As wildland firefighters, Jamie Parker and Michael Wenzlawe have witnessed the devastating effects of climate change first-hand. Together, they decided to build a business that could combine their love of coffee and the great outdoors while making a positive impact on the planet.
The pair launched Calgary Heritage Roasting Company (CHRC), also affectionately known as ‘Canada’s Tree Planting Coffee’. The brand plants a tree for every bag of specialty coffee sold and has committed to planting 1 million trees by 2030. However, that’s only one aspect of the brands’ incredible efforts to support environmental stewardship.
I spoke with Jamie Parker, the president of Calgary Heritage Roasting Company (CHRC), about the brand’s latest conservation efforts.
Sustainable specialty coffee that celebrates Canadian culture
Jamie began experimenting with roasting and sharing his coffee while fighting wildfires. “I used to bring coffee out on the fire line all the time as a morale boost for my crew,” he says. “When you’re out on the line for 12 to 14 hours, and you sleep in a tent every night, the camaraderie is very special. You make a pot of cowboy coffee and those brief breaks can really lift spirits and morale.”
Beyond this, Jamie’s experience on the fire line also taught him about the importance of sustainable forest stewardship practices. “In the logging industry, they like to plant fast-growing trees, such as softwood, that can be harvested within a timely period,” he explains. “However, we need to see a lot more diversity in our forests.
For instance, we need to plant a lot more Aspen and Poplar trees. These deciduous trees work as incredible anchor points or fire breaks for communities and throughout the forest.”
Jamie explains the idea behind the brand came down to what he and Michael cared about, and what they valued in Canadian culture. “It’s very outdoorsy and in sync with outdoor adventure, and we wanted to create a brand that would marry those two together.”
During the brands’ initiation, the pair were looking at what its social giveback could be. “What legacy piece are we going to give back? We landed on tree planting,” Jamie says. “Being outdoors advocates and outdoorsmen ourselves, we thought there would be no better way to give back to our natural ecosystems than to plant trees. And it’s a bonus that it’s also humanity’s best carbon sequestering tool.”
Therefore, Jamie and Michael saved their earnings from their 2015 firefighting efforts, launched their brand in October of 2015, and went full ahead on the ‘Buy a Bag, Plant a Tree’ programme.
1 coffee bag purchased = 1 tree planted
By partnering with organisations such as the Blue Green Planet Project and VeriTree, CHRC’s programme has planted over 100,000 trees so far. Through this initiative, the brand has helped store over 436 tons of carbon and produce an estimated 1164 tons of oxygen. This is the equivalent of eliminating the pollution created by 88 mid-sized vehicles in a single year.
Notably, the brands’ commitment to the environment goes beyond tree planting. In line with its ‘2% for Conversation’ certification, CHRC donates 1% of its gross revenues and 1% of its direct label towards conservation projects.
Recently, CHRC partnered with the Wilder Institute and participated in a project to rehabilitate North American Burrowing Owls. This included working directly on-site with the Wilder Institute staff constructing their owl habitat facility.
Beyond this, the brand has also collaborated on the design of a ‘camp-proof’ crew neck sweater featuring images of the owls. CHRC then donates 20% of the sale price of this merchandise to support the Wilder Institute.
Coffee merchandise that supports local artists
Jamie and Michael’s love of the outdoors naturally extends to a fondness for thoughtfully designed, locally made clothing that can withstand the demands of the Canadian wilderness.
Working with local Calgary artisans, the brand has designed and created a line of handmade ‘camp-proof’ waxed canvas, down-filled vests. These are made of fabrics that resist embers, tears, and weather, and are built to last many years of abuse in the Canadian bush.
“Obviously, Canada has a pretty unpredictable climate, so we try to create merchandise that is purpose-driven and purpose-built,” Jamie explains.
The brand’s commitment to supporting local artists continues in the design of its coffee packaging. Jamie says that Michael Sydoryk of Wildform Art in Calgary is a good friend of theirs. “So, we figured we would find an innovative, collaborative way to showcase his art on our coffee bags.”
People who may never have come across Michael’s art before can now see it on grocery store shelves and across CHRC’s social media platforms. “Our custom coffee bags have become a showstopper when we get to trade shows, and really give back to our local community.”
Sustainable specialty coffee
CHRC offers a diverse portfolio of coffees from Columbia, Guatemala, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and others. The brand dials in its roast to bring out its signature flavour profiles: dark chocolate, nutty, smokey, toffee, and caramel.
By focusing on a consistent spectrum of flavours across its lineup, CHRC has carved a niche as a stepping stone into the specialty coffee sector for its region. Jamie admits that when the brand first entered the market, “we were on the frontier of craft coffee roasters. Now, we have an incredible, established brand around that savoury profile.”
Recently, the brand released its latest offering for the instant coffee sector. ‘Flash Fuel’ is Canada’s first certified organic single-serving instant coffee.
Instead of relying on instant coffee made and co-packed in Central or South America, CHRC bought its own equipment from overseas and manufactures all its instant coffee in-house. “We’re elevating the customer’s experience while they’re out on a camping trip and want a cup of coffee that actually tastes good,” Jamie says.
“Our vision is to fuel outdoor pursuits while giving back to wild places. I want my kids to grow up in a world where we have exceptional diversity in our ecosystems. How do you do that? We need to put our money where our mouth is and start planting.”
Jamie explains that CHRC doesn’t get a tax break, as it donates to a charitable organisation. “We’re using our cash flow to pay for these trees. It’s going directly from our hands to the tree planters, which makes it special.”
Read our exclusive interview with Rhyan McCoy, the founder of Hampton Roast Coffee about how his brand is reducing organic waste by roasting coffee to order.
Images by Calgary Heritage Roasting Company (CHRC)