Writing Prompts

#AtoZ Challenge 04-03-21 Coffee, Native American Style

“Across the Nation, a Native American Coffee Movement is Brewing”-Atlas Obscura

Coffee brewed on reservations will soon be coming to your cup, if Loretta Guzman has any say in the matter. She runs the city’s only Native-owned coffeehouse — Bison Coffeehouse, which pays homage to the animal that sustained Native Americans for years. Guzman is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock tribes and has owned the Portland coffeehouse since 2014.

Photo Credit: Bison Coffee House

It all began with a dream Guzman had during a distressing time in her life when she had stage four cancer and no insurance. In the dream, she saw bison roaming in the city outside her father’s home in Portland while she herself had moved back to her reservation in Idaho for treatment. She couldn’t comprehend why bison would be in the city, but her mother and grandfather assured her it was an omen and she would be healed.

She did recover, and in 2009, moved back to Portland where she finished the dental school she had begun before her diagnosis, yet could not find work due to the 2008 financial crisis. The mysterious dream inspired her to build a coffeehouse and name it in the bison’s honor. She was lucky because her father owned a vacant building that she decided was the perfect size for a cafe. Once the decision was made, she studied coffee and reached out to roasting companies around the country.

Guzman was determined to work with Native American coffee roasters, especially ones living on tribal land. She had lived on a reservation off and on her whole life, and was used to networking with other tribal citizens. Soon she made a connection with Amy Wallace of the Unkechaug Indian Nation who was the roast master at her family’s business, which is the Native Coffee Traders of Mastic, New York.

Photo Credit: Bison Coffee House

Looking to increase revenue on the reservation, her uncle launched the business whose beans are grown by Indigenous farmers in Central and South America. Wallace says that more and more Native-owned coffee businesses are opening all the time, but cautions it’s still a hard process and still difficult to get into the market. They have to compete with large companies who have tons of money for marketing and advertisements. Luckily, there is strong solidarity in the Indigenous community where coffee is concerned. She says that 80% of her wholesale beans are bought by other Native-American-run businesses.

After Guzman and Wallace became friends, they collaborated on creating the Bison’s house blend — a light roast from the local Coava Coffee Roasters, the only coffee at her shop that does not come from a Native-owned brand. Wallace provides the dark roast and Guzman explained that she strives to serve different roasts from each company she features — such as the medium roast from Nevada’s Star Village Coffee, which is based on the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony — to minimize competition.

Spirit Mountain Coffee Roasting Company out of Yuma, Arizona contacted Guzman also, but she already had a light, medium, and dark roast. So, to include them, she created the dark-roast MIIP blend, to hopefully bring awareness of the ongoing crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples.

Phot Credit: Spirit Mt. Roasting Company

If you visit the Bison Coffeehouse, looking for a cup of black coffee or a latte, you may not realize you are supporting Native-owned businesses across the continent, but Guzman is passionate about promoting the companies behind her variety of roasts. She believes that while her Native roasters and she may not come from the same tribe, they are still her people, and she really pushes the idea of supporting them. Good for her!


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