The River Speaks

… But the people hold their tongues

The June evening is warm, the sky clear, the Spokane River calm. Near one of the tributary’s seven dams, I put my modern, carefully engineered craft into the water, its greens and purples jumping off the river’s blues. I, in my matching purple PFD, couldn’t be further from the realities of the indigenous people who lived along this river. Just pointing out the obvious.

As I drift lazily along, watching the sun’s final rays touch the day lilies on the banks, I ponder that. On separate journeys, I’ve visited the markers along this river’s edge that tell a story of Indians and of white settlers, of chiefs and colonels, braves and majors, vying for rights to the land. One glorifies the miners who joined the troops, not far from the graveyard of 800 tortured horses. An installation downtown portrays fishing as a way of life for the Native people, and the suffering they endured after settlers dammed the river. I rest on the water between those two locations, listening for the stories the river could tell.

The Spokane River’s banks have seen bloodshed and destruction. They’ve hosted conversations and heard edicts. They’ve held logs for an old, tired, displaced leader to rest on, weary of the struggle to protect his land, burdened by letting his people down. The water has given life to the flora and fauna, has washed wounds, cleaned hands, cooled burning skin. But those stories could be lost – forgotten as new tales emerge from the tides of summer play, paddlers with coolers, youth jumping from rope swings, boaters hauling skis, lovers watching the sunset reflect on the evening glass.

But more than the fear of the stories being lost of the indigenous people who’ve already passed to the next life, I worry about the silenced stories of the people who still live.

Three times in one week, I looked into the eyes of individuals whose skin is darker than mine, whose ancestors are not colonists, as they shared how often they do not speak, how many times they hesitate, how many times they don’t say clearly what they want because it may provoke a white person. They are South American, Black American, Native American. Each, in their own way, suffers from questioning the validity or the potential repercussions of what they want to say.

There is no monument on the river for these stories. No inscription carved in stone, erected on a hill, marked on a map.

I exit my kayak clumsily. Haul it up the embankment, load it on the car, drive home. And in bed, I sleep fitfully, the stories broiling, wanting to be screamed into reality for all to hear.


This reflection is part of a walking meditation project for a graduate course, “Contemporary Strategies to Counter Hate,” at Gonzaga University. Other walking meditations include:

Beware of Suspicious Activity

Trespassing at Muir Hill

I Know You Broke the River

Finding Chief Garry at an Urban Spring

I Know You Broke the River

In 1995, Spokane commissioned local Native American writer Sherman Alexie to write a poem that would be set in stone as public art. The lyrics of “That Place Where Ghosts of Salmon Jump” wind in a spiral, a labyrinth for the reader. It once was more hidden from high foot traffic and now is amid the more recent installations of Native history above the Spokane Falls along a busy path, part of a plaza called “A Place of Truths.” Here – between Alexie’s haunting poem, the iron fisherpeople crafted by Jeff Ferguson, and photo displays about the destructive force of the Grand Coulee Dam on the Native people’s way of life – here, there is a reckoning. At last, in 2019, roughly 140 years after Colonel George Wright and his troops ravaged all the native communities surrounding Spokane and forced a “treaty” that left the tribes with a fraction of their original land, our citizens and visitors are seeing a move toward a more complete history.

It’s heartening – and disheartening all at once. Now, finally, we gain some perspective. But why has it taken this long to recognize the selfishness and vain ambitions of the whites who tore through the region, leaving skeletons of horses on the riverbanks, burning storehouses of grain, hanging men above the creeks?

I walk the poem’s pathway, stopping to question what is Coyote and what does it represent. I ponder possibilities, wonder how far I am from Alexie’s intentions or the instinctive grasping that his people naturally might have.

More than once, I pause at “he smashed a paw across the river,” and “I know you broke the river because of love.”

I tried to tie it to my research on Jesuits and other would-be “saviors” who came with good hearts perhaps, but also with their own agendas, and knowingly or not, were part of a legacy of pain that the Natives still endure today.

That in itself is a white person’s perspective, isn’t it? Trying to find the answers, wanting to point to solutions.

“White men don’t always love their own mothers so how could they love this river?”

I don’t know, Coyote, I don’t know. But I will walk the labyrinth again, and I will visit the river’s edge to the west and to the east and, and rather than answers, I will simply look for truth.


This reflection is part of a walking meditation project for a graduate course, “Contemporary Strategies to Counter Hate,” at Gonzaga University. Other walking meditations include:

Beware of Suspicious Activity

Trespassing at Muir Hill

Finding Chief Garry at an Urban Spring

The River Speaks

Featured

A Coffee Roaster’s Lifegiving Motto

Story by Kate Vanskike | Portraits by Luke Kenneally

(Image courtesy of Indaba)

With coffee start-up company Indaba, Bobby Enslow had the dream of creating community in the economically challenged West Central neighborhood despite neither experience roasting coffee nor running a business. And yet, he succeeded—achieving awards, receiving recognition, and continuously adding to his list of retail locations. An inspiring tale, but one that’s been told. Indaba’s story runs deeper than that.

The people—and their stories—are what set Bobby apart from other aspiring business leaders.

Meet Mary Kay McCollum, a Navy veteran; Phil Hocking, a computer technician; and Hannah Hicks, a rising business leader. Seemingly on disparate paths, yet sharing the same testimony: Indaba’s slogan—Love people, love coffee—is more than pretty words. Bobby lives by it.

A Path to Healing

“I get really emotional when I talk about it,” says Mary Kay McCollum.

She’s speaking of her experience of sexual assault by a fellow Naval officer, whose abuse back in the ’80s left her terrified and isolated for years. But the statement is also true of recalling the first time she walked into the Broadway Indaba location in 2015.

This was the year McCollum attended a retreat for veterans to tackle their trauma, where she thankfully met a journalist who helped her secure payment for the suffering caused by a member of the military. After more than three decades of silence, the pain of processing was unbelievably hard, compounded by telling her story to secure disability pay for the years she was unable to work. McCollum was suicidal, and when she entered the coffee shop, she told the owner just that.

“When I first talked about PTSD, I was terrified. But Bobby was just so encouraging and supportive,” McCollum says. “His compassion really affected me. He got me on the path to healing. I started writing and talking about it.”

Bobby was instrumental in her progress, she says. Every time she returned to Indaba, he remembered her name and asked how she was doing.

Six years later, McCollum continues her healing through photography, her relationship with Jesus, and encouraging other women to find their voice.

She still finds comfort in good coffee from Spokane roasters, including Indaba. Her favorite is a whole milk latte with no added flavor, so she can savor the coffee.

“’Love people, love coffee’,” she quotes the Indaba motto. “That isn’t just something to hang on the wall. [Bobby] really does it.”

Mary Kay McCollum. Photo by Luke Kennealley

Dignity Restored

As a child, Phillip Hocking had symptoms indicative of autism spectrum disorders that weren’t widely understood at the time, and, without treatment, he suffered from a lack of social skills and friends. After his parents acquired a PC and internet service in 1994, he found a placed he belonged through computer technology networks.

Phillip dropped out of school and pursued tech success, and when he scored, he began whittling away his earnings on drugs and alcohol. He was good at what he did, but as addiction took control; he began smoking meth in the bathroom at work. No longer employable, he became homeless.

For five years, Hocking lived on the streets. A church near the Broadway Indaba coffee shop had been operating a shelter and when it closed in the mornings, Hocking made his way across the street where Bobby was still learning to run his first business and not yet making a profit.

“I basically lived there,” Phillip says. “I was bipolar and having public freak-outs in the shop, and Bobby never asked me to leave.”

Bobby gave him day-old cookies and let him wash dishes to earn his coffee. He even played chess with Phillip, establishing a weekly tradition they maintained until pandemic restrictions.

“Once, I walked in and was crying, and said, ‘Bobby, could you just pray for me, man?’ And he did. And it was really impactful,” Phillip says, “despite my mental health issues and living in active addiction.”

Between that prayer and reading Brene Brown’s “The Power of Vulnerability,” Phillip found an ability to recognize his self-worth. He began helping others, caring for a friend’s family while a member was incarcerated, delivering food and toilet paper to addicts on the street.

In 2015, Phillip stopped his drug use, secured a job, and began paying for his coffee. Today, he oversees tech services at Excelsior Wellness Center.

“Things that once led to HR involvement or loss of employment now aren’t issues. I don’t have to pretend that I don’t have autism or social issues. My behavioral health is no longer a barrier to my success,” Phillip says. “I’m a homeowner, I’m married, I have a kid. And I have a future.”

Phillip is a coffee snob by admission, and proud to say he spends quite a bit of money on coffee. His favorite Indaba drink is the Natatorium—a vanilla caramel latte with cinnamon.

“He’s serious about ‘love people, love coffee,’” Phillip says of Bobby. “He was amid his start-up, and dealing with the pressures of someone like me there was a risk. But he put his Christian principles above a business principle. It’s pretty indicative of who the man is.”

Indaba owner Bobby Enslow (left) with Phillip Hocking. Photo by Luke Kennealley

Creating a Future

Hannah Hicks and her siblings grew up in West Central before the Kendall Yards development was a reality. They were bored highschoolers when Indaba opened in 2009; they hung out at the intriguing new Broadway shop. All the time.

“We would trick Bobby into giving us free lattes,” says Hannah.

But it was no trick. Bobby turned that “free” coffee into a dishwashing job.

One day, Hannah was talking about what to do after school. Bobby had been considering an internship program to teach technical coffee skills to support the growth of specialty roasters in Spokane, and approached Hicks with the opportunity.

“I became Bobby’s first intern, spending twenty hours a week learning from him,” Hannah says. After she gained work experience at another business, Enslow asked her to manage the Broadway location, and then another Indaba shop.

“Bobby was so intentional about giving me opportunity and really trusting me with it. He sent me to barista camp for certifications; he was constantly investing in me,” she says.

Hannah felt she was an active part of Enslow’s dream to create community. She and everyone else on his team were inspired to be family to their regular customers.

Just over three years ago, Hicks moved to New York City, where she had multiple job offers and selected one with a local coffee company where she started off as the manager of its busiest location in Manhattan.

“I don’t think anything could have prepared me like having worked for Bobby,” she says. “He inspired me to lead people in a way that’s focused on them.”

An ambitious young woman in a major metropolitan area, Hannah dreamed big. She applied to Columbia University and was accepted, in part, she says, to Enslow’s impact and recommendation. She became an operations manager, then a senior manager for quality overseeing a business in six cities.

“At every stage, Bobby has supported me,” Hannah says. “Yes, he taught me technical skill, but also about business and leadership. And to think it started with washing dishes.”

Today, residing in the Big Apple and studying sociology at Columbia, Hannah says she lives off simple drip coffee. She’s still enjoying her favorite blends from Indaba, shipped to her regularly from Spokane, where the people-first motto is alive and well.

“It simply blows my mind,” is all Bobby can say. “My little shop in West Central is making a difference.”


Featured

The Comaraderie of Cupping

Indaba Coffee owner Bobby Enslow prepares a weekly cupping session. Shown also is roaster Josh Adrian.

Around the perimeter of the wooden table were 10 plastic cups, each with a number noted on a white piece of paper. In the center, a couple of water cups with spoons, and five shot glasses, one for each of us who would join in cupping.

It’s a weekly occurrence for the Indaba Coffee roasting staff, and I was invited to partake. As we chatted, owner Bobby Enslow ground beans from 10 distinct coffee varieties, and placed a sampling into the 10 cups. We rounded the table slowly, each of us inhaling deeply, picking up specific characteristics, then moving on until we’d filled our nostrils with the aromas of each cup.

The crew, of course, was prolific in identifying the slightest trace of fruit or a scent affiliated with a country of origin. “Pomegranate,” said Sarah Wellenbrock. “Raspberry La Croix,” said Josh Adrian. On and on they went. Cedar. Fajitas. Raisin. Beef broth. Nougat. Kombucha. Cocoa Puffs.

A novice, I was ashamed that a writer who loves coffee struggled to find better adjectives than “mild” and “bold” in my head. It was a proud moment when I said, “I’m picking up hints of alcohol in #2” and Adrian later validated it, explaining that #2 was Rwandan coffee from fermented beans.

After two more rounds for tasting, I jotted in my notebook, numbers 3, 4, 6, 8 and 10 as favorites. When Enslow revealed the names of each coffee in our blind test, it was no surprise, these were Sumatra, High Drive, Bowl & Pitcher, and Lilac City – selections I’d bought from Indaba off and on for a few years.

The Science of Coffee

Today it’s easy to find videos demonstrating virtually every method and aspect of coffee service. But they were were slim in 2009 when Enslow was starting his business, so he learned from industry leaders in the Pacific Northwest – like DOMA, a Post Falls wholesaler, and Stumptown Roasters in Portland. He also purchased a service from Facsimile, which provides blind samples for experimental purposes.

Everything about coffee production is an experiment, he says. You learn which cups hold a consistent temperature, what percentage of coffee to extract for its full potential, the time a specific selection should roast and on what setting. You test the moisture and color, not just with the eye but with digital scans that provide precise analysis.

“You have to be humble. You’ll never know it all.
Just learn to enjoy it.”

– Bobby Enslow

The complexity is why he fell in love with coffee. “I love the academic part – the constant learning.”

He supports ongoing education for staff members, too. Everyone who wants to roast must complete a related certification from Barista Hustle, and then any additional certifications they wish to pursue on their own will yield them a pay raise.

From my brief experience with the cupping team, it was clear that the learning was not the only perk (pun intended).

“What I love most about cupping is our team collaboration in perfecting our quality control,” says Wellenbrock. We’re always trying to determine how our coffee could be better, and in the process, it’s elevating our team.”

That synergy was apparent. Josh, perched on a stool, had the clipboard and a detailed chart for scoring 10 attributes of each sample, from aroma, texture, and flavor, to acidity, sweetness, and aftertaste. Wellenbrock and Crystal Walton called out their observations at each stage and Adrian handled the scoring.

At left: Sarah Wellenbrock and Crystal Walton; At right, Josh Adrian with Wellenbrock

A Shift in Focus

The same humility Enslow embraced in learning the science, he also built into his motto and business philosophy. In the first decade, “Simply Great Coffee” reflected his passion for quality. But entering the next era, Enslow wanted to focus on the reason he opened his first shop in the economically challenged West Central neighborhood: He cared about creating and fostering community.

The new Indaba motto – now plastered on mugs, posters, and stickers – is “Love People, Love Coffee.” And Enslow only hires team members who understand that putting people first is non-negotiable, no matter how great a person’s coffee-making knowledge and skills are.

A few Indaba customers have shared their own stories of the ways a humble little coffee shop on West Broadway changed their lives. That story appears in the June issue of Spokane Coeur d’Alene Living magazine.


Choose Your Indaba Adventure

  • 1425 W. Broadway: The original shop, two blocks west of the Courthouse. Neighborhood feel with indoor and outdoor seating.
  • 1315 W. Summit Parkway: Great for a quick pick-me-up while shopping in Kendall Yards.
  • 419 N. Nettleton: In a shared space with Hello Sugar donuts, this spot is mere steps away from Centennial Train and a lovely spot that overlooks the river.
  • 210 N. Howard: Grab a drink here and mosey to some of downtown’s best shops, or across the street to Riverfront Park.
  • 518 W. Riverside: Pre-COVID, this location featured live musicians on weekend evenings, providing a fun yet chill atmosphere for hanging out. Here’s to future tunes and treats.

Trespassing at Muir Hill

“Muir Hill” is the name I chose for the 5-acre wooded parcel among the basalt cliffs at the end of our street, after the same John Muir for whom many woods and parks are named.

It didn’t have a name when I moved here, but it belonged to the neighborhood under construction that would be called “Hazelwood Park.” Hazelwood Lane is about 1/3 mile long, curving up the hill to a dead end, the driveway of a new home. At the other end, it’s actually a continuation of Broad Court, which used to end in a cul-de-sac.

I live on the Broad Court part of the street, the “Southview Estates” neighborhood of the 1980s – split-level homes with bay windows, long driveways and large front yards. On the Broad end, homes need a new roof or some better landscaping, or – like mine – a fresh paint job and a better color. But on the Hazelwood end, each small lot sports a newly constructed home 10 feet from its neighbor, all of them decorated in a palate of woodland browns, with vinyl fences pulling them all together as a family.

Muir Hill is open to the residents of Hazelwood Lane, and they have put “No Trespassing” signs atop the woods facing west and the boulders facing east. It’s a wooded oasis that provides a feeling of wilderness in the middle of the suburban area below, enjoyed by none of them except from the classic Adirondack lounges on their freshly swept porches.

When I moved here, the road had not yet been cut through to create Hazelwood Park. There were no signs indicating to whom it belonged, and since my house was all of two doors past the invisible barrier where Hazelwood and Broad met, I would have ignored them anyway. I brought children to Muir Hill to play and hike and have adventures. I brought my dog to run wild. I brought a hammock to hang between two pines I named Sybil and Ferrel, after my grandmothers. Before the “No Trespassing” signs, coyotes howled in the evening.

Sitting atop a rock 60-70 feet above the street, I see the old man sitting on his porch where the road turns up the hill. You – I say to him in my head – you do nothing with this patch of glory but put boundaries around it and stifle the life that people exchange with the trees. You – I see you watching my every move, wondering if I should be here. You have lost the point of these woods. You scowl at children and scorn their wishes to build a fort in the woods. “Keep it natural,” you say, as if there is something unnatural about kids collecting broken branches off dead trees to form lean-tos and boats and other mysteries of the imagination. You – whose yard is adorned with plaster and plastic creatures aside cheap bridges over fake streams – you want it “natural.”  

Let me ask this: Who, really, is the “No Trespassing” sign for?

As the sun lowers on the horizon, I take the pathway over fallen pine needles and pinecones and weave between trees and around boulders and descend to the pavement of Hazelwood Lane. And after passing a few homes, the street becomes Broad Court and the homes age two decades or three in a blink. I will walk up my long driveway, lined with tended flowers, and enter a home that begs for a paint job, and I will ask myself:

Who is trespassing?

Before there was either a Hazelwood Lane or a Broad Court, there were trees and rocks and the river, and there were Natives speaking Salish, whose people later were called Spokans.

You can find out who were the original inhabitants of the land where you live: native-land.ca.

Finding Chief Garry at a White Man’s Spring

Learning about Native heritage in Spokane

Drumheller Springs Park is – no surprise – named after a white man. He found the spring and decided the location was perfect for a slaughterhouse.

But before he sought to make a buck on free water, the Interior Salish people rested here. It was a flat hilltop with riparian trees, scattered basalt rock, and camas flowers. A lovely spot – open to the sun but providing willow shade and a view to the hills beyond.

It’s 10 acres in the middle of the city, right on the Maple/Ash couplet running north-side, west of downtown. People drive by a thousand times without a clue the park is here. A humble stone wall on the east boundary now displays art done by local members of the Spokane Tribe. But cars are driving 35 mph around a corner, and if people notice the art at all, they certainly won’t notice a brown and green wooden sign that says Drumheller Springs Park. Why? Because it sits on a hill, perched 15 feet above the sidewalk, facing the opposite direction that traffic would see, under the shade of a tree. No wonder I’ve lived here 23 years and never knew of it, despite being a park enthusiast.

As I reflect on it here in the park itself, I’m sitting on a rocky hump out in the open. There are a few Ponderosa pines within a hundred feet, and a dried up creekbed to the south. Around the south and north perimeters are homes, a reminder of the city’s encroachment.

I felt the rock and the dry moss, wondered if it was comfortable to sleep on, wondered if the moss would come back to life and offer moisture again.

I leave the woods and head to the south side to return to my car by a different way, and there across the street is a tall granite stone monument with an inscription. Chief Garry, it says, was taken by a member of the Hudson Bay Co. to a mission, and later came back to teach his people for 60 years. Whose version of his history is written, I wonder. The marvelous whites who felt educating him as a Protestant Christian would be good use of his passions? The man named Garry who insisted that the Spokane native should bear his name?

I head back into the city disgusted and bewildered, and I seek out other locations to learn more about Spokane’s favorite Native, Chief Garry.

First, I turn and see this mother, kneeling on a path with a toddler who wanted out of the stroller; they stay a while, watching, listening. The mother is unhurried, patient. Together, they enjoy “Drumheller’s” park in the way the Native Spokane Tribe members might appreciate.

The east border of Drumheller Springs Park, seen along Ash St., north of Northwest Blvd.
The steps on the left pass by what is now a tiny trickle of a stream, now flowing through a pipe.
At right, the willows in a dry creek bed on the upper portion of the park.
A monument placed across the street at the south border of Drumheller Springs Park.
At right, a mother and child pause during their stroll through the park.

This reflection is part of a walking meditation project for a graduate course, “Contemporary Strategies to Counter Hate,” at Gonzaga University. Other walking meditations include:

The River Speaks

Trespassing at Muir Hill

I Know You Broke the River

Beware of Suspicious Activity

Featured

Beans and Brews on the West Coast

Spokane has bragging rights.

With the birth of “For the Love of Coffee” in Spokane Coeur d’Alene Living magazine, I and Editor Megan Rowe have one central aim: To inspire Inland Northwest residents to celebrate boldly the name Spokane can make for itself with coffee. Seattle thinks it’s the coffee capital because Starbucks started there? Come on. The humble home of the Hoopfest and Bloomsday doesn’t play that way. 

Spokane Falls in spring, and a classic mug by local artist Chris Bovey

Within a 5-mile radius in Spokane, a coffee lover can easily locate, walk to or park near, and enjoy half a dozen quality local roasters, and never have to rely on a corporate chain. Our small community’s wealth of locally owned coffee deserves the same billing as our wineries, breweries, bike paths, and parks.

Every journey I’ve taken outside our region in the last few years has fostered this truth. Last year, just before COVID hit, I spent several days in Napa Valley on a work trip. I’m not a wine connoisseur, and while I did enjoy the experience of wine tasting, I still wanted my coffee. The cute burg where I stayed had ONE option. Every morning, I wondered: How can a place that invests so much in marketing the fine art of a good drink somehow overlook the need for equally noteworthy coffee?

This spring, on a road trip with my daughter to visit colleges along the West Coast, I found local roasters who put heart into their gig. Urth Caffe in L.A. had a good drink, fine pastry, and a strong sense of purpose: Only organic, heirloom, shade-grown beans. San Fran? Intelligentcia (also in other major metro areas like NYC and Chicago) wants to “elevate a daily ritual into a culinary experience” as well as to be “stewards of the earth and advocates for values of diversity, inclusion and equity.” Portland? Coava, which invests in “long-term relationships with coffee producers” also prides itself in featuring mostly single-origin brews instead of creating blends.

When I find those businesses, I support them by buying a bag to bring home, and by letting them show off their expertise a bit. “What do you have that’s medium-dark and not fruity, good for pour-over and French press?” I’ll ask. The barista at Coava (an alternative to Portland’s more widely marketed Stumptown) answered, “I think you need Nayo.” I picked up a bag and discovered its beans hail from Guatemala – always a safe bet for me, so her hunch was right.

So, other cities have great coffee … what’s my point? In one word: Convenience. In two words: Bragging rights. I happened to be lucky that Urth Caffe in Santa Monica was an 8-minute walk from my hotel, that Intelligentcia was around the corner from Haight-Ashbury where I wanted a glimpse of hippie lore, and Coava was a 5-minute drive from another destination on my Portland list. But this isn’t the norm for major metro areas. When my husband and I traveled to New York City, I had to put a good coffee shop on our itinerary, the same as the bookstore he wanted to visit, because if you don’t plan for those stops, they won’t happen. And even when you do plan, you also have to negotiate the transportation. Are we renting bikes, scheduling an Uber, risking mayhem to park our own vehicle?

Here in the Inland Northwest, treating a guest – or yourself! – to great coffee just doesn’t take that kind of effort, nor does it require good luck.

Last Drop

The next time you find yourself coaxing a friend to visit Spokane, or you’re sharing on Facebook what’s great about our region, be sure good coffee is one of your talking points.


Next Cup

For next month’s column, I’ll share about Bobby Enslow, owner of Indaba, and what I learn while doing some cupping on roasting day with him. But in the meantime, I want to hear from you. Specifically, I want to learn how churches, schools and community centers are using coffee bars to facilitate their mission. Drop me a line below.

If you missed the inaugural launch of “For the Love of Coffee,” read about Roast House coffee here.

The Power of the F-Bomb

This article is the inaugural entry of my new column – “For the Love of Coffee” – in Spokane Coeur d’Alene magazine, April 2021.

The signature brew of Roast House Coffee – F-Bomb – came by its name honestly, regardless of how you feel about cursing.

Owner Deborah Di Bernardo was giving up sugar and chocolate, and when her team roasted the Mexican bean for this brew, its aroma wafting through the warehouse-style facility, she swore someone was tempting her. “Who’s making f***ing brownies?” she yelled.

Deb’s favorite word and her deep love for this consistently rich, chocolatey coffee sealed its fate: It would be called F-Bomb.

The name alone has been magic for Roast House. “Many people in Spokane still haven’t heard of Roast House, but they know F-Bomb,” Di Bernardo says. It sells on its own and is also a key element in half a dozen blends at the shop, including the popular Café Americas, which is a mix of F-Bomb and Rio Cocoa from Nicaragua.

But the real propeller of Roast House’s trajectory is something else entirely: A fierce commitment to sustainable coffee growing and fair trade practices.

Deb Di Bernardo. Photo: Annisa Hale

That has been Di Bernardo’s mainstay since she began her passion project 11 years ago. Where other roasters label products as “ecofriendly” or sustainable because they’ve used a small amount of organic beans, Roast House’s supply is 100% organic.

You can bet that makes it more expensive. Her costs are 40% higher because she pays the coffee farmers a living wage to hand-sort and hand-wash the beans – all of which are shade-grown. These practices ensure that the coffee coming to her Spokane warehouse is free of the defects present in other coffees. And because she doesn’t want to impact costs more by traveling to the coffee farms herself, she partners with trusted and certified importers, like Sustainable Harvest from Portland, to be her eyes and ears around the world.

“Staying committed to sustainable coffee is more important today than when I started,” says Di Bernardo, “because our eyes have been opened to the threat of coffee extinction.”

Coffee extinction? Is that possible?

In the next 20 years, 50% of the high-end Arabicas will be gone, she says, due to do the microclimate created by deforestation in countries producing coffee. The nationally and internationally known mega-producers of coffee strip the hillsides so they can produce higher quantities, but not higher quality, java. The result, says Di Bernardo, is “crap, sun-grown coffee,” and a major hazard to the physical and economic health of the developing countries whose food supply is already a precious commodity.

“The apathy toward our food sources is a real threat,” she adds, noting that pure vanilla is almost nonexistent for the same reason coffee is in danger.

Di Bernardo’s commitment to sustainable practices extends from the farming to the packaging. When she decided F-Bomb (and other seasonal selections) needed to be available in single-serve packets for camping and traveling, her team selected a Santa Cruz, California, company that makes every piece of packaging from eco-friendly sources so there is no waste. While the coffee maven doesn’t travel much, F-Bomb is her companion when she does.

If you stop by the tasting room (423 E. Cleveland), don’t expect a trendy, hipster joint with retro couches and people sipping coffee with their earbuds in and laptops open. Instead, expect a simple storefront coffee counter with the roastery in the background, and amazingly friendly team members who will help you select a brew to take home, and whip up a unique drink with their homemade simple syrups. Come back another time and don’t be surprised if they’ve remembered your name and your likings.

[Briefly]

Author’s Choice:               I’m in a committed relationship with F-Bomb and 423. But when summer comes, it’s all about the ice-cold Cocoa Fuego, which is sunny-Friday-afternoon-hammock-time-with-Pink-Floyd-queued-up in a bottle.

Sticker Message:              Damn Fine Coffee. (Also at the bottom their RH branded mugs.)

Notoriety:                           While Roast House isn’t yet a household name in the Inland Northwest, national coffee experts have taken note of the small company from the Lilac City, offering 1st– 2nd– and 3rd-place awards among North American competitors 20 times.

Sample Review:                Nathan writes: Amazing variety and expert brewers. As an experience and as a product, I believe it gets no better.

[The Boss of F-Bomb: Deb Di Bernardo]

Daily Dose:                          French press at home, Americano at the shop

Partner in Crime:              Jim. (Saint Jim, really, I mean, if you know Deb…)

Best Buddy:                        Lucy, a labradoodle now trained as a service animal

Personal Passion:             Bringing attention to the need to be more intentional about our foods and resources.

What Staff Say:                 Jon says: “She’s the most honest, best boss I’ve ever had.”

[Where to Buy: Spokane]

Roastery/Showroom:     423 E. Cleveland Ave, off Foothills Drive

Coffee House:                   First Avenue Coffee, 1011 W. 1st Ave, Downtown

Grocery Stories:               Huckleberry’s, Natural Grocers, My Fresh Basket, and some Rosauer’s and Super One locations