Six years ago, Baltz was working a corporate job and thought he hated coffee. The coffee of office-break rooms seemed bland and burnt-tasting, not something to get excited over. But then he was introduced to two of Denver's coffee roasters, Pablo's and Huckleberry Roasters. "Huckleberry blew me away," remembers Baltz. "It really blew my mind."
After tasting coffee's potential, Baltz decided to try roasting his own beans to see what flavors he could come up with. So three years ago, he bought a small roaster and began roasting his own coffee at home...and roasting, and roasting. "I think I blew up the roaster on the third roast." Baltz says.
But that didn't stop him. Instead, he got a better roaster and kept at it. When Baltz's cousin-in-law told him that his coffee was better than the stuff he was getting in San Francisco, he offered to buy a bag from Baltz. As his coffee continued converting more and more friends and family members, Baltz realized that he had a potential business on his hands -- but he had no interest in making money off his coffee. That started another idea brewing.
While employed by corporations, both Baltz and his wife had enjoyed doing community service work. Working for themselves, they often had trouble finding time for volunteer jobs. Now Baltz saw an opportunity to give back to the community by doing what he loved, roasting coffee. Last May, he and his wife started Agape Roasting Project, a non-profit named with the Greek word for "unconditional love." Agape creates small batch roasted coffee and donates 100 percent of the profits from any sales to local charities.
"Every minute I'm roasting, I'm generating dollars for a local charity," notes Baltz. In its first quarter, Agape raised just $170; this quarter, Baltz hopes to break the $3,000 mark. Because the proceeds are small, Agape has been working with small charity groups, including Underwearness, a non-profit that provides new underwear for underprivileged children, and Brent's Place, which provides "safe-clean" housing to immunocompromised patients and their families. The beneficiary this quarter is Adaptive Action Sports, a charity that runs skateboard, snowboard and other action sport camps, events and programs for youth, young adults and injured military living with permanent physical disabilities.
But the project wouldn't work if the coffee didn't. "We're selling their coffee because it tastes good, not because of their charity work," says Jessica Caouette, an owner of Denver Bicycle Cafe. "The charities are just the icing on the cake."
Public Coffee, a non-profit public coffee cart, was the first to debut Agape's coffee at a launch party at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver. Today it's also stocked at Denver Bicycle Cafe, Black Black Coffee, Camino Coffee and Metropolis LoHi. But you can also find it at events around town. "We were also the only coffee vendor at Festivus -- craft beer and craft coffee actually go really well together," says Baltz.
And speaking of beer, Agape's Ethiopia Wadada dry-processed coffee was recently used by the Rock Bottom Brewery in Westminster, to brew a twelve-barrel run of Oatmeal Mocha Stout. Baltz says that he and head brewer Ryan Piec "have plans to get together later this month to do a cupping and beer tasting to see if we can collaborate on another beer/coffee mix. Local roasters and brewers have been collaborating a lot lately, on beers you wouldn't think would do well with coffee -- but you can make an amazing IPA, kolsch or even a delicious brown. Craft coffee and beer are colliding!"
That's just one of the reasons Baltz thinks Colorado is on the verge of a craft-roasting coffee explosion, similar to the boosm in small batch distilleries and craft beer across Colorado. Denver is already ahead of the pack when it comes to best cities for quality coffee, he says: "In the roasting world, Denver's third only to San Francisco and Seattle/Portland."
Brad and Jen Baltz still roast their coffee at home, although they have expanded their roasting ability from one pound an hour to fifteen. Want to try good coffee and do good at the same time? You can order their coffee by the bag or get a personalized, monthly subscription on the Agape website.