Will Wells: Coffee Insurrection Hero Chapter #21

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Will Wells: Coffee Insurrection Hero Chapter #21

coffee shop 2023
1-Introduce yourself: who are you, where are you from, where do you work and what’s    your job.

My name is Will Wells, I am the Head Roaster and Owner of . I was born and raised in Ottawa, Canada’s capital city, but still a rather small town feel, government city where specialty coffee is still a relatively new concept.
 
2-When and why did coffee become important to you?

I worked as a barista in college, but it wasn’t particularly good coffee, and definitely wasn’t ethical. So the love affair did not start there, but the habit of drinking it nonstop certainly did. It was not until years later that I really fell in love with coffee and the stories behind it. It was during a conversation with a taxi driver who was from Ethiopia whom I had become friends with after many late night drives home, as I was working a night shift as a young public servant during the H1N1 pandemic (there seems to be a link with pandemics and my coffee adventure). He told me about the traditional method of home-roasting coffee in Ethiopia, in a frying pan, often for guests (coffee is after all just as social as it is therapeutic!). So I started sourcing green beans wherever I could, roasting them in a frying pan to very mixed result (mostly inconsistent, DARK roasts with charcoal bits). But more often than not, it was still a decent cup, especially when compared to some of the options within walking distance to my house. I then upgraded machines to the point of roasting small-batch roasts in my garage for friends and charity events. It was at a particular charity event I had started, Jessie Jam (a 2 on 2 basketball tournament in honour of my friend Jessie, who I had met through my volunteering and had passed a few years before), where my coffee was really selling well at the charity auction where the light bulb had gone off. I had for years wanted to open a social enterprise coffee shop that exclusively hired people with disabilities, but also was dreading the idea of working behind an espresso bar (and asking others to) as it’s not an easy job. And my passion realty was in roasting coffee, not necessarily serving it. So at that moment I realized the roaster, not a coffee shop, was the way forward in my dream of fusing my love coffee, with my love of volunteering and advocating for the disabled community.
 
3-Do you remember the first coffee you had that was more than “just a cup of coffee”?
 
I wish I had a romantic tale of being in some far-off locale and discovering some heirloom variety while sitting on a pier or something, but that is not the case. While I of course loving sitting in the cafes of Paris, sipping ‘melanges’ in Vienna, or drinking doubles on the beaches of the Canary Islands (areas I used to visit often as have family there), the truth is, the coffee is bad, or at least, the stuff found at the touristy joints and mainstream spots (I’m sure on future trips I’ll find some specialty spots to change my tune). Dark roast Robusta blends are just not my idea of a good coffee. It was at a coffee shop in Ottawa, must have been ten or more years ago, that I first had a cup of coffee that was light and bright, and the sensation of the acids had me hooked. So I started buying from more specialty roasters, which back then were not as easy to find as today, and eventually just started roasting my own once I was able to buy more green varieties.  
 
4-What’s your favorite thing about going to work in the morning?
 
Days at the Roastery are honestly the most fun I have ever had at a job (and I used to be a tennis pro in Miami!). I have so much passion for the advocacy work we do, and the coffee we roast, that even on the days where we have a mountain of orders to fulfil and bins of coffee roast, I still can’t stop smiling. Roasting coffee, and operating a social enterprise, while a lot of work, are simply the most rewarding and enjoyable work I have ever done. I almost feel guilty that something that is meant to be for the benefit of others, still feels sooo good! I also get to work with my incredible team, and they are what keeps this business going, in so many different ways.
 
5-What’s your favorite brewing method and why?

I used to be all about that spro, but now I really am all about pour overs. While I do tend to go through various cycles, I just find that quality light roasts just shine with pour overs. I also find that pour over forces me to stop what I’m doing, and just focus on one task, and a task I find very relaxing (unlike spro, which I find can often be a trying exercise in patience). I also find pour overs allow me to drink different coffees throughout the day, versus say spro, where I would dial something in and then stick to it for a day or two. I also like the control over different variables that pour overs provide (much like spro) and also enjoy using different drippers and seeing the range of results they provide.    
 
6-Which is the best coffee you ever tasted?
 
Really hard question, as I’ve had so many with varying profiles. I’ve had some really incredible and memorable Geshas from Panama, as was fortunate enough to spend a good chunk of time there. So I guess they still tend to be the coffees that I think of the most, or rather, that I compare all other unique varietals too. But really there are just so many coffees I haven’t had, and think the exercise of finding the best would just border on the totally impossible. Not to mention I find that my mood/location/time of day/what I’m eating will also really influence how I enjoy a coffee.
 

               Specialty Coffee Roasters

7-Is there a country of origin that you tend to favor coffee from? Why?
 
Not really. I love so many different coffees from different origins, and they really all have their place. Most of the producers we work with are third generation farms from San Agustin, Colombia so I have a lot of respect and love for them, and their coffees are some of my favourites. The same goes for the farmers we work with in Guatemala who form the Café Colis Resistencia movement (Indigenous Xinka farmers who are defending their lands against a Canadian headquartered silver mind). And we work with Baho Coffee who operate the Fuji Washing Station, and are very ethical in how they treat the farmers they work with, many of which are micro farms run by widowed and single women. So definitely biased, as we work with these three areas and their single producers, but I think the missions behind the coffees are just as important, if not more so, than how they taste in the cup. But we are lucky in that all of those coffees are delicious.

8-Suggest us a roastery to check (not the one your working at/you use at work).
 
I’ll shoutout a couple. are really big inspirations for us, as they put their advocacy work ahead of their roasting, but their coffee is also exceptional. And two local roasters in Ottawa who have amazing coffee AND ethics are and
 
9-What’s the most important things you’ve learnt while working in the business?
 
Work with people you trust and respect, from wholesale to your suppliers. We really put relationships and ethics before every decision we make, and so far it has served us well. For instance, our coffee is supplied by Semilla Coffee, who are coffee advocates as much as they are importers. They allow us to work directly with producers, and also drive ethical business practices throughout everything they do. And they have the best coffee. They are the only person we source coffee through, and the trust we have put in the relationship has served us well. And there are a million and one other things I have learned about this business that I could write a book on (not a good book as I still know very little, but a book nonetheless!). Also one thing I’d quickly add is that running your business with ethics as the focus is hard. It’s easier to just take those shortcuts. But nothing worth doing is easy.
10-How your work and the specialty coffee world are coping with Covid and the new challenges for hospitality?
 

For us, COVID has presented both an opportunity and a challenge. It gave me the extra time (no more commuting!, and odd sleep cycles) to start this business, not to mention an increased demand for specialty coffee given everyone is buying a Breville and missing their coffee shops. But at the same time, because of the COVID restrictions and the extra precautions we were taking to keep our staff, many of which with underlying health conditions, we have had to deal with less staff allowed on site, cancel plans for pop ups etc. But we are managing and feel bad for the other businesses that aren’t going to come out of this COVID created recession.  
 
11-How do you see the specialty coffee scene in 10 years?
 
It’s such a varied scene depending on where you are. Generally, on the global scale I really hope that retail prices for coffees increase, and that the difference goes directly into the pockets of producers, not roasters or the corporations trying to manipulate coffee trading/importing. Without naming names, some of the worst corporations in the world still control the trade, and put poorly processed, cheap, and unethical coffees into little plastic pods and call it quality. And I think that isn’t just something done by the large corporations, but even many specialty roasters calling themselves third wave, still could greatly improve their sourcing and the ethics that drive them. Like why do the majority of successful roasters still not invest in better, more environmentally friendly packaging? While business is a balance, I still think that balance skews too much to the profit side and not the ethical one. But I have hope, and our small roastery and many others like us, will do everything within our power to play a role in the right way forward.
 
12-Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
 
I really hope right here, just in a bigger space with more staff. I can’t imagine doing anything else as a job ten years from now. I love roasting coffee. I love selling coffee in support of the employment of people with disabilities. I love running a small business that tries to give back. That being said, it’s hard work and long hours, and I hope ten years from now I still have the energy to be a part of this. But my goal is to create a business that doesn’t require me to be successful, something I can step back from and hand over to staff to run the day to day. That takes time, but I think ten years from now we will get there, as we have amazing staff, we have the support of the community, and we have an amazing product. And the big goal by then will be for us to have full-time staff, paid actual living wages and with full benefits. And all people living with disabilities. I have faith it will all work out.
 
13-Any last word? Any tip or suggestion you wanna share with someone that want to start this path?
 
I think many people have dreams or ideas, and they think they are just that, dreams and ideas. I guess I would just say you never know when they can become a reality. That with the right mix of privilege, effort, and also, luck, the stars align and maybe you have an opportunity to do something you’ve always wanted to. Just f*cking do it. You only live one. Some things work out, some things don’t, so just don’t risk the whole biscuit and see what happens. I say this from a very privileged place, so know that not everyone has the same opportunities as me to take such a risk. But if you have an opportunity, or an idea and the resources/conviction to back it, just go for it. It’s better to have tried and failed than to never know. I would also say whatever venture you are taking on, especially in the coffee industry, make sure that ethics drive every facet, and honestly question every decision you make. You will make mistakes, and need to be accountable for them in order to do better next time.

the Artery Community Roasters


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