SHE Spotlight: Cameron's Specialty Coffee Founder, Bill Kirkpatrick
Cameron's Specialty Coffee makes it on SHE's list of "best" organic, fair trade coffee options, so we were ecstatic to get to ask Bill Kirkpatrick, the founder of Cameron's a few questions. He loves coffee as much as we do, and he knows an incredible amount of information on how to brew the perfect cup of coffee the right way! Enjoy (dare we say with a cup of coffee)! Also, we interview and speak with a lot of companies that "say" the right things. But it is so easy to go for a label or stamp without grasping the heart of why it exists. Fair trade or organic certifications stem from a deep respect for the planet and people. Bill, and Cameron's are passionate about that in the best possible way.
SHE Team: What does your company’s name mean and how did you choose it?
Bill – In 1978, Janie and Jim Cameron opened a coffee shop in Hayward, Wisconsin to give their friends and neighbors the experience of “coffee that truly tasted like something.” With Janie’s taste for exquisite flavor and Jim’s Scottish frugalness, the Cameron’s broke the rules of the coffee industry by roasting Specialty Coffee for a price everyone can afford. I started distributing coffee for Jim in the Midwest.And after years of partnership, Jim asked me to help with Cameron’s. We’ve taken the coffee to new levels, with more depth, character and flavor, to be the best tasting coffee in mainstream grocery.So the name comes from Jim.
SHE Team: You are passionate about a great cup of coffee, but also have been able to look past that and see the bigger picture of how each and every cup effects the environment and people (fair trade, biodegradable K-cups instead of filling landfills, operating a green facility, etc.) How did you consciously build that into your business model?
Bill – The first time I visited coffee farms in Central America, I was stunned by the living conditions, ecological damage, hard work required and overall poverty. I came home and immediately started to work on how we could improve our purchasing. Over the years I have tried several approaches. The issues are large so the solutions are very complex.
We have learned to take a genuine approach to these issues. First off, visiting the farms that the coffee comes from really helps. We’re not only thinking about the coffee today, we’re thinking about the coffee 10 years from now. We focus on farms that invest in long-term sustainability of their crop AND their community.
Questions I ask may seem very simple however they are critical. Here are just a few:
- What is the source of drinking water? (Dysentery is a serious problem – a child cannot learn if he/she is in pain and dehydrated.)
- Is there medical attention available?
- Is there a school for the children?
- What type of housing is available?
- What type of cooking facility is available?
- Is there protein available in addition to the tortillas and beans?
When it comes to processing, I ask:
- What is done with the water runoff from the mill?
- Are there evaporation ponds or runoff into local rivers?
- Are the byproducts of the milling process reused for fertilizer?
- How much of the farm is dedicated to forest?
- Are the rivers and streams protected from erosion by not cutting trees and plants near the shore?
This concern extends to our roasting facility as well. Everything we do at Cameron’s is to conserve energy and water. Each company has their own set of priorities - our decision process has always been:
1) Is our coffee the best quality?
2) Is it green?
3) Is it efficient?
SHE Team: We actually are huge proponents of finding healthy, sustainable choices that work for each individual's actual life. And getting a "convenience-without-the-waste-guilt" pod option is a huge boost for some people's journey toward more conscious, sustainable choices. And MAJOR BONUS - the pods actually brew a better cup of coffee! What were some of the challenges of getting this product to market? What elements of this product are you the most proud of?
Bill – We are very proud of the quality of the coffee in our BetterBrew. When the manufacturing equipment company contacted me and asked to show us a new single serve process that they wanted to partner with us on – I said, “No. I have yet to taste a K-Cup that meets our quality standards.” They asked me to hear them out. When I saw the brewing process through a coffee filter, tasted the quality of the cup, and then found out that there was a green (compostable) option in development – I was thrilled. This project has been very challenging. To develop materials that will hold up to water at 200 degrees and still compost is very difficult. This took many prototypes to work – and we are very proud of the entire unit, especially the brew quality.
SHE Team: You are able to see what an environmentally and socially-conscious coffee roaster look like from the inside out. What are some key markers we all can look for in companies that are truly “doing it right” and not for marketing purposes?
Bill – I become suspicious of any company that uses green claims heavily in marketing. We discussed the “markers” above. Our philosophy has always been to do the right thing. We do not market heavily what we do in this area – it is simply who we are.
SHE Team: Do you remember your first cup of coffee?
Bill – Hmmm, my first cup of coffee…I am a Seattle native – so coffee has always been big to me. I was five years old and my mother took me to the dentist. She told me that if I was good she would take me to my grandmother’s restaurant and I could order anything I wanted. I ordered coffee. I appreciated that coffee was something different – I would see people gathering there to visit over coffee every day. It was not simply a beverage that smelled wonderful, it was a social element that brought people together to visit and share their lives.
SHE Team: What is your favorite way to drink coffee now?
Bill – My favorite way to drink coffee is a good strong drip brew.
SHE Team: When you try a new bean, what are you looking for?
Bill – First, no flaws in the coffee. Next, what unique qualities will this coffee bring to us? Also, is this a complete coffee? Does it have good acidity, body and finish?
SHE Team: What are your favorite sustainable, healthy, ethical (SHE) brands you use? (Any creamers, flavorings, filters, or coffee-related products perhaps? It can be anything though!)
Bill – I honestly don’t put anything in my coffee. Cameron’s Coffee is so good that it doesn’t need anything. I do always make sure not to use disposable coffee cups. First, I can often taste the paper in the cup or even sometimes the plastic coating with hot coffee. I always use a mug or cupping glass, so I don’t create any more landfill waste. [Note from the SHE Team, it might have been the caffeine, but that's the part of the interview where we thought we heard choirs singing and saw confetti falling. Sustainable coffee in a sustainable mug! Winning!].
SHE Team: What’s the one thing you wish everyone knew about brewing a cup of coffee?
Bill – Four things are important: 1) good coffee; 2) properly ground; 3) use enough coffee; and 4) make sure the brewer brews at close to 200 degrees.
Find out more about Cameron's and the incredible coffee this company is brewing here.
[Note from the SHE team: We interview and speak with a lot of companies that "say" the right things. But it is so easy to go for a label or stamp without grasping the heart of why it exists. Fair trade or organic certifications stem from a deep respect for the planet and people. Bill, and Cameron's are passionate about that in the best possible way]