Before my wife and I moved to Olympia, I would definitely have considered us “coffee people.” We loved getting a great cup of coffee together and really valued the quality and the people behind the process as well. Living in Albany, Oregon, we would actually frequently drive all the way over to Corvallis just to grab a cup from our favorite shop. It became much more than just coffee and really turned into an experience; a way to slow down, disconnect from distractions, and connect with each other.
When we moved to Olympia we were honestly sad to be leaving our favorite coffee spot because, like I mentioned, it was much more than coffee for us. We landed just a few blocks away from one of the three Olympia Coffee Roasters locations and thought that we better give it a try. We found great reviews online and the atmosphere looked like it could be right up our alley. What we stumbled upon was something really special. A coffee that is second to none, people full of genuine passion for what they do and the people that they serve, and a relaxing environment.
Since that first visit about a year ago, Olympia Coffee has become our “go-to” place to grab a cup and get back to “us”. My wife has worked nearly 80 hours a week since as a first year resident since we arrived and our time together can be limited, so finding a place like this has been really important to us.
Over the months, we have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the employees and learning more about their brand, mission, and products but have always wanted to learn more – which is where things get even better! I recently had the opportunity to sit down with co-owner Oliver Stormshak to get a more detailed look into their who they are and what they are doing.
We met at their downtown Olympia location (600 4th Ave East), which combines their roasting and production facilities with a large coffee shop. You can peer through their large windows and see how they make it first hand while you sip on your coffee. “When you come to Olympia Coffee, you can see the whole story. You can see the roasting, the sample roasting, and learn a little bit about how we buy coffee,” Oliver added. You truly get a unique and memorable experience.
They roast four days a week for upwards of 8 hours a day, starting very early in the morning. You’ll never find a bean that is over a week out of one of their roasters at any of their three locations. They even have an area where they test, taste, and create profiles for sample coffees that they receive from around the world.
When discussing the difficult process of finding great beans and farmers throughout the world, Oliver stated, “It’s not the coffee that I am looking for, it’s the person.” They value creating long term and personal partnerships, helping farmers improve their processes, and helping one another consistently reach new heights. They began a partnership in Burundi, Africa three years ago, and through this ongoing, full circle partnership, some of their best coffees today are from there. “It was investing in the people there and working on our quality standards,” Oliver stated.
What was once their small, original coffee shop is attached to the back of this downtown location; a piece of their history that is being converted for their employee training. Staff goes through an extensive three-week training that focuses on not only quality, but experience as well. When asked what type of traits they look for in individuals when hiring, Oliver stated, “First, we look for someone with a strong work ethic. We also want someone who is passionate about coffee. In our company, we have about 35 employees and we are all different, but the thing that all connects us is that we are all super passionate about coffee. Third, we look for someone who specifically wants to be a part of Olympia Coffee. There are a lot of coffee shops and jobs out there, but we look for someone who specifically wants to join Olympia.”
Oliver has been in coffee his entire life and started as a barista when he was sixteen. He has held every job in coffee industry for both large and small businesses and fell in love with the product, story, and community along the way. Through the years of working for other companies, he started feeling stronger about taking on his own shop and brand, “I have more ideas that I want to express and in order to do that, I need to do my own thing.” Paired with his passion for people and making an impact, Oliver and his business partner Sam Schroeder purchased the already existing Olympia Coffee about six years ago and have completely transformed it. It was a big, scary change and challenge, but has developed into something incredible.
We discussed how people connect with the deeper meaning and passion behind the Olympia Coffee brand. Oliver added, “I think there is something in everyone that can find inspiration in what we do.” Their mission is to improve the lives of the farmers they work with, the staff that they employ, and the customer that they serve. Every decision that they make as a company comes back to those three focus points. Oliver has seen farming families send children to school, own cows for milk and meat, and have the opportunity to re-invest in their own farms and communities - all for the first time, ever. In an industry where many coffee farmers are exploited or taken advantage of, Olympia Coffee takes a powerful, ethical, and meaningful stand.
When thinking about the customers, Oliver hopes to “Give them peaceful moments in their day. To provide one of the best consumer experiences that they may have in a year… and potentially allow them to have that feeling every day.”
We talked about the overall quality of the final product, why it is so important, and how they accomplish it. It is a full circle process for them. Like I mentioned before, this all begins with the relationships with their farmers. They help them improve their growing processes, which then results in a higher quality bean. Alongside Oliver’s first-hand experience in roasting and food-science, that bean is then roasted in a completely unique roasting process they call “caramelization,” which elongates the strands of sugar and makes them much more soluble when it hits the water. “So when you taste our coffee it is much sweeter, the flavor is much more stable and transparent, and you get a juicy pop of what the fruit once was.” Oliver is even one of the very few people in the world who has a perfect score on the sensory analysis test, allowing him to leverage a skill and trait most others cannot.
Olympia Coffee is constantly pushing to become better. They won their regional barista competition amongst thousands of other coffee shops. They even came in sixth place in the entire United States barista competition. Oliver added, “We know that we do not deserve first place right now, but that is what we are pushing for.” I have no doubt in my mind that you will be there soon, Olympia.
Beyond coffee, Oliver has a six-year-old daughter and balances family life with the constant demands of work and international travel. Now that things are more stable with business, he has taken a vacation for the first time in a long time and has had the opportunity to invest more in himself as well. Being a small business owner is oftentimes a difficult and stressful journey, and taking a little time to slow down can be so important.
After spending the morning with Oliver, it was clear that Olympia Coffee and the people behind it are taking on something much larger than just coffee. His excitement and passion was behind every question and he believes that right now is the most exciting time to be in the industry. “The coffee industry is amazing because the coffee that you are drinking right now is better than it has ever been in the history of coffee. We are just now learning so much about how to produce, grow, pick, and roast. 30 years from now, you will be drinking a cup of coffee that you will never believe.”
As a fellow, passionate small business owner I left this interview truly inspired. One small thing that I believe I can do in our community that will impact others, just as Oliver is doing every single day, is share stories like this. He is thinking outside of the box, working incredibly hard, and driven by the people and relationships around him. He is a positive force in our community and my wife and I look forward to supporting their business for as long as we possibly can.
If you are in Olympia, head to one of their locations and experience it for yourself!
2824 Capital Boulevard
600 4th Ave East
1706 Harrison Ave NW
You can also find many of their products and additional information on their website, www.olympiacoffee.com.
On behalf of the @pnwonderland community, I just wanted to say thank you Oliver and the Olympia Coffee team! We look forward to watching you progress as a business and positively impact the world.
PNWonderland / Tommy Blades
@pnwonderland / @mrtommyblades