Selfless and Soaring: Sophomores roast coffee for charity
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As they enjoyed cups of joe in a diner on a late night in June, Keegan Roembke and Mitchell Thomas contemplated becoming coffee roasters.
By November, the pair announced Timberjoe Coffee, a java-roasting business where customers choose to either benefit the Hope for Uganda school in Rakai, Uganda, or the Defenders of Wildlife fund, which protects nature throughout North America.
Roembke, a sophomore economics and international studies double major, said all the coffee beans they roast will come from Uganda through fair trade.
“The name ‘Timberjoe’ comes from the meaning of ‘timber,’” he said. “It’s the idea of taking a tree, or something from nature, and building it into something that helps other people.”
Over the summer, Roembke traveled to Uganda on a church mission trip and supported the Hope for Uganda school.
“You go there thinking it’s just going to be a trip, but it’s surreal,” he said. “It’s pretty life-changing.”
During his time in Uganda, Roembke brought medicine and clothes to the school and had fun interacting with the children there. He also met families who grew coffee on their farms.
“When I came back from the trip, it was a culture shock,” he said. “This coffee business has helped me put those feelings toward something and make a difference instead of just being sad.”
Roembke said he feels strongly about both the Hope for Uganda school and the Defenders of Wildlife fund.
“Both causes are really worthy of support,” he said. “We wanted customers to be able to choose where their money is going.”
So far, Roembke and Thomas are preparing to go on the market with their first batch of beans from Uganda and are sold out of their first order of Timberjoe Coffee t-shirts.
“People are really enthusiastic about it,” Roembke said. “It’s hard to start something like this when you have work and school, but to hear people who are supportive of it helps a lot.”
Thomas, a sophomore computer science major at Indiana University, said he foresees the company growing exponentially.
“I don’t see any limits to who we can reach with this,” he said. “Online sales will be our most dominant presence, but we also want to be strong locally. We’ve also tossed around the idea, if funds allowed, to open up locations at the base of a mountain somewhere.”
Thomas said he and Roembke have been friends since middle school, often meeting over coffee.
“We would try local diners and discuss how their coffee tasted,” he said. “In high school we had these dreams of owning a coffee shop together, and two years later we’d start a roasting company.”
Thomas said during the “creative sessions” he and Roembke shared, they confided in and supported one another no matter what.
“We’re two college sophomores deciding to take on this business idea,” he said. “Some would think it’s outrageous, but we’ve taken one step at a time and met each hurdle with optimism and confidence.”
If anything, Thomas said he wants customers to know they’re helping others when they drink Timberjoe Coffee.
“We want to provide a simple cup of joe they can rely upon,” he said. “With the enjoyment out of their cup, others are getting enjoyment out of life.”