel founded a company that buys both direct trade and fair trade coffee from farmers in Tanzania, Costa Rica, Ethiopia and Bolivia. Many of the coffee farmers in these countries are underpaid and some work with dangerous pesticides, Patel said, adding that A Happy Life takes a “holistic approach” to combating poverty.
Direct trade coffee is purchased directly from the farmers, who receive 100 percent of the profits from the transaction. This differs from fair trade coffee, which uses farming co-operatives to sell the beans. The presence of a co-op can cause money to be taken away from the famers, Obiocha said, though there are both good co-ops and bad co-ops. A Happy Life prefers to buy direct trade coffee.
“You always get market value,” Patel said of direct trade coffee. “You have a long-lasting relationship with the famers.”
The not-for-profit company has raised over $10,000 from 127 individual backers through a Kickstarter campaign. All of the net profits are used to help farmers, Obiocha said. Patel said that A Happy Life will invest solely in solutions that are designed by the beneficiaries of the money — coffee farmers in this case.
A Happy Life sells its coffee to 70 accounts in the area, including the Elm City Market and The Grove.
When the landlord of 758 Chapel St. suggested that The Grove — which is currently housed in 760 Chapel St. — move into both spaces, Grove founder Slate Ballard approached Patel about opening a coffee shop next door. Patel and Obiocha had received positive feedback about the quality of their company’s coffee, Patel said, so the idea of opening a coffee shop was a natural step.
Patel said he felt that New Haven residents had been receptive to his product, adding that by roasting their own coffee, A Happy Life added transparency to their product. Many consumers do not know where their coffee is grown, or whether the farmers are paid fairly, Patel said.
Dolores Colón of Ward 6, where the café will open, echoed this sentiment. “[It] sounds like a win-win situation for the community and the employer and the citizens of New Haven,” said Colón.
Using The Happiness Lab as a way to reach out to the New Haven community, Patel said he hopes to remind people that happiness should be a priority in their lives. Drawing his inspiration from Buddhism, Patel said wants to use the brand of A Happy Life, which has a smiling face as its logo, to spread happiness to the broader community. The Happiness Lab will host meditation sessions, guest speakers and live music. Patel anticipates that the café, which is currently under construction, will be completed as early as mid-January of next year.
The Happiness Lab harnesses the layout of New Haven, said Grove Director of Culture Christina Kane, adding that the area is a gateway for visitors coming into New Haven from Wooster Square, Fairhaven and the Connecticut shoreline. The unique nature of coffee culture, which Obiocha said is extremely social, makes The Happiness Lab a good place for collaborative work.
“[The Happiness Lab is] when coffee meets co-working,” said Kane.