April’s CoffeeCollective feature comes from beautiful Nelson, British Columbia. Jim May and Jon Meyer, two friends that worked in the forest sector and had a mutual desire for change, and founded Oso Negro in 1993. After learning as much as possible about the coffee roasting business, they left the trees and open spaces for a small 200 square foot roasting room.
The Spanish name Oso Negro translates to “Black Bear,” and was chosen by Jim and Jon for numerous reasons, apart from their common love of black coffee. First, after years of working in the forest and living in Nelson, spotting the animal was not rare. Black Bears are often used as a common symbol to represent the area. Choosing the Spanish word and flair also brought forth a reminder of how far coffee travels from foreign lands to Oso Negro customers.
At first, Oso Negro began with single varietal roasts, sourcing beans from coffee brokers, West Coast Coffee Traders and Royal Coffee. From ordering only five bags of beans to 260, it is fair to say that ON has expanded it reach and popularity through out Nelson and the rest of Canada.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Anne Bokser Wishlow, a co-owner of Oso Negro who began with the company in 1995 as a barista. In her 10 years with the roasting company, Anne has taken part in its growth from three to 60 employees and says she has acquired a true taste and passion for coffee in the process.
“Oso Negro was a slow methodical evolution through tremendous amounts of customer engagement,” said Anne. “We listened to feedback and developed from there. Customers wanted more out of a cup of coffee, more flavour and dimension.”
Through understanding coffee and giving it away to our customers, Anne says Oso Negro was able to expand and outgrow their roasting space and build a community hub with the Oso Negro Café all while including the opinions of their supporters. Although ON grew slowly, Anne says this has given the company the ability to “expand with quality in mind.”
“We keep hands on and eyes on every bean so that we can make sure it is consistent and top notch.”
Today, Oso Negro has moved onto blending beans from Central and South America, Africa and Indonesia, which allows for the roasters to play with ratios and roasts. By combining the sweetness of Ethiopian beans with the creamy and buttery body of Indonesian, Oso Negro creates different flavour profiles in their unique 24 blends.
Lucky customers of the Oso Negro Café are able to try a new blend every day of the week as the baristas use freshly roasted coffee brought down from the roasting house each morning. The café, which used to be a house, has been transformed to a local hangout with multiple benches, tables and couches spread through its many rooms. Ann says the location on Nelson’s main road, Baker Street, fits in perfectly with the quaint and artistic community.
CoffeeCollective featured two blends from Oso Negro in April including the medium roast, Full Organic Blend and dark roast, Meteor Blend. Both of these roasts use beans sourced from Central America and Indonesia and come from certified organic and certified fair trade farms.
If you get the chance to stop by Nelson this summer, we definitely recommend visiting Oso Negro Café. We look forward to doing so ourselves. You can also visit the roasters website for more information on their roasts and to order some of their deliciously blended coffees.