i. I work as a craft coffee roaster, and I’m the co-founder of Heights Coffee Co.
ii. I do this creative work because:
The curiosity quotient was just too high. Roasting coffee felt like something I had to try, or the regret would have consumed me! I imagine this is much like the creative journey of beer or wine-making, where we get to work with top quality ingredients and experiment with a multitude of variables until we’ve created something that we love. Roasting coffee is a very sensory process. I really enjoy that.
iii. A ‘typical’ day for me:
Starts the night before. I’m already thinking about and anticipating that first cup of coffee in the morning. Seriously. It’s ridiculous! Then I’ll map out the day ahead of me. Then sleep.
In the morning (after coffee, of course), I’ll sort through and organize customer orders, roast the coffee for those orders to precise specifications, then package and prepare everything for deliveries. I won’t walk out the door without cleaning the equipment and shop and preparing what I need for the next day ~ all the while thinking about how we could be tweaking our workflow for efficiency. We do everything by hand, by ourselves. It’s a bit more time consuming but very satisfying.
iv. Personal qualities that help us in my work are:
• an obsession with attention to detail, and
• always looking for ways to improve efficiency – no matter how big or small. I’ve always had a knack for identifying deficiencies and then coming up with creative solutions to improve them. I also really enjoy building and creating things, and I think this has really helped us along as we’re still in start-up mode since we encounter challenges and needs around every corner. My ability to build what we need has been very helpful. Also, trying to keep things simple, light, and fun has always served me well.
v. The greatest challenges around doing this work are:
• Drinking too much coffee!!!
• One of the challenges we were faced with early on was the supply chain process during pandemic, for everything from coffee bags to package labels. Understanding scale is also challenging. This was our first holiday season in business and we didn’t really know what to expect as far as sales. Market response was extremely positive, and the demand was far greater than we anticipated. A nice problem to have; however the pandemic-related shipping delays stressed us out a bit. In the end, the situation tested our systems and helped us understand scalability, inventory management, and real time problem-solving in short order.
• Did I mention limited budgets? Yes, add that to the list of challenges.
• The other big challenge is that people want to shop small and local (which is 100% awesome) yet as consumers we still want the delivery turnaround of Amazon. We’re nimble and swift at getting orders in the hands of our customers, but it’s really hard to compete with that!
vi. Creative childhood hobbies:
• I spent most of my time as a child taking things apart to see how they worked. I was definitely ‘that kid’. I’d dismantle a perfectly good bedroom fan or toaster oven just to see how it all functioned on the other side of the cover. It probably frustrated my parents to no end. I also liked to clean, fix, and build bikes, carts, and anything else with wheels. I built my first gas engine go kart when I was 12 (it was a beast). Really, I’ve just always enjoyed working with my hands … building, creating.
vii. Show, podcasts, books that I’m into right now:
• For the most part, I’m into watching Youtube videos, tutorials, and clips from other creators. It’s pretty amazing how we can now pick and choose exactly what we want to consume these days; you can learn a lot from watching other people’s successes and failures!
viii. Training that has helped me in this career:
• Everything I’ve ever done has involved building things by hand. It’s what I’m good at, and what I love to do. I’m a guy that can follow a set of instructions pretty well, but I also really like coming up with my own formula for things. My experience as a builder (I’ve been a cabinet maker and even a prop-maker in the film industry), has definitely helped me as a coffee roaster. The common thread? Hands-on craftsmanship and an extreme proficiency for operating all kinds of equipment.
ix. A common trap that can hurt people in this career:
• Losing ‘the reason’. We never want to lose the intimate connection we have with our customers. We got into this business because we genuinely enjoy roasting high-quality, fresh coffee in small batches for other people to enjoy. In fact, each bag of coffee is made with passion and with the customer in mind – every single step of the way. A pile of tiny details that we think add up to something very important.
x. Some proud career moments:
• Our first sale to someone who we weren’t related to. No kidding! It felt very satisfying to start seeing orders come in from all over everywhere, and then even more exciting when they’d order again. That’s the reward and proud moment.
• We’ve also received tremendous support from our local community and were very excited to launch our first public sale in collaboration with Glenburn Soda Fountain, an iconic retro ice cream and confectionary shop here in the neighborhood. Vancity Credit Union also pumped our tires by inviting us to set up a product display in the local branch.
• We were pretty excited to be covered by Westcoast Foods, VancouverIsAwesome, and our local news outlet BurnabyNow.
xi. If you want to work in my field, I suggest that you:
stay open-minded and persistent. Listening to feedback is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it is extremely valuable to listen and deeply understand what your customers want and how they are reacting to our products. It’s critical to any business. On the other hand, it’s tempting to try to be ‘all things to all people’, when you simply can’t. Establish a vision, listen to the insights of experts and your audience, and be true to yourself (and your brand). Also, in this industry, it’s helpful to have a high tolerance for caffeine. 😉
xii. A professional goal I have for the future is:
To grow our roster of retailers, and earn a spot on the list of top 10 roasters in Vancouver. We’d also really like to find our way on fellow Burnaby boy Michael Buble’s list of favorite things (are you listening, Michael?!). That would be AMAZING.
Photos by Heights Coffee Co-Founder Garnet Nelson