Bikenomics is a feature series to spotlight the greater Seattle area’s growing bike businesses. Know a business that should be featured? Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Business: Conduit Coffee
Owner: Jesse Nelson
Industry: Food & Drink
Behind a big white roll-up door of an industrial-looking building along Westlake Ave. hides a small business with a big future. The remnants and oil smells of the previous motorcycle repair shop still remain in the recently cleared out front room, but the tiny studio in the back beckons with warmth, music and the welcoming aroma of fresh coffee. Standing in the center of the small room is a blue Dietrich roaster surrounded by sacks and big containers of coffee beans.
This is the home of Conduit Coffee, a new coffee company specialized in single-origin coffee from around the world and evolving blends.
“Company” seems too cold a word. Conduit Coffee is more than a company, it is Jesse Nelson’s passion, vision, and true labor of love.
Nelson fell in love with coffee when visiting a friend in Guatemala a few years ago. And upon his return, he started home-roasting.
“It was a great hobby to have in grad school,” Nelson said.
Working in the agricultural and sustainable development nonprofit world, Nelson soon “grew tired of the political fighting” and took some time off to farm in Sicily.
“I decided I wanted to make more beauty and play with food,” he said.
When he returned from Europe, Nelson was serious about getting into the coffee business and completed an apprenticeship with a coffee roaster in Colorado.
Since November of last year, when Nelson obtained the tiny studio, he’s been hard at work to grow his hobby into a business, sourcing the best coffee, scrounging up funds to acquire a coffee roaster, and experimenting with blends.
He officially launched Conduit Coffee in May, 2012, and started selling his coffee at a handful of grocers and cafes and at the Fremont Farmers Market.
While he dreams of ultimately travelling to the various coffee countries throughout the world to be involved in the entire process from the farm to the cup, for now he’s working with an importer who specialized in beans from El Salvador, Brazil, Guatemala, and Hawaii.
“I taste a lot of coffee,” Nelson said. “The Seattle coffee market is very saturated with lots of niches to get into.”
His niche is single-origin coffees, light roasts and blends, which he enjoys educating people about.
“No, it’s not sacrilegious to add milk and sugar to coffee, but it is a frustrating part of the industry that there is so much bad coffee that needs to be masked with milk and sugar,” he said. “Part of being in this business is about educating people. Even for me, it’s a constant learning process with the coffee selection, the chemistry, marketing, etc.”
But he seems to be doing something right. At barely six months old, Conduit Coffee has already received lots of press and accolades, including being awarded the second best espresso in America at the Seattle Coffee Fest this past September.
“We had no idea what we were getting into when we applied [for the competition] but it was a heck of a lot of fun,” Nelson said. “I feel humbled. People respect us more because of the recognition and we are not stepping on anyone’s toes.”
Nelson insists on using the pronouns “we” and “us” but really it’s just him, with the occasional help from his friends. He’s the person roasting the beans and tasting the coffee, and the person that shows up at your door to deliver your coffee order. Not only does he deliver to your door, he delivers by bicycle, hauling a trailer that can be loaded with up to 300 pounds of coffee and supplies.
“A lot of it comes from wanting to offset carbon usage, challenging the status quo and to show that it is possible to do it. We need to change our car habits even if it’s not as efficient or it’s pouring rain,” Nelson said, while pointing at the pile of wet clothes laid out to dry from a trip earlier that day. “And it’s just so much fun to show up on a bike to the local market.”
Six months in, Conduit Coffee is already expanding. Nelson now also rents the two front rooms of the building, adding space for an espresso cart, visits, parties, and a bicycle repair area in the near future.
“I want to encourage people to come bike by, visit, and buy a bag of coffee,” Nelson said. “For me Conduit is really about quality coffee, community interaction, and celebrating this amazing fruit that’s grown throughout the world.”