Wagon Coffee Celebrates One Year of Supporting Women in Addiction Recovery

As Wagon Coffee grows, Tami hopes to add more women, like Kavita (right), to the team.
Wagon Coffee
As Wagon Coffee grows, Tami hopes to add more women, like Kavita (right), to the team.
“Mission-driven” describes nearly every facet of the business for southeast Denver-based roasters Wagon Coffee. Strike up a conversation with founder Tami Canaday and it becomes evident how thoughtfully she leads the brand, with equal parts expertise and empathy. While environmental sustainability and ethically sourced beans are top priorities for her, Tami’s overarching purpose is rooted in her community: On October 13, Wagon Coffee celebrates its one-year mark of supporting women in addiction recovery.

Tami’s husband, Ryan, is now eight and a half years sober. After his struggle with alcoholism, the two were in search of a way to help people battling addiction in their suburban area find the strength to break the silence. As a pastor as well as a former addict, Ryan had the unique calling to lead a faith-based recovery program, and in 2018, the couple started the nonprofit FREE, a spiritual community for addicts and their loved ones. While the staple Saturday night meetings started in their backyard, FREE soon expanded into its current gathering place at 7939 East Arapahoe Road in Greenwood Village.

Ryan and Tami were not the only constants at the FREE meetings. Another given every week: coffee. Prior to starting FREE, Tami spent over a decade in the corporate coffee industry. From barista to district operations overseer to masterclass training expert, she had (almost) done it all. “I love everything coffee. I had everything in my back pocket coffee-wise, with the exception of roasting coffee,” Tami says. She set out to quench what she described as the hole burning that back pocket by integrating her professional talent in the world of coffee while supporting the recovery community. Thus, Wagon Coffee emerged.

The name comes from the old saying of someone being “on the wagon” when they are on the journey to get sober. A central tenet of the FREE community is to “be the wagon.” In other words, the Canadays endeavor to foster a foundation on which people with addiction can find support and connection.
click to enlarge Tami and Ryan Canaday use a Bellwether Roasting System for its sustainability, ethical marketplace and ease of use. - WAGON COFFEE
Tami and Ryan Canaday use a Bellwether Roasting System for its sustainability, ethical marketplace and ease of use.
Wagon Coffee
Before launching Wagon Coffee, Tami roasted bags of beans from the Canadays' home in accordance with the Colorado Cottage Foods Act. “We’d use a tiny little 8-ounce Gene Cafe roaster, so by the time it was said and done and roasted, it turned out to be six ounces,” she explains. With two roasters running day and night, Tami would produce seven to ten bags a week, which was shared for free at the nonprofit. As people heard about the recovery-centered coffee and orders started coming in, Tami made the decision to commercialize.

To launch Wagon Coffee in full, Tami brought in a zero-emissions Bellwether roaster and set up a space at the FREE center. Compared to her home operation, where she produced a pound and a half of coffee every hour, Wagon Coffee can churn out six pounds of freshly roasted beans every fifteen minutes. Now, in addition to selling coffee in Colorado, Wagon can ship its bags nationwide and take advantage of wholesale opportunities.

Having access to these additional retail outlets has allowed Tami to hire a small team of women in recovery as roasting partners. On her decision to support women specifically, Tami remembers the women in the FREE community who would ask her for ways to stay busy and away from environments where they might be susceptible to alcohol and drugs. “I saw them showing up, coming early before our gathering and staying late — offering to take the trash out and scrub the toilets, do the dishes. So they stood out to me because they're always here, and they always showed up, and they're always hanging out with me,” she says.

Bellwether has been revolutionary for Wagon Coffee beyond the roasting system’s sustainability perks and the Bellwether-run Green Coffee Marketplace, which helps connect roasters to equitable coffee via small family farms. The roaster also offers customizable roasting processes based on the bean’s origin and desired darkness. That means the beans come out consistently bag to bag, but the simplicity of the user interface means so much more. It allows the women, who may not have had any previous coffee or roasting experience, to easily immerse themselves into a job where they get the extra support they need. “They will come and they'll get a roast started and hit play off the profile that's built,” Tami explains. “They’ll go sit down, attend a meeting and stay centered and sober, and then they'll come back after the meeting and the roast is done.”
click to enlarge 12:10 is a white coffee that has 70% more caffeine than standardly roasted beans. - WAGON COFFEE
12:10 is a white coffee that has 70% more caffeine than standardly roasted beans.
Wagon Coffee
To commemorate its first anniversary, the Wagon team is roasting a featured bag of Rwandan coffee that comes from a women’s cooperative in the Nyaruguru district. The light roast is named “93K” in honor of the more than 93,000 people that died from overdoses in the United States in 2020, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, a striking increase of nearly 30 percent from 2019.

Tami’s ultimate dream is to lean into more wholesale opportunities, both to be able to continue hiring more women and to provide coffee to all sober-living homes and recovery centers across the country. In late 2021, both Wagon Coffee and FREE will be moving into a new, larger space in central Denver. At the new location, Tami and Ryan look forward to setting up a Wagon Coffee-fueled FREE cafe, which will be staffed by both men and women in recovery.

In the meantime, bags of coffee are available on Wagon Cafe’s website. Options include varieties like Sober AF, an organic Balinese medium-roast bean, and the unique 12:10 high-caffeine, tea-like white coffee named after the Bible verse 2 Corinthians 12:10: "For when I am weak, then I am strong.” There are also monthly subscription options, a great gift idea for the upcoming holiday season.

With each bag of Wagon Coffee comes a message of kindness: “We are the wagon together. We pull each other up when we fall off the wagon. We extend grace to one another. We journey towards healing and recovery together. This bag inspires wholeness in individuals and communities in the world.”