Through participation in Redwood Gospel Mission’s certification program, men and women in recovery are taught to roast coffee as a skill they could use to enter the work force again as a coffee professional.
By Max Bretzke, Redwood Gospel Coffee Co.
For the past eight years, I have been riding a wave from a single experience. Like many other coffee professionals, I tasted a coffee that changed my perspective of what coffee was; I had never considered that a simple cup of coffee could provide such an enjoyable—and even thrilling—experience. This created a hunger in me to discover how and why a cup like this was possible. I devoured as much information as I could find on coffee brewing, and then quickly turned to experimenting with roasting to achieve the perfect cup. That one cup of coffee opened the door to an industry of incredible potential, not only for chasing this “perfect cup,” but also for positively impacting communities and enhancing cultures in this pursuit.
The great thing about the coffee industry is that the question is not whether or not there is good to do, the question is: where do we start? There is so much that can be done. We have access to a product that is in high demand worldwide and that has an unparalleled ability to unite people. So, how we tap into it for the greater good is determined by our ability to see opportunities and our creativity to implement solutions to those needs.
Our opportunity has manifested itself in the form of teaching a sustainable job skill—coffee roasting—to those in a local ministry. Focusing on the homeless and individuals with life-controlling issues, the Redwood Gospel Mission aims for not just sobriety, but a sustainable transformation. Throughout this 10-month recovery program, men and women are encouraged to build relationships and learn job skills so that they have the tools they need to thrive in society. Like most visions, it started with something a little bit out of the box—roasting coffee on a retrofitted barbecue—and with a little refinement, we ended up sharing space in a state-of-the-art roasting facility to give these men and women the best possible training akin to a real coffee production experience. We began with a question: what makes a good entry level production roaster? This led us to the conclusion that we must teach not only the art and science of roasting, but also the vocabulary that we use every day in coffee. So, every day prior to roasting, we begin by cupping and brewing our production samples. Watching these roasters develop the skills to describe what they are tasting—something that becomes possible only after you’ve spent time tasting coffee over and over again—and seeing them get excited about working in this industry after they graduate the program is thrilling. We are currently working with our third group of roasters-in-training. By the end of our first year in operation, we will have certified eight coffee roasters.
Our next phase at Redwood Gospel Coffee Co., the roasting arm of the Mission, will be to develop relationships with farmers and seek out how to best support them. Our plan is to partner with missionaries and churches in the countries that already have developed relationships and that are aware of the needs of that city or region. Many companies and individuals in our industry have been great trailblazers in connecting with farming communities, so we are not aiming to reinvent the wheel. We want to go in with an open mind and ready to listen to what the needs are of the community and effectively communicate that in our sphere of influence.
The demand for coffee is an insatiable force in many cultures around the world. It is among few beverages that have the ability to draw diverse crowds to gather and form community. Sharing a cup of coffee with someone brings about unlimited potential, including unlocking our innate desires for peace and unity. Whether we are brewing a pot of coffee for friends, opening a coffee bar, or working with farmers directly, we have a responsibility to recognize the power that coffee has to create community.
Max Bretzke is the director of coffee at Redwood Gospel Coffee Co. and the co-owner of Land and Water Coffee. He loves spending time with his wife, Linnia, and daughter, Rowan. He stays limber on the racquetball court.