Nominated by Richelle Parker.
“I’d like to nominate Oliver Stormshak, owner of Olympia Coffee, for his work with coffee producers and the Fair For All initiative. Fair For All is the culmination of years of hard work and passion for Oliver. He pushes the boundaries of our industry norm and continuously strives for higher quality of life for everyone involved in the supply chain. Guaranteeing things like sustainable wages for everyone involved, only choosing to work with producers who support the kind of quality of life and transparency he believes in and taking the time, energy, and resources to visit producers every year to provide feedback and develop relationships; Fair For All is true step towards a sustainable future for our industry ensuring that people see coffee farming as a viable career option.”
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed.
Sprudge: What issue in coffee do you care about most?
Oliver Stormshak: Fair compensation, living and working conditions for farm laborers.
What cause or element in coffee drives you?
Quality of coffee is largely the element that still inspires me but my drive really comes from ensuring that everyone benefits from coffee and nobody is exploited.
What issue in coffee do you think is critically overlooked?
Coffee farm labor issues.
What is the quality you like best about coffee?
Big picture, I like that coffee connects people. It has, and hopefully will continue to motivate and inspire, making the world a better place.
Did you experience a life-changing moment of coffee revelation early in your career?
I’ve had a few, but the earliest was a District Manager who believed in me and gave me a forum (pre-blog days) to write about and educate baristas about where coffee came from and how to connect with it through tasting events.
What is your idea of coffee happiness?
I’m really happy to savor a delicious cup of coffee every day. I know most Sprudge readers already know this but, the work it took to create that delicious cup is a near miracle. I never want to forget that, and it still brings me joy.
If you could have any job in the coffee industry, what would it be and why?
I’m pretty sure I have the right job for me. Sometimes I do dream of a retirement job where I’m a production roaster. I love roasting coffee and I find it very cathartic.
Who are your coffee heroes?
Peter Giuliano with SCA was an early inspiration to me in my early coffee buying days. While he was inspired by quality like I was, he also thought about the quality of life and cultures into his thought process. I traveled to Peru with Peter in about 2009. While he was an idol of mine he treated me as a peer which earned him even more respect from me.
Also I think I’m not alone to say that James Hoffmann is pretty much a total celebrity to me. If he writes something, makes a video, I’m listening/watching. He is a superstar to me.
If you could drink coffee with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?
I think it would be really interesting to drink coffee with Abraham Lincoln, I would love to get some insight into his problem-solving skills in person.
If you didn’t work in coffee what do you think you’d be doing instead?
I think I have a larger interest in ethical trade, so I imagine something similar to what I do now but with another product.
Do you have any coffee mentors?
Alejandro Cadena, the founder of Caravela Coffee, is the closest thing I have to a mentor in coffee. Early on and even today, he has been an open book sharing his knowledge of everything about coffee and business with me.
What do you wish someone would’ve told you when you were first starting out in coffee?
I wish people would have been more open and transparent, it was all about protecting secrets and power. I wish someone had told the truth.
Best song to brew coffee to at the moment.
Where do you see yourself in 2040?
I don’t know, it’s hard to picture right now. Before this global pandemic, my wife and I talked about living in Europe for some time with some East Africa coffee work mixed in. We also hope to stay close to our daughter who will be an adult in 2040 so depending on where she is could determine our future.
What’s your favorite coffee at the moment?
Ethiopia Gola. I’ve been working with Desta Gola, a single producer in Wenago Yirgacheffe, for a number of years now, but this is the best harvest yet, and honestly, the only difference is storing the coffee in Grain Pro bags that we provided to help with the longevity. It’s a total success story of putting all the dots together and creating solutions that makeup one of the best coffees you’ll ever drink.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted you personally and professionally?
Is there any donation fund or resource in your community we can share with our readers?
“Tip Jar” is an employee-focused coffee that directly supports our baristas and roasters. 100% of proceeds from the sale of each bag of Tip Jar will be placed in a tip pool then donated directly to staff members experiencing hardship due to the Coronavirus/COVID-19-caused downturn. In less than a week, our team went from working predictable hours to navigating a diminished schedule—and now, store closures. Still, nobody knows what the next few weeks will look like. Our employees are in a precarious position so we’re using the thing we do best (coffee) to their benefit! We have raised over $30,000 for staff during these uncertain times.
Thank you, Oliver!
The Sprudge Twenty Interviews are presented in partnership by Sprudge & Pacific Barista Series. For a complete list of 2020 Sprudge Twenty honorees and a complete interview archive, please visit sprudge.com/twenty.