This week in the Future of Ottawa series, we’re taking a deep dive into Ottawa’s food production community—what it’s like now and where it’s headed. Read on for a guest post from Francis Bueckert on local coffee roasting, or read Jeremy Colbeck of BeetBox on sustainable farming co-ops, Chris Penton on farmers’ markets, or Steve Beauchesne on craft beer.
Francis Bueckert grew up in Ottawa and went to Trent University in Peterborough. During his time at Trent, he did a year abroad in Ecuador. Bueckert volunteered on coffee farms and became inspired by the community there to help stand with them in their fight against mining companies. He started Cloudforest Coffee to import and roast coffee from Rio Intag, Ecuador.
Apt613: What is the current landscape of coffee roasting companies and independent cafés in Ottawa?
Francis Bueckert: When it comes to the current landscape of coffee-roasting companies and independent cafes in Ottawa, I think we are at a really interesting moment in time. There are more local roasters that are doing artisanal small-batch production—with more attention to the quality and origin of the beans.
With larger corporations such as Starbucks closing locations, it has opened a bit of space for local players to grow. We have been lucky to work with many folks in the coffee-roasting community, and we have found that there is a willingness to collaborate among different coffee roasters. For example, when Cloudforest started back in 2014, we were roasting our coffee at Happy Goat and it was the expertise of their head roaster Hans that helped me learn how to roast. Other companies such as Brown Bag Coffee have also lent a hand when we needed extra roasting capacity. There are others, such as Lulo, Mighty Valley Coffee, Bluebarn, The Artery, and Little Victories that are also part of the growing local coffee community. It’s small roasters like these who have shown me what a coffee community can look like, and that we can help to elevate each other, rather than being locked in competition.
If you care to make a prediction… What’s happening to the local café industry in 2021?
We believe that there is hope and that 2021 can be a big pivot year for small roasters and cafes.
This year will not be ideal from a business point of view. However, it could create a shift in people’s attitude toward where they get their coffee. We are holding out hope that people will support the roasters and cafes that are local to help them economically survive what is in all reality a very difficult time.
It all depends on where consumers decide to go this year. People are starting to recognize that supporting large corporations at this moment will be at the cost of the local roasters and cafes. There is the growing realization that a future where there is only Amazon, Walmart, and Starbucks would be pretty bleak. So we have an opportunity this year to support the kind of local businesses that we want to see thrive.
In your wildest dreams, what will the landscape for local coffee roasters and cafés look like in your lifetime?
In my wildest dreams, all of the coffee roasters and cafés would be locally owned and independent. They would all be focused on direct trade and artisanal coffee. Each different coffee roaster and café would know exactly where their coffee came from. Ideally, each company would be a partnership between the farmers who grow the beans and the people here selling them. There would be a focus on how to cooperate and collaborate with the farmers in the countries of origin to share the benefits around. We would all work together and share orders of cups, lids, and other packaging so that we could get better bulk pricing. In this way, we would make our local coffee community so efficient that the large corporate coffee companies wouldn’t even be able to compete.
We would also like to see people use coffee as a way to create social good. For example, we started Cloudforest as a way of helping support farmers in Ecuador who were taking a stand against large mining companies. This remote community stood up to protect their environment, so that they could have clean drinking water and soil for the next generation. They started an organic coffee cooperative to help show that there are other models of development, and we are doing our part year after year to help support their vision. They have a vision of development that does not include mass deforestation and contamination, and organic coffee is a key (among others) to show that another way forward is possible.
What is the best innovation to take place in your industry since the pandemic started affecting Ottawa?
During the past year, every coffee roaster and cafe has had to innovate in their business to survive. We have all had to either redo websites, change the flow of cafés, serve out of windows, or ramp up online deliveries. The industry has had not innovate not just once, but multiple times during the past year. When you really think about it, haven’t we all had to innovate just to keep up with our day-to-day lives over the past year?
*Who* is the future of coffee in Ottawa?
The future of coffee in Ottawa is all the small local coffee roasters and cafés. The future is already here, now people just have to choose to support local.
Tell us something you wish somebody told you when you started your business.
I wish somebody had told me not to start a business and to invest in Bitcoin instead. All jokes aside though, owning a business is a wild ride at the best of times. This past year has been especially challenging for the mental health of small business owners. We are all burnt out, after having to adapt and improvise so many times over the past year. I know that I never would have listened if someone told me not to start a business. I had a dream of selling coffee to help a remote community in Ecuador resist mining companies. Nothing would have convinced me to not try and make that dream come true. Its been seven years and I can say I’m grateful that we are turning a dream into reality.
Back in 2015, Apartment613 took a look at the future of Ottawa across several different sectors. In 2021, we’re bringing the series back, asking experts, artists, and community leaders to shed some light on their local field or industry, as it stands now and where they think—or dream—it will go over the next few years. Every week we’ll profile a different cultural sector in Ottawa, leaving no niche unexplored—from social justice to theatre, bars to sports, to the future of the municipality and its natural environs. Keep an eye out for a new batch of posts every Tuesday on Apt613.ca.