For me, quality coffee is a treat like no other. It’s one of life’s simple and greatest pleasures and it was brilliant to speak with James from Balance Coffee – and try their ethical coffee of course!
Despite the benefits for the consumer, growing, producing and distributing coffee can come with a hefty environmental impact. This is why making conscious decisions about where you buy your coffee from is important.
Buying more ethical coffee means you’re making a better choice that will positively impact many things, such as worker conditions, the ability to reinvest, and it limits the environmental impacts that mass-produced coffee has.
Born in 2020, Balance Coffee are London-based roaster built on sustainability, good ethics and speciality grade coffee. In fact, they’ve just been awarded ‘Best Sustainable Coffee Roaster’ 2021 – no small achievement!
Grades of Coffee
I was lucky enough to try two samples of speciality coffee from Balance Coffee*. And they were both an absolute delight.
Balance Coffee will supply coffee in the right grind size for all coffee makes, including stove tops, cafetieres and pour over permanent reusable coffee filters.
To give you a bit of background, all coffee beans are graded from 1 to 5.
Grade 1 is for ‘speciality grade’ and these are the best coffee beans you can get. Grade 2 is premium coffee beans, Grade 3 for exchange coffee beans, Grade 4 for standard and Grade 5 is for all the rest.
Balance Coffee only roasts beans of the best, speciality grade.
You can’t get better than this! So, on to the two coffees I tried…
La Joyeria is a single origin coffee sourced in the mountainous Antioquia region of north west Colombia.
This coffee is sustainably grown and harvested from a micro-lot on the cooperative farm run by the Echavarria Family, head up by Pedro Echavarria. La Joyeria gets it’s name as it is known as the ‘jewel’ in the estate.
The Stability blend is a mix of sustainably produced, speciality grade coffee from Mexico and Colombia.
The Mexican part comprises 65% of the coffee and is fully traceable back to the Finca Guadalupe Zaju in the Chiapas region of the country.
The other 35% comes from La Joyeria farm in Colombia as described above.
Q&A with Balance Coffee
Here’s the Q&A with James Bellis, Founder of Balance Coffee*. We cover various topics from why ethical coffee is important to Balance, how sustainability fits into the business, environmental goals, tricky packaging and plans for the future.
What sparked your love of coffee?
James Bellis (JB): When I first came out of university, I had a fluke opportunity to join the coffee industry. Funnily enough, at that point I actively disliked coffee, but took the job anyway. I was plunged into the coffee world, became a barista trainer and mastered the craft.
‘Speciality coffee’ was just emerging in the UK at that moment too. It tasted better than traditional coffee flavour profiles and I became fascinated about the unique origins. Now, trying and enjoying unique coffees has been a part of my everyday lifestyle for the last 10 years.
Why is sourcing ethical coffee important to you?
JB: Ethical coffee is really what we’re all about at Balance! When I first set the business up during the pandemic, I wanted to ensure that we were positively contributing to people and our planet. The foundation of that was where our coffee beans were sourced from. Luckily, having worked in coffee for 10 years, I had the pre-existing relationships I could fall back on.
We partnered with some of the most sustainable coffee importers in the UK who ensure the coffee farmers at origin are receiving an above average price for their coffee. It’s a big choice to pay higher prices and it doesn’t make it as easy, but there are a tonne of additional benefits to the whole eco-system that make it worth it.
For example, the taste quality is noticeably better. By paying a little bit more it also means that we’re helping to create a sustainable supply of coffee for the future too. The farmers get paid more, they can re-invest back into better farming practices, and it improves their living situation – a win win!
How do you choose which farms to source your coffee from?
JB: With coffee being seasonal, it means we’re always able to enjoy and experiment with different origins. Just like wine, coffee has so many unique flavour profiles and these are directly associated with the growing conditions and climate.
Personal favourites of mine are from countries like Rwanda and Ethiopia, but I also love a chocolate focused blend from Brazil.
Why the name ‘Balance’?
JB: Good Question! For me – Balance is the key to living your best life!
We’re all striving to balance our dream career and personal pursuits. Coffee is what motivates me to bring my A game at work, that creates intimate memories with family and friends. The fuel for my workouts and that moment of pause with my favourite book.
I thought it had a good ring to it too!
You say ‘sustainability is at the core of everything we do’ – where does this central value come from?
JB: It’s just something I’ve translated from my own belief into the company. Honestly, I can’t really understand why people can’t be in business and use it as a tool to create change or have a greater impact. It makes it so much more rewarding and enjoyable!
In my opinion, rather than looking at sustainability as a box checking exercise, if companies adjusted their mindset and approached it like any other business challenge, we’d be in a much better position than we are now.
What sustainable initiatives have you put in place at Balance and how are you trying to reduce your environmental impact?
JB: Unfortunately, coffee does carry a pretty heavy carbon footprint, so we’re doing our best to continuously improve what we do.
In 2020, we went fully recyclable with our coffee bags, we decided to pro-actively started planting trees with Ecologi and we donate 1% of revenue to a coffee charity called Project Waterfall. This is an amazing charity who help build wells to provide clean water and sanitation in coffee growing communities.
We’ve been awarded ‘Best Sustainable Coffee Roaster 2021’ which we’re absolutely over the moon about.
Do you have any particular environmental goals you want to achieve?
JB: Yes, in 2022 I really want us to become officially carbon negative.
We’ve just launched a new initiative to help achieve this. We’re now automatically planting a tree for every renewal order for our subscription customers. The idea is to get our customers involved in our sustainability journey. It means they can drink great coffee and know it’s good for the planet too.
How did you come to the decision on the type of packaging you use for your coffee?
JB: We’ve had a real battle with our coffee bag packaging over the last year. With the goal of moving away from foil lined bags to a more sustainable solution, we experimented with a number of solutions before we finally found a solution we were happy with.
We found compostable packaging a bit of minefield of regulations and mis-information. Currently the UK doesn’t have the facilities to deal with large quantities of compostable material. This means you could find your compostable waste ends up in landfill anyway. It also changes the decomposition duration from 90 days up to 10 years.
We didn’t want to go down that route so opted for recycle 4 [LDPE plastic] as recycling seemed like the most reliable solution for now. At least we know our bags are remade into plastic furniture and floor tiles when correctly disposed of. You can read a little more on coffee bag recycling here.
What are Balance Coffee’s plans for the future?
JB: We’re looking to launch a coffee pod range in early 2022 which is very exciting. As much as we believe using coffee beans is the best choice for quality and flavour, not everyone has the desire or equipment to grind fresh.
We’d love to create an eco-friendly solution that tastes amazing. Watch this space!
3 quick fire questions:
1. How many cups of coffee do you drink a day?
Nowadays, 2 hits the sweet spot. There was a time when I was drinking 7-10 and that was just ridiculous and not advisable.
2. Do you have a favourite coffee you produce/favourite coffee growing region?
Rwanda – my favourite coffee ever is called ‘Rocko Mountain Reserve’ it has boozy red fruit notes and tastes out of this world.
3. What’s your favourite method of brewing coffee?
For me It’s all about speed – my home espresso machine can pump out a flat white in 45 seconds or so which works a treat. If I get a bit of downtime, I like making a black filter coffee using the Hario V60 brewer.
Thank you to James for taking the time to explain all about Balance Coffee and their sustainable, ethically produced coffee.
We need more business leaders with an attitude like James’ which combines high quality with sustainability. And congratulations to Balance on being awarded the Best Sustainable Coffee Roaster 2021!
You can head over to the Balance Coffee website to buy individual coffee bags or join their coffee subscription programme with various options to choose from.
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I’m the Creator and Editor of Tiny Eco Home Life. I write and publish information about living a more sustainable, environmentally friendly life. Away from the laptop, I love spending time in nature and with my young family (plus Murphy the dog!). I write and send out the Eco Life Newsletter.