Cherishing a boyhood desire to farm, Rick James purchased a 7 acre smallholding in the Assagay Valley, KwaZulu Natal in August 1991 with the initial intention of going into poultry farming. The existing small plantation of neglected coffee trees already established on the smallholding redirected his attention to coffee farming instead.
Through research and with the help and guidance from the staff on the Sapeko Coffee Estate and the Institute of Tropical and Sub-Tropical Fruits in Nelspruit, he was able to harvest the first pick when the trees began to bear. The Natal Coffee Growers Association graded the raw beans and offered it for sale through brokers. By this time he had built a small roaster out of an old tumble dryer and had begun to see repeat orders.
The first sale of green coffee to the brokers transpired at this time too and a year later we received a cheque for R500,00. This small return confirmed the decision to supply roasted coffee into the retail market. Continuing corporate employment, Rick and his wife Lesley moonlighted and by the end of 1994 through the efforts of our first distribution agent the coffee was starting to realise good sales. Rick was doing the roasting at night and on weekends, and Lesley the packaging on the dining room table after work. Our distinctive calico cloth packaging came about this way in an attempt to utilise Lesley’s sewing skills and keep costs down by making the packaging ourselves. We still do so to this day. Sales outgrew supply and realising the need to expand to meet the demand, Assagay Coffee relocated to a 100 acre farm in the Harrison Valley in 2002.