Tucked into the snow peppered slopes of the Rocky Mountains, the small, quiet town of Durango is a calm place where almost everything moves a little slower. Well, everything but the people. Maybe that’s because they are caffeinated by one of the best, most sustainable roasters in the country, or perhaps it’s because they are trying to keep the secret to themselves that Durango is a hidden gem.
“Don’t tell anyone,” Zachary Ray, General Manager of Desert Sun Coffee Roasters said about the beauty of Durango in our interview. While you might have to discover Durango on your own, Desert Sun is a secret so good it has got to be shared. They roast some of the finest coffee beans in the United States, and not only are they dedicated to their craft of making quality coffees, but also to making good coffee.
“Good coffee is good for people, good for the planet, good for the producers, and contains integrity across the entire supply chain,” Zach shared. With that in mind, the team at Desert Sun is roasting up not just good coffee, but tasty coffee too.
“Small business is one of our beliefs,” Zach said. “It’s what keeps the country going – all these tons of small businesses around the country, so we try to help nonprofits as well and show that when we’re successful, we want to share in that success for the benefit of our community.” As a thriving business in small-town Colorado, Desert Sun is happy to share its coffee with the community. They donate fair trade, 100% organic coffee to a local nonprofit that trains and educates people about avalanche safety and sells discounted coffee to schools for fundraisers. Zach shared, “Durango is a small town with a lot of nonprofits. When a nonprofit comes and asks for donations from us we almost never say no.”
That’s because the team at Desert Sun is made up of the Durango community. It’s a team of mountain bikers, woodworkers, and canoers who are passionate about their neighbors and the planet. “To make a viable business, one of the goals is to live in a place that you love to be in, and to know that the work you’re doing in a small town is contributing to the benefit of the world.” Zach shared. “That’s some of the driving philosophies that have kept me going here and kept people enthusiastic about what we do.” Not only does their coffee roasting facility run on 100% solar energy, but they are constantly adapting their business to be leaner and greener every year. “It was very important for the owner to convert the business into full solar power,” Zach said. “I think it’s just part of our continued commitment to doing what we can to be green — whatever that means is possible.”
The next step for Desert Sun is to figure out ways to reduce their carbon footprint even further. “Every year we do a carbon calculator to determine our carbon outputs.” Zach shared. “You can’t do much if you don’t know what you’re doing, so every year we participate in a carbon calculator to see what our carbon footprint is and assess ways we can do better as an industry and as a business to make our product greener.”
As part of this initiative, Desert Sun made the ambitious pledge to become 100% carbon neutral by 2025. Zach said, “Set a goal, figure out how to achieve it. One layer of this has been how do we set a goal that is meaningful. I think we come from a place of wanting to really walk the walk not just talk the talk.”
Part of walking the walk is the way Desert Sun partners and supports coffee farmers all over the planet. “We’re trying something that we think honors the relationships we have with producers, pays them fairly, and shows integrity with our buying process,” Zach shared. “We pay a voluntary premium on each pound of coffee we buy in order to help support these communities, and we commit to going back to them year after year and helping them succeed. Committing to those people is part of what fair trade is really about — empowering the farmers and helping them live a better life.” Desert Sun always pays above Fair Trade minimum, and by building lasting relationships with these small coffee farmers, they are giving them the ability to farm better.
Not only do they support small farmers monetarily, but they also bring communities together from all over the world to talk about sustainability in coffee farming. “Our last one was about organic composting. Now you have farmers from all over the world discussing this is how we do it, and here, this is how we’ve improved our organic composting techniques,” Zach shared. “So we’re also facilitating an information exchange amongst our producers who might otherwise be very isolated from each other to help them improve their own systems, so they can better provide organic coffee to us as buyers and to be able to secure their own growing chain of supply chains.”
Of course, bringing coffee farmers together is only part of what they do. They are also working to ensure that coffee farmers have a better life in their home country. “Right now we support two women’s cooperatives that are run and controlled by women,” Zach shared. “It’s exciting to watch women gain power in their own communities and have control over their own financial outcomes and their financial destinies. That’s something we like to celebrate and support and talk about. We want it to be a part of our company culture. Part of our business is to help support these women-run cooperatives.”
As a company that’s been around for over 16 years, Desert Sun is considered old by specialty coffee standards, but there’s nothing old-fashioned about their approach to craft coffee. “I think it started from an idea to connect people closer to the agricultural product, and of course quickly led into a partnership with Cooperative Coffees,” Zach shared. “Our idea was to be one of the more forward thinkers as far as fair trade initiatives and sustainable initiatives in the coffee industry.”
When you pour yourself a cup of Desert Sun coffee, you can be sure it’s going to be good because not only does it taste great, but it does good.