There’s a story behind each cup of coffee from Hemisphere Coffee Roasters. The roastery is not only focused on brewing quality java, but helping the international communities in which their beans grow. Hemisphere imports coffee from across the world to roast at their Mechanicsburg facility.
“Coffee is a commodity,” Hemisphere Founder and Owner Paul Kurtz says. “Its the second largest traded commodity next to oil.” And it’s a commodity that can mean feast or famine for the communities that grow it.
Working with the Rosedale Mennonite Mission in Central America, Kurtz saw this phenomena first hand – and remembered paying $18 for a pound of coffee at Starbucks. If he was paying that much for coffee, where was the gap?
So, 12 years ago Kurtz began researching the coffee industry and found an unfair, disjointed process.
“There’s so many middle people, the farmer is on the end of the chain on the whole thing,” he says. Many farmers were growing cherries from which beans needed to be removed within 24 hours.
“As soon as he picks, he needs a buyer,” Kurtz says. Many coffee farmers were at the mercy of whatever buyers wanted to fix prices at.
“It just seemed ripe for some kind of help that was not a hand out but a hand up,” Kurtz says.
Building relationships with farmers, Kurtz is cutting out the middleman and importing coffee directly from communities in Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Thailand, giving rise to Hemisphere’s tagline, “We shake the hand of the coffee farmer.”
Kurtz imported his first 40,000 pound container in 2005, originally planning to find other roasters that wanted the beans.
“I never intended to be an entrepreneur,” he says. But after speaking to an industry expert, he learned the only way to know if he was truly importing quality coffee was to roast it himself.
Hemisphere now imports about five containers of coffee per year, roasting about 2,000 pounds a week at their facility and finding other roasters for the remainder.
Kurtz says that more than coffee, Hemisphere is about helping communities that grow the beans thrive and flourish. The roastery offers pre-harvest funding to their farmers on what they have to deliver. It’s a win-win – it helps them build relationships with farmers, instilling trust they will deliver on their product, and producers are proud to have a traceable connection to their roaster.
Each coffee that Hemisphere imports is distinct.
“Coffee, just like wine, it’s a product of place,” Kurtz says. “It’s distinct to the soil and the climate, and actually it’s a product of people, of the culture.”
Hemisphere’s flagship blend is imported from Nicaragua. The beans are grown on estate farm that used to only provide seasonal work for farmers, but for the past six years, has kept workers busy year-round.
Twenty-five members of the nomadic indigenous Cabacar tribe of southern Costa Rica harvest another of Hemisphere’s blends. The tribe was being exploited by their buyers, but with funding from Hemisphere can now export their own product.
Last year, Hemisphere brought in their first shipment of beans from the Ahka Hill tribe in Thailand. To eradicate the growth of opium, the king of Thialand gave farmers coffee plants. More and more farmers became interested and with some guidance, started growing a high-quality coffee.
Kurtz finds most of Hemisphere’s farmers through networking and other connections within the industry. In addition to its current importers, Hemisphere is exploring relationships with farmers in Guatemala, Uganda and Kenya.
From across the world to Columbus, Hemisphere’s coffee is available at The Hills Market, Whole Foods and several places in Plain City. However Kurtz says the market is still pretty wide open in the city.
Hemisphere recently moved to a 6,000 square-foot facility in Mechanicsburg, about 40 minutes west of downtown. The new roastery will feature self-guided tours, videos that highlight their story and the unique stories of their farmers, as well as a chance to see roasting in action.
For more information, visit hemispherecoffeeroasters.com