By John Wolcott HBJ Freelance Writer
CAMANO ISLAND — Jeff Ericson looks friendly and innocent, but he’s a dangerous man to talk to — unless you’re ready to change how you look at your cup of coffee.
You’ll find out which coffee is the cleanest and most healthful for you, but you need to be ready to change.
Yes, it’s his coffee, but there’s a long list of independent reasons why it’s best.
Keep talking to him and you’ll find out the amazing economic and social changes his coffee is making in the lives of Central American coffee bean growers.
But Ericson will also awaken your social conscience. It’s likely you change to Camano Island Coffee Roasters’ products because you won’t feel right about buying other coffees than his.
By the time he begins telling you about his website’s free 58-page report, “The 5 Hidden Dangers Lurking in Your Cup of Coffee — Things You Should Know Before You Indulge,” you’ll be ready to head to www.camanoislandcoffee.com to find out how to enjoy your coffee without facing those dangers.
And, yes, his business is growing because he’s asking people to take an honest, informed look at one of the Pacific Northwest’s favorite marketable products — coffee.
His awakening to the truths about good coffee was gradual, stunning and life changing for him and his family, much like his awakening to the attractions of living in the damp Pacific Northwest after being raised in sunny Arizona.
“I lived in Arizona for years before I came to Kirkland and earned a theology degree at a college there,” Ericson said. “I came from a family of ministers and evangelists and it was thought that would be my path, too. But, while I was here, I got a job at Hickory Farms in Bellevue and discovered my love for business, which became my passion.”
Returning to Arizona after college, Ericson dreamed of retiring young, and did. He built a fortune in the printing business in Arizona, then embraced the commercial faxing business when it became a hot market for printing companies, long before there were Kinko’s and similar printing and faxing services available.
Retiring as a multimillionaire at 30, Ericson found himself one day in the Northwest again, driving south from Bellingham, when he spotted the exit for Stanwood and Camano Island.
“I felt I’d always live in Arizona, but when I saw Camano Island I felt a real calling,” he said. “At the time, my wife, Jodi, and I had adopted two children from Korea, Destiny and Brandon. I had plenty of money but I had a fragmented life and nothing made much sense to me. … I was always so busy I didn’t know my children and I told myself there had to be more to life than this.”
When he saw Camano Island, his life questions began to find some answers.
“I bought land on the north end of the island and flew my wife up to look at it. She thought it was nice but said she wouldn’t live here. A year later we were building a home and then moved here,” he said.
“A true Arizona woman, she gave it six months. Well, she fell in love with it more than I did. Now, we both love the area, the people, the climate and you couldn’t get us out of here. It’s mainly the people in this unique community. I’ve never met people so passionate about living here and it’s as heavenly today as when we moved here 20 years ago.”
Today, their daughter is a nurse at Seattle Children’s hospital, their son is an engineer, and Jeff is running a 13-year-old business that lets him evangelize about coffee and his global social work.
“When I was starting in the coffee business, I discovered Agros International in Seattle and their innovative work that’s changing generational poverty in many countries,” Ericson said. “I never lost my theology, but I discovered I can run a business and use it to do good, righteous work, more than I ever imagined.”
Agros International is committed to breaking the cycle of poverty for rural families in Central America and Mexico so that communities can achieve land ownership and economic stability.
“What we’ve done with Agros is work with them to buy shade-grown coffee at triple the prices they would get by going to the middlemen,” Ericson said. “The increased price enables the farmers to improve their lives and care for their families instead of being kept in a cycle of poverty.”
“We’re now involved with 32 villages and 24,000 farmers in many countries that are improving their lives and their villages because of our prices and fair-trade practices,” he said. “There is even enough money raised through our coffee sales and Agros International donations to build medical facilities and provide other needs. We’re running our business successfully but still meeting social needs of others.”
He’s visited his Central American farmers, too, and seen firsthand their improved living conditions, the pride of people who are now making a profit from their work on the coffee plantations and their smiles and hopes that come from breaking long-term poverty.
Ericson’s coffee is carried in some of the best coffee shops in the U.S. and many foreign countries, he said.
At the same time, he’s expanding his business on Camano Island, which operates from The Camano Commons at Terry’s Corner. It was Ericson who built the Commons with a vision of what a downtown on the island should look like, then selling the buildings to others. The several buildings in the rural island setting each have an attractive, individual style that complements the environment.
“I just bought the barn building next door to our business and we’ll move our retail sales in there soon and keep the roasting facility in the building we’re in now,” he said. “In fact, we’ll be filling the barn with a variety of retail shops besides ours, including a meat market. It’ll be a great addition to the business attractions at The Commons.”
Six tips for a great cup of coffee
Coffee roaster Jeff Ericson offers these coffee-buying tips.
1. Look at the price per ounce. It’s the only way to know you’ll get the best bang for your buck.
2. Look for 100 percent Arabica beans. Grocery store coffee often uses cheap Robusta beans, which are highly caffeinated, acidic and bitter.
3. Look for single-origin coffee. Coffee derives flavor from the specific soil and climate where it’s grown, much like a fine wine.
4. Look for USDA-certified organic coffee, which guarantees no harmful pesticides. Coffee is one of the most absorbent crops and its flavor suffers if chemicals infuse the soil and coffee tree.
5. Save money with a coffee subscription club. Some offer discounts of up to 30 percent. A good coffee subscription club will monitor your consumption and send you freshly roasted beans when you start to run out.
6. Look for a “roasted on” date so you can tell if it’s fresh. Freshness is the single biggest factor in brewing the best tasting cup of coffee.