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Small Business

Tony’s Coffee Looks Forward by Undoing the Past

Eric Alexander shows off his hard work. Photo Courtesy of Tony’s Coffee

The warming, caramel scent of a busy coffee roaster has hung in the air of Bellingham, Washington since the early 70’s thanks to the team at Tony’s Coffee. In 1971, the same year a little shop called Starbucks opened up, Tony roasted his own small-batch coffee in a street-level shop in the Terminal Building that once sold everything from cigars to bicycles. Back then most people couldn’t even pronounce espresso, but Tony rapidly established himself as a local Bellingham staple. After selecting the best coffees grown everywhere from the Caribbean to Ethiopia to Guatemala, Tony would sell his freshly roasted coffee straight out of glass jars. Almost 50 years later, Tony’s Coffee won Roast Magazine’s 2021 Roaster of the Year award.

Eric Alexander shows off his hard work. Photo Courtesy of Tony’s Coffee

Tony’s is no stranger to awards, in 2013 they won “America’s Best Espresso” and in 2014 they won 1st place in Roaster’s Choice at the international Specialty Coffee Association. However, this latest recognition comes at a time when Tony’s is taking an innovative approach to do good in their community. Their work to reduce their carbon footprint is well documented and praised. They began purchasing green power in 2006 and earned Platinum Recognition from the NW Clean Air Agency. In 2020 they achieved total carbon neutrality both in their roastery and their fleet, but, in an unprecedented move, Tony’s is turning back the clock to measure and offset their entire historical footprint of almost 50 years. Through a partnership with the local environmental firm, Kulshan Services, Tony’s is retracing their carbon footprints back to 1971.  

“They (Kulshan Services) used their expertise to analyze our energy purchases (natural gas, electricity, gas, and diesel) and measure our carbon footprint over the last four years (2016-2019),” said David Yake, director of sales & sustainability for Tony’s Coffee. “We then took their calculations to look back as far as our roasting records go (2006). Beyond 2006, we had to estimate our carbon footprint, which we felt confident in doing since our business was fairly static for the first few decades.” Tony’s isn’t waiting around to offset that carbon, they’re timeline is to be historically carbon neutral by 2030. That’s offsetting 5 years of carbon emissions every single year they operate! Yake shared, “We felt that offsetting our historic carbon footprint was the most fitting way to mark our 50th anniversary.”

Carmin Gwin stands among a coffee shipment. Photo Courtesy of Tony’s Coffee

The team at Tony’s takes the time to understand the process of coffee from seed to mug. They make origin trips and meet the farmers who raise their incredible coffee, and they take great pains to buy coffee from farmers who share their environmental and social values. In fact, in 2002, they were the first coffee roaster in the U.S. to source their coffee from only certified organic, shade-grown, fair-trade, farmer-owned cooperatives. “We only get to do what we do because of the hard work and attention to detail of hundreds of small scale coffee farmers.” Yake shared, “We’ve traveled to visit coffee farms and seen their struggles firsthand. So, for us, paying farmers a fair price and supporting environmentally sustainable farming practices has always been baked into our business.”

In 2018, Tony’s surpassed over $1,000,000 raised from Fair Trade social premiums. They pay coffee farmers a fair, high price for their labors, and they also allocate money to go directly to the farmers to improve their lives. “In addition to the price that we pay to farmers, an additional $0.20 per pound of green (unroasted) coffee is paid into a community development fund, which the farmers democratically decide how to use.” Yake said, “Farmer cooperatives have used these funds to fund projects such as schools, water purification facilities, and quality-improvement initiatives.”

Farmer José Omar Rodriguez Romero examines a new crop. Photo Courtesy of Tony’s Coffee

For almost half a decade, the waterfront views, temperate weather, and coffee lovers of Bellingham have hosted Tony’s Coffee. In fact, it’s hard to separate one from the other, and Tony’s believes it’s their duty to give back to their local community. “We give back by supporting a local non-profit organization with a fundraiser each quarter. Our team chooses the organization, often through existing relationships. Some local recipients include Bellingham Food Bank, Lydia Place, and Whatcom Humane Society. We also give coffee to dozens of local organizations.”

A bag of ‘Snow Joe Blend’ among Bellingham snow. Photo Courtesy of Tony’s Coffee

Bellingham and Tony’s are hard to separate. In fact, they’ve served some customers for almost 50 years, and some of those customers’ children and even grandchildren are still customers to this day, Yake said. So this award for Tony’s is by extension an award for Bellingham, and to all the people who help bring their amazing coffee to our mugs. “We’re still a small, tight-knit company, so for us to get this sort of national recognition is super Humbling.” Yake shared, “It also validates our team, who works so hard every day, and never stops learning and growing.”

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