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Local family imports special coffee

From COVID to coffee; how one family’s pandemic project led to starting a business
Stewart Coffee
The Stewart family: Brett and Kendra and children Keightley age 11 and Henry age 6

Virden residents, Brett and Kendra Stewart, have taken farming to an unexpected and unconventional next level here in Manitoba with something most people can relate to – their morning java.
Stewart Coffee Co. has officially been in business for two years, beginning in May of 2020. The ultimate COVID project, they literally jumped in feet first - launching their small family-run coffee business in the throes of a pandemic, and the results have been overwhelming. 
It was actually thanks to Covid that the young Virden couple, were finally convinced or perhaps more accurately phrased, given the extra push to launching their own coffee business. 
It all started while in Guatemala for a delayed honeymoon about five years ago, that the Stewarts stopped by Brett’s cousin’s family-run coffee farm for a visit. It was here that the seed was planted to begin importing the quality coffee beans to sell in Canada. But the idea was put on the back burner due to a busy family life and the demands of building a career.
Then the pandemic struck. 
Brett’s cousin, Nick, who was in charge of operations in Guatemala, found himself stuck with new-crop coffee beans ready for shipment to North American distributors who were cancelling orders because of the uncertainty of the pandemic. It was the perfect storm.
“He basically called up and said I’m sending you 10 bags (150 lbs each),” said Kendra in retrospect. “Figure it out.”
Figure it out they did. So much so that a year later, they quadrupled their order increasing from 1,500 pounds to 6,000 pounds of coffee beans.
The Stewarts import their high-quality beans from their family-run farm and processing mill once a year in May/June. What makes their coffee business exclusive is that they can offer direct crop-to-cup service; meaning that they are fully in control of where the coffee they sell is sourced, grown, harvested and processed before it ever leaves Guatemala. Once they coordinate shipment to Canada, they are responsible for transportation, storage, roasting, marketing and distribution making it a fully-run, family operation.
“We feel our business partnership is quite unique in the fact that we own the coffee throughout the whole process; from harvest to the Canadian distribution,” said Kendra. “We are able to monitor and have a say on the process from plant to bagging to sales. This also helps make sure every step is done properly, safely, environmentally and economically. (Our) ability to control the quality of the bean and provide consistent coffee makes us different from some of the other smaller coffee companies.”
The Stewarts have always been business-minded entrepreneurs; having owned and operated a couple of side-line ventures over the years. However, the coffee business was one that really spoke to them for a number of reasons, most importantly, because of what it represented.
“Family has been our main inspiration to get into coffee,” said Brett. “There was an avenue to create a unique, fun and exciting partnership with our family and to share their passion. 
He continued. “The coffee farm is located just outside the small town of San Martin Jilotepeque and has been in my cousin’s family for multiple generations.”
The Stewarts believe in the strong values and diverse opportunity that their Guatemalan family has created in that country. The farm recently expanded operations to include a de-pulping mill which otherwise would have meant that the crop would need to be processed at a government run mill – the only other mills in the country. The fact that the family farm made the large-scale investment, ensures the integrity and quality control of the beans that are separated, processed (washed, honey or natural) and dried. It also benefits the other approximate 200 small coffee farmers in the area by providing an alternative quality processing option that’s substantially closer and allows them the opportunity to direct market, meaning more money in the farmer’s pocket.
The farm also stands out because of what it gives back to the community. They have built a school/day care on-site which provides allows both parents to make a good income without having to worry about safe childcare. Doctors, dentist and healthcare providers are brought in to provide Medicare to all the employees and their families. As well, educational programming is available to any of the workers if they so choose. 
“We have met the employees and have seen how these great programs have impacted their quality of lives, first hand,” said Kendra.
Aside from the family helping families model that the coffee farm incorporates, there is the outstanding quality of the coffee itself, something the Stewarts are very proud of and have become extremely proficient in. Just like other fine foods and beverages, coffee is as individual as the person tasting it. A deep appreciation for what it takes to produce it makes it even more satisfying. 
“Many factors go into the flavor of coffee and all are extremely important; from the type of soil and elevation, to the type of water being used to brew,” explained Kendra. “The process at the mill is important; creating a washed, honey or natural processed coffee will develop different flavors for the same bean. Age of the raw coffee and roast date provide a fresh tasting quality that we can manage with our business. Working with a micro-roaster like Mike (Hatfield) at Cornerstone Coffee to create the best roast profile for the coffee bean is a large factor in developing the taste for the coffee.”
She continued. “Numerous countries produce coffee and all have different flavors and tasting notes. One of the main things we have learned from tasting lots of coffee is how the different coffees hit your palette. Guatemala would be considered a nice mid-palette coffee where it hits the middle of your mouth; a Columbian for instance would be a front palette and hits your taste buds just behind the teeth.”
Stewart Coffee Co. is not your run-of-the mill cup o’ joe to kickstart your day, but a delectable, full-bodied brew meant to be savored and enjoyed.
Their market is steadily increasing as the word gets out.
“Asessippi Ski Resort ran out of the regular coffee that they serve at the lodge two winters ago, so they opened up a bag (of ours) from the gift shop and their customers were raving about how good it was!” said Kendra proudly. 
Who knows, maybe a specialty coffee bistro or trendy niche café is in their future? While they don’t know as of yet what direction their business will take them, for now they’re just enjoying the ride.
Their specialty coffee blends are available in select locations in the area, or they can be contacted through their Instagram page @stewartcoffeeco. Both hot and cold brew is ready-to serve and is for sale at Sweet Spot bakery.