“We talk a lot about relationship coffees – but it’s a weird relationship when most of us don’t know beyond the one farmer, beyond the one land owner who we’re actually working with.” Drew Johnson, roaster/owner at Bows & Arrows explains his coffee sourcing philosophy.
“When you see their family and see their kids you kind of have a common foundation and respect and motivation. You can see how far your money goes – if you increase your investment. Money sold by the bag here will go back at the end of the season. They can use that money for wet mill or other basic stuff.”
Bows & Arrows are a coffee roaster out of Victoria, British Colombia with a heavy focus on sourcing transparently. Drew, a former baker has taken the culinary intuition and refined palate from one industry to another. He began learning about coffee as a desire to further understand the beverage most often paired with baked goods, but upon the learning he fell in love with coffee. In 2011 Bows & Arrows was born.
It took a few years before he started B&A - Drew worked with a few different coffee roasters but now he’s quite happy with his situation, especially from an exploratory point of view when it comes to coffee roasting.
“Depending on who you learn from you sometimes never get the opportunity to challenge – especially if you’re in production you get in this mode where you’ve got to get the coffee roasted and out the door. If you feel like you’re experimenting too widely if it’s not rewarded, you can’t learn so you’ve got to stick to the program. Roasting for myself, was just sort of like ‘why do we have to do it this way?’ I’ve got this luxury now.”
Not only was roasting an experiment, but so was the sourcing. How does a roaster cut through the hundreds of coffee farms and find the one that matches with what you’re attempting to accomplish?
“I think it’s a lot of trial and error…. I think initially you’re just responding with what’s on the [cupping] table and a good feel from who you’re doing business with. I think that was really important for us, we didn’t know too much but you have to go on intuition. If you like people that’s pretty solid motivation to continuing to work together”
That intuition has worked wonders for their coffee as they’ve been able to invest in producers whom they purchase from regularly. That investment however, can come in a variety of formats as with an example of a Honduran producer. Interestingly enough, they never earmarked that investment specifically for coffee equipment.
“For Orlando’s family, they had to pull their teenage daughter out of cosmetology school because they had a bad year with roya [fungus] – so they were bringing more people to work on the farm because they couldn’t afford to put her through basic school. It’s depriving the family of a revenue stream essentially because she can’t work outside of coffee, so it’s not necessarily coffee related infrastructure but it’s investment in the producer and the stability of their livelihood. To me it’s the same thing.” Drew explains.