Coffee for a cause: How Walt’s Coffee Roasters gives back to the KC community

Craig Swanson is a self-professed coffee geek.

The owner and roaster behind Kansas City area-based Walt’s Coffee Roasters started roasting coffee at home about 12 years ago. His first home roaster was fun, but he quickly maxed out its capacity and had to buy a larger one.

Swanson delved into the community of other home roasters, and started learning about taste and origin over (what else?) cups of coffee.

Eventually Swanson decided to find an even bigger roaster and start brewing on a commercial level. He didn’t really want to run a coffee shop, but believed in giving people the ability to brew a decent cup of coffee at home.

He also believed coffee could become a way of giving back, so he started selling bags of beans through his website, waltscoffeeroasters.com, and donating $3 for every bag to a customer’s choice of organizations such as City Union Mission and Veterans Community Project.

Kansas City Spaces: What do you like about roasting coffee?

Craig Swanson: A lot of people don’t understand coffee is kind of like wine in the sense that, depending on where it’s grown it can taste different. The same type of coffee grown in Guatemala, Brazil, Mexico or Sumatra can taste completely different. Roasting it at different levels can also change the flavor. I enjoy just getting into that and being able to truly customize the flavor, doing it the way I like to drink it and having the freshest coffee available.

KCS: What do you try to do differently than other coffee roasters?

CS: I really want people to have good quality coffee at home when they get up in the morning. My goal is to roast it to bring out the best flavor of the bean. I personally like to roast things darker than a lot of coffee shops do it today, but not extremely dark.

KCS: How has your roasting changed now that you are doing it on a commercial level?

CS: I’m using a bigger commercial machine which can really be much more consistent than what I was ever able to do at home. That has been really fun.

KCS: What is your favorite coffee?

CS: Ha! That’s like asking, ‘Who’s your favorite child?’ It depends. The coffee that got me really hooked into really good quality was the Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Kochere. That region of that country is where coffee was discovered.

KCS: Your business model allows customers to choose a charity with every purchase. How does that work?

CS: Any time someone goes to the website and buys a bag of coffee, $3 goes to one of five organizations I have listed. The person buying the coffee gets to select which organization the money goes to. If they are buying two bags, they can pick two different organizations. It was something I came up with because coffee has a strong sense of giving back to the farmer and making sure you are giving a fair price for them to carry that forward to the local community. It seemed a natural fit. There were a lot of organizations I wanted to give back to. I also wanted the purchaser to have that ownership and the ability to say where they wanted their money to go.

KCS: So who is Walt?

CS: Actually, my name is Walt: Walter Craig Swanson. But that is also my dad’s name. One of the things about coffee is that it’s about relationships. It’s personal. You sit down with someone over coffee and call them by name. So, while my name is Walt, in my mind, “Walt” makes me think of my dad. It’s a name that means something to me.

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