Top News

Coffee karma: Brewing strong business based on ethics


BEAR RIVER – Jonathan Welch makes a living he can live with. And it all started over a great cup of coffee. Literally.

Jonathan Welch, of Sissiboo Coffee Roaster, with his six coffees: Fly By Night Decaf, Fundy Storm, Night Owl, Glacial Erratic, Tobeatic Wild, and Fireman’s Breakfast.

His Sissiboo Coffee Roaster is a small-batch roaster offering fresh, fair trade, organic coffee beans to both retail and wholesale markets. That’s the pitch line. That’s the business summed up.

But it’s more than that. Welch would say it’s about helping more than just yourself. With Welch the ethics came first and the business grew out of that.

“I’d been buying fair trade organic beans for quite a few years from other roasters before I decided to get into it myself,” Welch said. “I had a few different business ideas but I wanted to do something where I could make a difference -- partially to the farmers I’m getting the beans from but also living rurally and trying to create some economic driver to survive out here too – so it was trying to strike a balance between the two.”

 

Six Countries

The beans come from six different countries around the world and his current six roasts are all single-origin. In coffee vernacular that means the bean has to stand on its own merits and the roaster has to know his stuff.

“We buy them through importers out of Montreal and Toronto right now but eventually we’d like to go down and be doing direct trade with them,” Welch said of the farmers in places like Honduras, Ethiopia, Nicaragua, and Mexico. “That’s part of the whole dream of this business.”

But for now, he rests content that he’s been making some sort of positive difference in people’s lives going on six years now. And in coffee culture karma, what goes around comes around. Welch and partner Erin Schopfer are golden in coffee circles and the local public is sold on the brews that basically market themselves.

“We started out in the Annapolis farmers market which probably really saved us,” said Welch. “I owe so much to them to just give us a presence. We really didn’t know how to get ourselves out there and to be known. It gave an opportunity for people to try our coffee and discover it that way. Since then our markets have just kind of grown.”

 

The Coffee

Welch said people discover Sissiboo coffee any number of ways, contact him, he sends them samples, and they decide to carry the brand.

“We sell to a lot of grocery stores, cafés, restaurants – that’s a big chunk of our market – farmers markets, stuff like that, individuals,” he said.

Sissiboo coffee names usually have a connection to the land and the people.

Tobeatic Wild is a bean that comes from Honduras, is a medium roasted. He suggests it as a morning coffee with a drip or French press.

Glacial Erratic is an Ethiopian bean. “I totally love that bean,” said Welch “It roasts so nicely, it’s so comfortable to work with.” He describes it as having more of a fruity quality to it, more of a citrusy quality.

And Fundy Storm is roasted from a Nicaraguan bean. “It’s our best seller by far,” said Welch. “It’s two-to-one against everything else with that one as far as sales go. That’s just a really nice bean and it roasts really well. We’re getting into the darks with that one.”

Fireman’s Breakfast is the darkest Sissiboo roast. “That’s a Mexican (bean) which isn’t conventional,” said Welch. “Most people don’t do a dark roast in Mexican – it’s usually medium roast. But I don’t know, I just kind of try to find unconventional ways of taking what most people would consider a standard and just try to skew it a bit more in my way.”

He also has Fly By Night Decaf and Night Owl.

 

The Response

Sissiboo coffee was getting thumbs up right from the start back in 2009.

“It’s been really, really positive in a way that’s kind of blown me away too because I wasn’t really sure what people were going to think of me taking what is considered an everyday consumable and doing what I wanted to do with it,” Welch said. “I just wanted to make a really good cup of coffee and just hoped that other people would respond to it the same way.”

Kudos have been many and heartfelt.

“We’ve had people from as far away as like Portland, Oregon, which is known for its coffee culture, (and we’ve had people write us and we’ve sent coffee out there) saying its as good as what they’re doing or better than what they can get in Portland. And then we’ve had people slide messages under our door saying ‘the best coffee in Canada’ at our café in Annapolis. We had a guy from LA who kept coming back this summer who said it was the best coffee he discovered in Nova Scotia.”

 

Sissiboo Café

The biggest complement came from locals last year. It was the first Friday of June. Welch partnered with Dan Froese in Annapolis Royal to open a café in Dan’s photography shop.

“One of the reasons we opened the café in Annapolis is for the locals,” said Welch. “To open a little place that sells mostly just coffee and a few desserts in a tiny little community like Annapolis Royal -- it’s been amazing. We did it for the locals, and we get that tourist spike in the summertime and we expect that for next year, but really it’s the locals that keep that place alive.”

In Bear River it’s the same story.

“We moved here full time in 2008 and started the business in 2009 and we just felt so loved by this community and how they put their arms around us and were so responsive to what we were doing with our coffee,” said Welch.

“We built it together, Erin and I,” said Welch. “It’s been a good family venture so far.

 

Fast Facts

-- The Rebekah Lodge was built in 1922 at a cost of $4,000.

-- The Rebekah, as it is affectionately called, is also home to concerts, movie nights, special speaker nights, and other community events.

-- Many downtown businesses in Bear River were built on stilts because of the high tides of the Bear River.

-- Bear River is often referred to as Little Switzerland.

-- Bear River is hald in Annapolis County and Half in Digby County. Sissiboo Coffee Roaster is located in Annapolis County.

Recent Stories