The best thing about the coffee industry is the people in it, so we’re pulling back the curtain to spotlight the amazing team we have here at Bellwether.
Who: Arno Holschuh
Role: Chief Coffee Officer
Location: Berkeley, CA
Meet Arno, our fearless leader of all things coffee. As one of Blue Bottle Coffee’s first employees, Arno saw the company’s meteoric rise from behind the scenes, which means he’s able to bring a lot to the table not only for the Bellwether coffee team, but our customers who are eager to grow and expand their businesses.
As Bellwether’s Chief Coffee Officer, Arno’s the mastermind behind coffee quality, sourcing, roasting, and business strategy—everything you need to build a world-class roasting program.
Hey Arno, Will You Answer A Few Questions?
How did you get started working in the coffee industry?
I first roasted coffee at an amazing cafe and cultural institution in my hometown, the Runcible Spoon, way back in 1997. I wouldn’t say I was naturally talented or anything, I just thought it was fun.
I didn’t really take it seriously until 2004. I was looking for a way out of journalism and happened to get hired as one of the first employees at Blue Bottle. They taught me how to make a proper cappuccino and gave me a shift at a farmers’ market. The rest is history.
Tell us about being an early Blue Bottle employee—what was that like?
We opened in a 500-sf garage in a smelly alley with open drug use. It was gritty! But every morning, we would open that garage door and start fueling the city. It was an amazing feeling to care so much about our craft and have our customers care too—it felt like we were all going on this crazy ride together. They were very, very long days—13 hours was a normal shift—but it was intensely rewarding, and I like work.
I eventually roasted a lot for Blue Bottle; it was just the next thing the company needed done, so I did it. I loved it, the meditative quality of the work.
I learned mostly by doing, with a little guidance from other “self-taught” roasters at the company. We didn’t use any outside instruction at all; we believed we needed to learn it all for ourselves. We therefore made lots and lots of mistakes.
What were your most successful strategies for growing Blue Bottle into the coffee giant it is today?
Our strategy at Blue Bottle was to take a normal beloved consumer good, make it more expensive, make people wait for an hour in line to get it, and then give them no choices about customization. And that worked really well. The key was to convey why: For quality. And never alienate your customers. They like to be challenged but not spoken down to!
What about coffee sourcing? What’s something most people misunderstand there?
Most people devalue the role played by intermediaries. I think a lot of people have ingested this idea that in order to make a process better, you have to “cut out the middleman.” But coffee is not a product where buying directly from the source, a farm, would even make sense. You need someone to make coffee fruit into green coffee that can be roasted. And you need that coffee to be brought through customs!
To me, coffee is like medical care: It’s complicated, but you want the very best, so you need to engage the most reputable, skilled, fair-minded partners you can. What you don’t do is try and go it alone and remove your appendix in the kitchen.
What excites you most about working with Bellwether?
The opportunity to work towards reform of an industry I love very much. Bellwether is directly aimed at the practices within our industry that no longer make sense, like burning fossil fuels or overburdening farmers with risk and cost. If we want an enduring industry, we have to have a reformed industry. Bellwether gives me a chance to fight for that.
What’s one activity or hobby that you do when you’re not working?
Well I have two young children, so.. Eat? Shower?
I do have a major life passion outside coffee. I’m a hard-core long-distance hiker, having completed the vaunted “Triple Crown” of North American hiking—the Appalachian Trail, Continental Divide rail, and the Pacific Crest Trail. It has taught me a lot about the value of hard work, rolling with the punches, and outlasting your obstacles.
Want to see how roasting coffee in-house with a Bellwether Roaster can help you build a stronger brand and keep more money per pound sold? Reach out today.