The Roasterpreneur Series focuses on inspiring up-and-coming roasters and offers advice on running a successful roastery. This week, we spoke to Lorraine Bridden, the owner of Owens Organic Coffee, who went from scientist to coffee roaster that specialises in organic and fairtrade beans.
While working as a scientist in the biotech industry, Lorraine nurtured a deep love of fresh coffee. So when a fledgling roasting business caught her eye, she jumped at the opportunity to merge her passion for knowledge with her love of coffee.
Thus began a journey of discovery. Lorraine began to understand more about coffee and how she could combine her knowledge of science and the hospitality industry to create a successful business.
The result? Owens Organic Coffee: a custom-built roastery with uncompromising values of sustainability and ethical trade.
Supporting cooperatives that make an impact
Owens Coffee was the first dedicated organic roastery in the South West UK.
Furthermore, since 2010, the brand has exclusively roasted 100% certified organic and fairtrade coffee. No other beans have passed through the roaster.
“Sustainability is a core value of Owens Coffee,” explains Lorraine. “This includes ensuring the well-being of the people and communities involved in producing the coffee and taking steps to protect the environment.”
“The strict ethical and environmental standards of both of these organisations mean we could be confident our products support our values,” Lorraine says. “If anything, this has become even more important today than it was when we first started.”
As a business, Owens has built strong relationships with coffee cooperatives such as the Twongerekawa Coko Coffee Cooperative.
This cooperative produces high-altitude specialty coffee and encourages unification and restoration in the area following the tragedy of the Rwandan genocide and its impact on its people.
This partnership was born when Owens Coffee was introduced to husband and wife team, Jabo Butera and Liliane Uwimana, who are Rwandan entrepreneurs living in Plymouth.
The couple were helping to finance a Rwandan girl’s cancer treatment, and wanted to support the child’s family in a sustainable way. This was when they discovered the family had a farm that formed part of the cooperative.
Jabo and Liliane wanted to import the family’s coffee to have it roasted and served in their Plymouth food court. Owens Coffee was a natural fit.
“We fell in love with the story and had to find a way to help, so we began roasting for them,” Lorraine explains.
Now, Owen’s source coffee from the cooperative every year. More so, the marketing team has travelled to Rwanda with Jabo and a filmmaker to visit the cooperative and document the compelling story of coffee from crop to cup.
Notably, the documentary received a standing ovation when it premiered last year at Plymouth University.
A roastery that reuses, recycles, and reduces
Sourcing coffee ethically is just one of the ways in which Owens demonstrates its passion for the planet.
The brand also focuses on minimising waste in any way possible. For instance, Owens has only ever used compostable coffee cups and recyclable coffee bags.
Additionally, the brand’s coffee bags are fully recyclable under code 5. More so, Owens continues to lobby the industry for more sustainable packaging options and has chosen to use plain coffee bags.
“We’ve made the decision to label our pouches, rather than preprint bags,” Lorraine explains. “This ensures we can react quickly as and when new and more sustainable packaging products enter the market.”
Furthermore, since its inception, the business has reused and recycled waste products from the production process.
For instance, it donates its hessian sacks to Dartmoor Zoo for animal enrichment, while the coffee grounds are used by organic gardeners for compost.
Owens takes everything into consideration, and as the brand has grown, it has been able to make other decisions that align with its sustainable practices.
This included having custom-built premises using several sustainable building principles and investing in a Loring S35 Kestrel Roaster.
“Our roastery in Ivybridge, Devon, was built in 2018, and has been customised using the latest technologies,” Lorraine explains. “This ensures our business is as energy efficient and as low impact as possible.”
More so, it provides a much-improved working environment for staff and customers. The roastery boasts under-floor ambient heating supplied by an Air Source Heat Pump, as well as low-energy lighting.
Lorraine explains she spent a long time researching before settling on the Loring. “With 80% fuel-savings and reduction of greenhouse gasses in every roast, compared to conventional roasters, it has been a very worthwhile investment for us,” she says.
Paving the way for more women in coffee
Lorraine is a clear leader in the UK coffee industry, which has been historically recognised as a male-dominated industry.
When she started in 2010, there were few coffee roasteries in the South West, let alone ones that were female-owned and operated.
‘I have a solid scientific background, so roasting appealed to me,” Lorrain explains. “Still, we know women haven’t typically been encouraged to follow a path into sciences, so it doesn’t surprise me that we haven’t caught up yet.”
While Lorraine is yet to experience issues as a female in the industry, there have been incidents where she was taken less seriously than her male counterparts.
That said, Owens is a well-established business with a good, solid reputation for great coffee and sustainable principles. “The industry is generally very accepting of that, regardless of gender,” Lorraine says
“As far as advice to other women in the industry goes, it is essential to focus on what you’re doing, your standards, and your market,” Lorraine adds.
“Focus on making your mark and don’t worry about how your peers see you or what the industry ‘expects’. Our industry can make a massive difference in the world, and there is room for all of us. More collaboration and less competition are what it is all about.’
Lorraine has built an amazing enterprise that empowers everyone from crop to cup. As a brand, Owens Organic Coffee has an inspirational business model that strives to leave the world better than it was found.
Did you enjoy this edition of our Roasterpreneur Series? Learn more about running a successful coffee roastery by reading our interview with Brewpoint Coffee.
Or dive into articles that revolve around our coffee community, with exclusive interviews with roasters, importers, and coffee shop owners.
Photo credits: Owen’s Organic Coffee