The Burnaby duo taking coffee to new heights

If you’ve been to Glenburn Soda Fountain’s Donut Sundays or visited local farmers’ markets, you might have tried coffee from Heights Coffee Co. Based in Burnaby Heights and selling roasts named after streets in the area, the coffee roaster is as local as it gets.

Starting up during the pandemic

Heights Coffee began as a passion project between two friends and Burnaby locals, Garnet Nelson and Robert Hughes. Before starting the business, Nelson and Hughes used to roast coffee as a hobby on a barbecue in Nelson’s backyard.

“Roasting coffee is a very sensory experience. You hear the beans tumbling around and cracking as they reach certain temperatures. You can also smell the beans as they warm up, get toasty, and then reach the roast level we’re looking for in each batch. The aroma is magical. And of course the taste…there is nothing that compares to the amazing flavours produced by grinding and brewing freshly roasted coffee beans. it’s a wonderful experience,” Nelson told the Beacon.

Like many new businesses that opened during the pandemic, the pair’s plans to turn their hobby into a business were in the works long before the world came to a grinding halt.

“We were getting a lot of positive feedback from family and friends and people that had heard about our coffee. So we decided, you know, why wait for circumstances to be perfect?” said Nelson.

Considering the challenges faced by small businesses, especially in the middle of a global pandemic, some might worry that turning a hobby into a business would put a damper on their passion. That is not the case for Nelson and Hughes.

“We have access to equipment, [and] almost as an obligation to our customers to try different brewing methods and grinders, and getting our hands on anything we can do with coffee. We are so fortunate that we are in this business because it’s really allowed us to amp up our passion for coffee,” said Hughes.

Grounded in community

Nelson and Hughes are both longtime Burnaby residents, and their love for the community is apparent in Heights Coffee’s branding and packaging.

“The whole swinging girl theme on our main packaging is a way for us to pay our respects and pay tribute to our neighbourhood. People really seem to love that,” said Nelson.

Since the opening of Heights Coffee, Nelson and Hughes have been working on connecting with local businesses and residents. Pandemic measures made it difficult for them to do so, and the festivities and opportunities from community events such as Hats Off Day were sorely missed. But Nelson and Hughs rose to the challenge. One connection was Glenburn Soda Fountain, which offered Heights Coffee roasts on their Donut Sundays.

“That was a really fun ritual for Garnet and I to go there, and we’d stand outside in the cold and talk to people about our coffee. It was very refreshing and nice to see the community responding and showing up and coming out and giving us that support,” said Hughes.

As Heights Coffee continues to establish itself in the community, Nelson and Hughes hope that it will stay close to its roots.

“I would like to keep it fairly intimate. It’s accessible to everybody. It’d be nice to stay in a relatively small business, maintain that high level of quality that we have from roasting in small batches. Just be a nice small business in North Burnaby and bring delicious coffee to our neighbours,” Hughes said.

Heights Coffee doesn’t have a physical location at the moment, but Nelson and Hughes are hopeful that they might set up shop in North Burnaby someday.

“We’ll see where the coffee takes us,” said Hughes.

If you have any suggestions on places that should carry Heights Coffee products, or if you have any feedback, let them know here.

Editor’s note: The web version of this story contains a clarification from Nelson regarding the bean roasting process.