90+ Profiles: Getting to Know Robert Fulmer


Who are you and what do you do in coffee?

Robert Fulmer, co-founder and current President of Royal Coffee, Inc.

How and when did you get started in the coffee business?

In 1976, I was offered a summer job cleaning damaged coffee in San Francisco for $50 a day. I felt like a millionaire and loved the scene and so I never moved on.

What jobs have you held in the industry?

Besides the reconditioning, I’ve driven a forklift, unloaded containers, sample roasted and cupped, traded coffee futures, imported coffee, and been a salesman.

What people and/or things inspire you, coffee-wise?

First, anyone who does the best they can day in and day out. I think it helps to love what you are doing and base your efforts on quality rather than compromises. Second, I am most impressed by those who stick their necks out and try to do something to improve the lot of the poorest folks in the industry. Agricultural workers all over the world continue to be exploited and are more or less paid nothing. It is a failure of capitalism, in my opinion. We have not done all that much, but every time Royal Coffee has seen an opportunity to be part of a solution, we’ve tried. We are very big supporters of FT, organic, and all other forms of progressive tree hugging. We are also big fans and supporters of Grounds for Health.

What would you like to see change in the industry?

Decent living wages paid throughout the chain.

If you were to die and come back as a drink, what drink would you be?

Yemen Mocca Sanani, roasted full city, made fresh and strong.

What do you consider to be your greatest contribution to coffee?

Creating a business focused on supplying coffee and service to roasters of any size who do not compete foremost on the basis of price. I was lucky to meet Alfred Peet and Milt Mountanos when I was young. It is hard to imagine today, but coffee quality was nearly extinct in 1976. It is gratifying to think that we have played a role in reviving the interest in coffee as something to be enjoyed and not just weight to be sold.

What do you think others would say is your greatest contribution to coffee?

The significant role Royal Coffee has played in shaping of the coffee industry since 1978. I think we’ve helped a lot of people make a good living in this business.

What’s next for you?

Learning to make a dry slap sound on the conga drum. It’s a whole lot harder than it sounds.

Has coffee affected your “non-coffee” life? If so, in what ways?

Coffee has led me to an appreciation of the world outside the U.S. I’ve met and visited people from all over the globe, and had them as guests. It is a perspective that I wish more voters would have the good fortune to experience.