Q: You’ve been in coffee for a while, but you started in conservation. Tell us about your path.
Andy: All right, so Kandace wanted to know a little bit about my background in coffee, and I have been in the business for about 14 years and she wanted to know what I was doing before I got into coffee.
My wife Laurel and I—before coffee—were working in conservation in the country of Lebanon. We worked to protect the wetland out there. A lot of my work revolved around bird studies, so I was doing census counts and bird banding, catching bird with nets, and putting little bands around their legs and taking biometrics of the birds. Collecting data that helped us justify why the wetlands, called Aammiq Marsh, was worth protecting. It’s kind of a neat success story that that wetland is now a National Reserve and it’s just nice to be a small part of that success.
When the Iraq War started, we kind of abruptly came back to the U.S. and right around that time realized that Laurel was pregnant with our first child, James, and so we decided that we should probably restart our lives here in the U.S. Moved out to Annapolis, Maryland and I just needed a job and so I started applying at different cafes around Annapolis. Café Pronto was one of those places that I applied to and actually got a job there. Café Pronto’s now serving the coffee they rebranded and that’s where I spent my first 10 years in coffee.
Started as a barista, wore a lot of hats and eventually took over the roasting department and fell in love with coffee during that time. Realized, “Wow, not only do I love it, but I think I probably have a good skill set for it.” I have kind of an acute, almost hypersensitive senses from hearing to sight to taste and smell. I think those really helped me with identifying birds. Sensitive ears and eyes and then the sense of nose and palette I think really helped me in developing a good sense of what quality coffee is.
So about three years in, started taking over the roasting department and also during those last seven years at Ceremony helped with making the green buying decisions. Then we came out here about four years ago to start Sweet Bloom. My parents live out here and we wanted to be close to them and it was just a good time, I think to make a change in my career.
Q: Tell us about the name Sweet Bloom. Where did it come from?
Andy: One thing we really value—one quality we really need to see in every coffee that we choose—is that it’s sweet. That suggests that at the harvests, they were picking when the fruit was really ripe and that there was really good processing involved.
Then, Bloom is just a little bit of a play on words.
Our logo is the coffee flower and to me it’s where coffee begins. It begins with a flower that turns into a fruit and it’s also kind of the beginning of the story of coffee, so it’s kind of a neat way of telling people about what we value in coffee and where it began.
Then, obviously, the bloom is when you pour water over coffee bed it forms the bloom and, to me, that’s actually a really critical stage when you’re assessing the quality of coffee.
That infusion, when you smell it, should taste really pure and you should get these incredible … if the coffee’s really good, you’ll get wonderful, sweet, perfumy notes, chocolatey notes, fruit notes that are just super pure and if there’s something that’s not quite right with the coffee, that’s a good opportunity, smelling that bloom, to notice that problem. So we’re just looking for coffee that’s really sweet and has wonderful characteristics, which you can identify in the bloom.
Q: You began as a family business. What are you now? Tell us about growing.
Andy: We did start out as a family business. It was me and my nephew Caleb. We definitely have grown and I showed you a little bit about our staff and quite honestly, it’s grown so much beyond me just running around being a roaster to having an amazing team behind me, which I love and care for and I just need to see that they … just amazing coffee professionals that also take care of our customers and take care of each other. It’s just nice to be part of that.
*** Q: Tell us about your direct trade model.
We’ve tried to kind of turn the tables on who visits who. I still go down to Origin, but as much as I go to visit farms, I want to bring producers here to Sweet Bloom and the idea is that they get to see the cafes that serve their coffee. We have a meet the producer night, where we invite our retail customers, our staff of course, and also wholesale customers to come and meet these producers. So far we’ve had Fito and Rafa Amar from Bambito Estate in Vulcan, Panama, and also Edwin Martinez from Finca Vista Hermosa in Huehuetenango. Just amazing people and those events were really special and so that’s what we want to continue to do as we grow and move forward, is bring more producers in to meet us here at the roastery. So that’s maybe a bit of a unique aspect of our direct trade model.
Q: Tell Us About Growing. What is next for Sweet Bloom?
We’re growing and yeah, I think we’ve been very fortunate to get established very quickly. We’ve had some wonderful people that have taken us, wonderful accounts that have taken us on and been consistently buying from us from the beginning. We’ve just seen some wonderful growth and been really appreciative to those that have supported us and believed in us.
I don’t see that really changing much as we move forward. We’ve been asked about if we’re going to start retail and at the moment that’s all I’m focusing on, is continue grow our wholesale and just being the best wholesale roasters we can be and really establishing ourselves as just that. Just really, really good wholesale roasters, so that’s our vision for growth at the moment.
There’s two rooms behind us that we don’t have yet that we’re really excited to move into. We’re going to get a training lab set up for Miguel and also some more green storage back behind the 25 pound roaster, so that’s where at least the building is going to grow. I think that’s it as far as what was asked of me and the next time you see us, it’s going to me with my beautiful wife, Laurel. She’s going to tell you a little bit about our packaging and all the work that she did for that.
Okay, here we are in our backyard, and this is my lovely wife, Laurel, who is going to do the rest of the interview and I’m just going to sneak behind the camera and ask you a few questions.
Q: All right, Laurel, can you tell me a little bit about yourself and how you got into art.
Laurel: Yeah, I’ve always loved art and by the time I was old enough to have a job I started freelancing, mostly doing greeting cards, wedding invitations, logos and things like that. So around the time that Andy was working on the package redesign, I was taking classes in botanical illustration at the Denver Botanic Gardens and when he came home with this idea for a botanical design on the package, I said, “Hey, I think I could do that for you.”
Andy: Yeah, and I can’t think of a better person to be doing the artwork for our bags. You actually have the original here, do you want to share that?
Laurel: Yeah. So our designers were The Made Shop and they had this idea of having a coffee plant, leaves, berries and flowers, on the package. They suggested that it be an etching and the reason for that is you can get really fine, uniform lines with etching and also there are no shades of gray. It’s either black or white. I had never done an etching before, but I figured I could learn and found that it’s actually a really fun and interesting medium. I enjoyed doing this a lot.
I just made this branch here with the buds and the flowers and the berries and a few extra flowers to add to the design and then I gave this to the designers and they turned it into this by inverting it and then they layered this over itself to create the wallpaper design that is on our bags.
Andy: Yeah, we really enjoyed working with The Made Shop for this project and I think we have some fun projects planned for the future, including more of Laurel’s artwork.
Q: Do you do anything else with Sweet Bloom?
Laurel: I do, I am also our accountant, which has caused me some gray hair and it was really nice, since that’s a pretty behind the scenes kind of job, it was really fun to be able to have a part in the final product that our customers receive. So I was glad to be able to do this artwork for the package.
Andy: Okay, well, I think that’s it. Just want to say again, thank you to Kandace and Ray for this opportunity to share a little bit about Sweet Bloom and our lives and I think that’s it. Live from Colorado.