All Shane and Heather Hoffman wanted was a good cup of coffee. But it was nearly impossible to find a roasting house in the Algoma region that offered a fresh, tasty cup. So, they started their own.
The Hoffmans are proprietors of St. Joseph Island Coffee Roasters, the three-and-a-half-year-old roasting house that produces a variety of roasts and blends of coffee sold throughout Algoma.
After living beside a roasting house in Calgary, the couple developed a taste for freshly roasted java, and, while contemplating a move to Ontario with their young son, the two started learning more about the process.
“We did a lot of research and started home roasting,” said Shane, who started experimenting, one pot at a time, while mining local roasteries for tips and advice. “Basically, with their feedback, we thought we could make a go of it out here in Northern Ontario in the middle of nowhere.”
The middle of nowhere is a 17.5-acre piece of property on St. Joseph Island, located about a half hour southeast of Sault Ste. Marie. A sleepy bedroom community through most of the year, the island comes alive during the summer months with tourists seeking out the island’s most sought-after commodity: maple syrup.
“The island already has a pretty good brand associated with it, in regards to the maple syrup industry, a very strong cottage industry in the summer months,” Shane said. “So it seemed like a great opportunity to associate ourselves with that brand, and that’s why we chose St. Joseph Island Coffee Roasters.”
At the heart of the Hoffmans’ home-based business is their Sivetz fluid-bed coffee roaster, which uses hot air to circulate the beans in its roasting chamber, removing chaff released from the beans, eliminating the potential addition of tarred or burnt flavours to the beans. It’s a feature unique to Sivetz roasters. As chief roaster, Shane roasts the coffee in eight-pound batches, which takes about 15 minutes to produce.
During the busy summer months, he can spend two full days in the 165-square-foot roasting shack just to keep up with demand.
Blends get their flavour from the beans, which the Hoffmans buy through Cooperative Coffees, a collective of roasters from around North America that purchases beans directly from the farmers who grow them.
Because the co-operative purchases beans in bulk quantities, the Hoffmans can access varieties hailing from Africa, Indonesia, South America and Central America. And everything the Hoffmans produce is organic and certified fair trade.
“Generally, the coffee industry is filled with a bunch of middle men who each are taking their cut of the coffee sales, and by going as direct as possible, we’re able to make sure that money is going directly to those farmers,” Shane said. “We’re giving them better than fair trade prices for their coffee.”
Providing a fair trade coffee to consumers speaks to the Hoffmans’ core business values. Their move to Ontario was made, in part, to live closer to Heather’s family, but it also facilitated a simpler way of living. Shane said the couple tries to take a holistic approach to business, weighing decisions based on their environmental and economic impacts, among other factors.
Their coffees are packaged in a vacuum-sealable bag that keeps the product fresh, but biodegrades in a home composter. The old van used for deliveries recently got the boot for a more efficient Volkswagen station wagon, saving $200 per month on fuel costs.
There have been challenges, not the least of which is shipping. The Hoffmans currently use Canada Post for shipping; they send their coffee all across Canada through their bustling internet business. Following a successful start, the Hoffmans are considering expansion. Their coffees are already in limited distribution in Sudbury, and Shane is looking at next-day delivery options for Sudbury coffee aficionados.
After that, large urban centres— think Toronto and Ottawa—are on the horizon. With expansion will come a need for a larger roaster that can handle about four times the volume the Hoffmans are producing now, as well as one or two more staff members.
But, as with any of the Hoffmans’ decisions, prudence will guide their efforts.
“We’ve been in business now for just three and a half years and it’s all been very sustainable growth,” Shane said. “We don’t want to get to the point where we’re beyond our own capabilities; we don’t want to get stretched too thin.”