Co-founders Jason Holman and Nick Bianco came together in May of 2020, to bring a new kind of coffee experience into the world. Like so many other companies, they’re interested in putting forth a great product — single-origin, ethically-sourced, locally-roasted coffee. But, they also realized that making and drinking coffee could also lend itself to creating a personal experience beyond the actual drink. One that turned an everyday routine into an intentional ritual. Let’s hear the story directly from one of the co-founders, Nick Bianco (seated on the left).
Q: What does your personal journey with coffee look like? When did you start drinking coffee? Did you have someone that initially introduced you? Do you have a progression story (e.g., Folger’s to Starbucks to Intelligensia to … Spiritus)?
A: Jason and I (Nick Bianco) ran in the same circles of recovery folks, as we both had a past history with drugs and alcohol, and now both surround ourselves with other guys who’ve needed help stopping and couldn’t do it on their own.
The idea to go into business together happened out on my deck while drinking coffee and always bringing up the idea of someday wanting to have a cafe or coffee shop. I think I just brought it up until Jason finally caught the same bug.
I have been in healthcare/IT sales for 12 years now. I grew up vowing that I would never be in sales, but then ended up loving it and doing well at it once I realized sales can be a service. I also worked as a photographer — I think there’s some commonality in photography that can be applied to coffee. My favorites are the similarities of ISO, shutter speed, and aperture in photography being so much like airflow, heat energy, and temperature/time in coffee roasting. I was more on the technical side of my photography art, and I feel it makes me a really good fit for the technicality of a coffee roaster.
Q: Did you know anything about roasting when you started? If not, what was your process for learning?
A: It started with learning about better ways to brew a great cup of coffee. From there, it grew to roasting coffee. I bought a small, used Fresh Roast popcorn popper-style roaster, and started roasting small 120 gram batches in my kitchen.
I always stop in at the local coffee shop in town when I travel for work. I’ve loved meeting with roasters and cafe owners to talk to them about what they do. I falsely got the idea that there’s a large margin of error, and that it shouldn’t be too difficult to be a roaster. After upgrading to a commercial coffee roaster and going through my first full bag (132 pounds) of coffee, I realized there is a ton of nuance to getting the flavor profiles I’m looking for — my YouTube education was good, but a lot more was learned with trial and error.
Q: Your focus on letting coffee be part of a journey of mindfulness/spirituality is very cool. What led you to that concept?
A: During 2020, and the shelter-in-place, my Covid hobby was mindfulness. I finally had enough time available to seriously attempt a meditation practice; it made that uncertain time much easier. Learning how thoughts and feelings arise in consciousness along with breath, sounds, and sensations in our body, I thought about my coffee brewing and tasting with Jason, and looking for all of those flavors like blueberry, chocolate, and some coffees claim Jolly Ranchers and PBJ! To me, it tasted, well, like a cup of coffee.
Combining coffee and mindfulness makes you look a little deeper into what you’re tasting. They bring you into the moment to watch for those tasting notes to arrive in consciousness just like the other senses we move awareness to in meditation. That, combined with the fact we all need a little more quiet time, became a concept and idea that started to grow.
Q: When did you decide you would donate profits to organizations dedicated to mental health/addiction recovery?
A: The idea of donation turned our expensive coffee hobby into an idea for a business. I don’t think we would have the passion to go this far only thinking about it from a traditional business sense. There had to be more, and as we decided on the details of how we wanted to operate, we realized how good it could be, and what we might be able to give back.
Proper sourcing can give back to the farmer’s families and communities; helping the non-profits we care most about (mental health and addiction recovery) because of our personal histories; and bringing a brand message of spirituality (whatever that looks like to you), mindfulness, and meditation to help remind us to pause and take a breath in our stressful lives.
Q: What are some of your coffee rituals?
A: When I can, I love enjoying a coffee ritual. When I am home on a weekend, I love a pour-over coffee. The grinding, weighing, slow pour, the bloom, all of it is a very present-moment practice. I set aside the radio and playlists — I love to listen to a record. As a photographer, I love how shooting film slows you down, and makes you more conscious of how you’re using that limited shot. It is in the same spirit that I love to slow down with a pour-over coffee.
Q: Currently, what is your favorite Spiritus coffee?
A: I am still a big fan of all of them. I do a lot of market research, and still buy as much other coffee as I do our own. Of all the coffees that we’ve roasted, I really love the Colombian/Ethiopian blend we are selling as our Spiritus House Blend. It is a super drinkable coffee, has both the chocolate and roasted nuts notes of the Colombian, and as the coffee cools and changes, the blueberry and juiciness of the Ethiopian.
Q: Do you have a favorite method of brewing?
A: Espresso is my go-to, and I am a big fan of the Chemex.
Q: If there was one thing you want people to take away from this interview, what would it be?
A: Though it has been commodified, the original use of coffee was to help Sufi monks stay up later into the night to reach divine consciousness; it was an aid to transcend the material world. Think about how coffee brewed in your favorite method and enjoyed from your favorite cup, can add to your life as more than a pick-me-up. Hopefully, that Spirit of Coffee will be there for you, too.