Coffee Business Jazz

w/ Brian from Sweetwater Organic Coffee Co.

On a typical day for Brian Condra, he bikes to work, places a green order through Sweetwater’s cooperative, roasts coffee beans and has a sales meeting or gives a quick group tour. In between over-laying tasks, he sips cups of Sweetwater and then contacts an equipment manufacturer for specs, weaving in and out of conversations with co-workers or silently working in his new office, which used to be a storage space, but they cleaned it out and now it’s a really nice cave with big windows in the roastery. Brian’s dad used to teach him how to paint; he re-created this photo of Miles Davis and John Coltrane.

You went to business school - what do you love most about business? I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit, so… that’s an interesting question… I’ve enjoyed figuring out ways to support myself and create streams of income. It’s not the money, it’s the being able to provide for yourself. I’ve always looked for ways to generate income and with that I’ve always naturally found myself in more leadership and management roles and positions in any company I’ve worked for. So, business school was kind of a natural degree to do. Management was a natural degree - business management.

What’s different about Sweetwater?

Sweetwater is very unique in what their mission is in how they source and try to grow their business. In specialty coffee today there’s all this competition, and finding a way to actually create a viable business in that realm is more difficult today than it’s ever been and the competition will be increasing. But it's been great to work for a company who's values-driven and has great existing relationships and is really trying to do more with what they have.

Working here and learning about organically sourced and fairly traded coffee has changed my perception and attitude towards specialty coffee.  And what is just as important is making sure you’re starting out with organic good coffee, sourced appropriately along with roasting quality. Roasting profile quality management is just as important as how you source it. That’s what really stands out from this company.

What are some of your aspirations for Sweetwater?

To continue to really develop and grow the company in a very sustainable way that treats not only our farming partners and employees with respect but to bring a better quality of life for everybody involved in our immediate world. For us, it’s continuing to try to find creative ways to connect with our community.

You’re going to Peru in June!

It’s my first trip to origin, so this trip we’re visiting Peru to C.A.C. Pangoa - the co-op we’re visiting. We buy more coffee from them than from anybody else - it’s our biggest trading partner. Tripp and Bill and Tina have visited before but for me it’s the first time. I can make more of a connection beyond the company; for me I'm looking forward to making a personal connection with the co-op and being able to see what their experience is in this whole deal. It’s through Cooperative Coffees, our importing cooperative. I’m going representing Sweetwater and then we have Third Coast out in Austin and Peace Coffee up in Minneapolis who will be going, too.  

Editor's note: Brian got back from his Peru trip on June 24.  His impressions will be shared in an upcoming blog post. (We hear he really liked it).