By Julia Magsombol
Local Journalism Initiative
They say that coffee makes you alert and feel awake most of the time, but the story of how the Spirit Bear Coffee Company came to life can make you feel alive and inspired too.
“[We are] always thinking ahead — we are thinking back seven generations of what they had, how they live. It’s a way of life; it’s a culture. It’s my coffee, with First Nation vision….. that’s how Spirit Bear came to fruition,” said company president Sean Harding.
Harding has been in the coffee industry for 34 years. He started out handing all coffee earmarked into Vancouver from all our the world. Eventually became a general manager, dealing with all the coffee buyers and sellers of the New York Stock Exchange. However, after 10 years, he resigned due to the intensive nature of the job.
As he resigned, one of his colleagues Greg Danks resigned as well. They bought a 1923 Royal 6 coffee roaster and started roasting coffee and called the new company St. City Roasters.
Sean and Greg hired Paul Biglin, a certified chef and caterer, to roast coffee and develop a brand to build the company. Harding stated that Biglin had a vision of the Spirit Bear.
They decided they needed a partner and a storyteller to build the Spirit Bear Coffee brand. This led them to Bill Helin, a First Nation and Norwegian artist. They traded “coffee and hoodies for salman and bannock, just like the traditional ways.” They then set out to make Spirit Bear Coffee grow into one of the prominent coffee brands in Canada.
“The vision became a reality. Whenever you create something, especially being First Nation, there’s a story behind it. There’s a reason we do things.” Harding stated.
One of the business ethics of Spirit Bear Coffee is they sell Organic Fairtrade certified coffee, explained Harding, who is very proud of their coffee. Sixteen years ago, they developed their roast profiles and have not deviated.
Recently the Pioneer tasted their dark roast coffee, and surprisingly, it wasn’t too strong and tasted rich. It was also very affordable.
“I know what a great cup of coffee tastes like. And we have the best-tasting coffee in the world,” Harding added.
He shared that their coffee beans come from some of the top coffee producers — from Central and South America, Asia, and Africa.
However, Harding clarified that the coffee is roasted and prepared locally in Canada. “It’s a Fairtrade, Organic, and Smudge Certified. It’s a strictly hard bean, grown very high up on the mountain. creating the best taste profiles.” Harding said.
Spirit Bear Coffee does not only care about the quality of their products but also their impact on the environment. Harding is proud of all the social initiatives they have. They partner with Northern Lights Wildlife Shelter, a wildlife rescue service in BC. They also have a partnership with Ocean Alliance, an organization that protects ocean life.
They partner with the OWL Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Society, a rehabilitation centre for birds of prey. He described how they built the relationship with them.
Lastly, they also have a partnership with Bear Clan Patrol First Nation Life Sports Canada.
“It’s what we do in the community. It’s all about communication. You’ve got to be credible. It’s also been a slow build and strategic regarding who we want to partner with. It has to mean something to the world,” Harding added.
Harding shared that they’ve lost about 80 per cent of their business due to COVID and are still struggling. “But we got to continue doing good things. And I believe things will turn out in the end,” he shared.
What is Harding’s favourite memory in his 34 years of journey in the coffee business?
“The journey to Smithers was probably one of them. I was with my late brother bear, Paul. We have been on many journeys together. It was pretty special to go up there and have it all videotaped,” Harding said happily. “The video plays downstairs on our screens. I get to watch it every day. There is so much emotion to that video, which ties in with Spirit Bear Coffee today.”
In terms of the future, Harding shared that they have a new 24-count compostable Keurig compatible product coming this fall. He is excited as it’s going to be a big one.
“Life is a journey, 34 years ago, led me from Alberta to British Columbia . . . [and here in this business],” Harding concluded.
If you are interested in knowing more about the Spirit Bear Coffee company, visit spiritbearcoffeecompany.com.