Coffee with a Conscience: Square One
Lancaster is a town with an increasingly visible and thriving coffee culture. New coffee shops pop up regularly, and there are quite a few businesses actually roasting their own coffee in the city. One of the businesses at the center of this is Square One Coffee. We love any business that works hard to do things in a sustainable way – businesses with a conscience. We sat down with Jess Steffy, who with her husband, Josh, owns Square One, and asked her about their business and business model.
How did you guys get started?
Josh and I were living abroad from 2000-2004 doing humanitarian work in coffee producing countries like Papua New Guinea, Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, Peru, and India. At that time, even though we often worked with coffee farming communities, we had no idea that we’d someday be involved in the coffee industry.
In 2004, we returned to the U.S, started a family, enrolled in business school, and had the opportunity to start a small, quaint coffee stand in a farmers market in the countryside of Lancaster County, PA, where we also roasted coffee in 1 pound batches (AKA: non-stop). Three years later, in 2007, we purchased Square One Coffee (established in downtown Lancaster in 2000), upgraded the roasting operations and started selling coffee in a retail and wholesale capacity.
How is Square One sourcing its coffee? Is it Fair Trade? Direct Trade?
We get asked frequently whether our coffee is Fair Trade or Direct Trade. First, let’s define those terms a bit.
“Direct Trade” is a bit of a misnomer, as most coffee roasters are not also importers, so they almost always purchase their coffee though an importer. Some roasters still consider the transactions through importers to be “direct trade” if there is an ongoing, healthy relationship between both parties. Different companies use the term more strictly or loosely as their own standards dictate.
If a coffee is “Fair Trade Certified” it means that the farm or co-op has paid a large certification fee and has proven to operate according Fair Trade USA’s standards(which are good standards). In coffee, that also means that those farmers are guaranteed a minimum price of $1.30-1.40 per pound.
Fair Trade coffee certainly has its place in the world and is doing great things for a lot of farmers, but we believe that our model is also helping a different demographic of farmers by holding them to those same ethical standards with a greater focus on quality. The short and sweet version:
As a company, Square One Coffee strives to respect and empower every person involved in the process of getting coffee from the seed to your cup.
That means we want to build healthy, sustainable, long-term relationships at every step of the supply chain; from the farmers, to our staff, to our customers.
The farmers we choose to partner with are the ones who care about quality just as much as quantity. They are the ones who build houses for their part-time seasonal staff because it’s the right thing to do. They farm organically whether they have an expensive certification or not. They are innovative and passionate. They are leaders in their communities who look ahead to the future to stay ahead of the many challenges of growing delicious specialty coffee. For all of their efforts, they are compensated at rates that are at least double, if not triple the Fair Trade minimum rate.
Our ideal of “respecting and empowering from seed to cup” obviously doesn’t end with our partnerships at the farm. It also extends to our staff at every level. We don’t want to stop at paying our staff minimum wages, forcing them to work several jobs just to afford the cost of living. We want to pay them fairly, and whenever possible and desired, enable them to build a career in the coffee industry. We also want to invest in their further training and education. Happily, our highly skilled staff currently includes several Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) Certified Lead Instructors, several Barista Guild of America (BGA) Certified Baristas, and a Licensed Q-Grader…with more on the way. We also send our staff on “origin trips” to visit the coffee farming communities who make our delicious coffee possible and to see the process for themselves.
Finally, when it comes to our wholesale customers, we don’t just want to ship them delicious coffee, take their money, and wish them “Good luck!” We want to provide them with the necessary support, training, and education to help ensure their success. That’s why we have training labs in Lancaster and Philadelphia to provide baristas with even more access to training and educational opportunities. It’s also our goal to provide our cafe customers with consistently delicious, high-quality products, warm hospitality, and an inviting atmosphere.
The way we see it, we’re all in this together. Square One is working toward a stronger, more sustainable coffee supply chain. But beyond the coffee community, Square One owes a large part of our success as a company to the vibrant community of artists, farmers, scholars, free-thinkers, entrepreneurs, and philanthropists in Lancaster who have embraced us.
Lancaster has a culture of passionate community involvement, and is filled with people who care about making this community a great place to live. Lancaster is home to many entrepreneurs, local businesses, and people who contribute to the uniqueness and well-being of this town, and we feel right at home here. We’re all trying to do what we can to make the lives of those we interact with better for having known us. This town continues to inspire and embrace us as we strive to do just that.
And here are just a few of the awards won by our friends at Square One just around the corner on Duke Street.
Square One’s Accolades:
2013 Good Food Awards Finalist
2014 Good Food Awards Winner
2014 8th place in the U.S. Brewer’s Cup (& 3rd in the North East)
2014 10th place in the U.S. Barista Competition (& 5th in the North East)
2015 Good Food Awards Winner
2015 10th place in the U.s. Barista Competition (& 2nd in the North East)