The Roaster Spotlight feature series continues today on Sprudge, as we take a closer look at the work of White Horse Coffee of Jenkintown, Pennsylvania. Co-founder Jean Brillman came to coffee through an unexpected route—”the horse industry,” she tells us. What began as an idea for a mobile coffee and ice cream truck to bring to horse shows has morphed into a year-round physical cafe with its own in-house roasting program. Let’s take a closer look—giddyup!
As told to Sprudge by Jean Brillman of White Horse Coffee.
Tell us a little more about the story of your company—how and when did you get started? What is your background in coffee?
White Horse Coffee began as a coffee and ice cream food truck in 2017. I was a professional in the horse industry at the time and was going to a lot of horse shows on weekends. My husband and I came up with the idea one evening when we were trying to think of a great business to bring to the horse shows. We decided coffee and ice cream were a great combo that could work all year round! We then expanded into our cafe in 2018, and started roasting in March 2021. Once we began roasting our own coffee, our business expanded so we now have a warehouse for coffee roasting and production as well.
As far as my background, I didn’t have any professional coffee experience. I always joke that since high school I had always been a Gilmore Girl when it came to my love of coffee and coffee shops. Most of my high school social life was spent at our local coffee shop, which I have the most amazing memories of. I did have a lot of food service jobs in my past, so that was helpful when running a food truck and cafe. I also had business experience, having owned a business before starting White Horse.
Once we came up with the idea, I did a TON of research, went to seminars, and overall spent a lot of time learning about coffee. When we wanted to start roasting, I did the same thing… I did roasting seminars, research and learned a lot about the roasting process. I’ve always been a self-proclaimed bookworm, so researching and learning about coffee roasting was really fun for me!
When and how did you get started roasting? Why is roasting important to your project — what does this control over the product offer your business?
We started roasting in March of 2021. During the pandemic, it was a scary time for food service businesses. Our cafe never closed, but taking away seating and only doing take out cut down the business for a little while. With business being slower, I had a lot of time to do more research on roasting and figure out if it was a direction I wanted to go.
With time on my hands during the pandemic, I also became very interested in environmental sustainability, plastic reduction, and climate change. I did tons of research on the state of our planet and knew that I needed to do more to be more sustainable. I ended up combining this passion with my new business goal of roasting when I found out about the Bellwether. It really felt like fate when the two things I was researching and becoming passionate about collided into this new way of roasting. I took it as a sign and knew micro-roasted, sustainable organic coffee was going to be my niche in the roasting world.
Being able to roast our own coffee has allowed me to be as sustainable as possible! White Horse Coffee checks all the boxes when it comes to being sustainable. All our coffee is Fair Trade, USDA organic (both at origin and us being a USDA organic roaster), roasted on an all electric roaster with no emissions, and packaged in FULLY compostable packaging. Everything from the zipper to the labels are all fully compostable. And as far as I know, we are the only coffee roaster that focuses on sustainability from origin, all the way through the roasting process and then in addition, having zero waste packaging.
For me, roasting has really allowed me to control everything about the roasting process to not only offer high quality, micro-roasted coffee, but also to do it as sustainably as possible from start to finish.
When did you start working with a Bellwether roaster? What do you like about it? Was there a learning curve? Tell us more about your experience with Bellwether.
We started our roasting operation with a Bellwether. I initially chose it because of it being all electric and zero-emissions. But it also allowed us to start roasting right in our cafe, rather than having to find a warehouse or additional space, which we couldn’t financially do at the time.
We started with a Bellwether Series 1 and although there wasn’t an intense learning curve, our machine broke A LOT. We were having to get it fixed almost weekly and that was a huge problem because we were also trying to grow our roasting business. It’s stressful when you feel like you can’t produce a product that you are being paid to provide. Luckily, we always roasted a little ahead and made things work, but it was a very difficult time.
We ended up purchasing a Series 2 Bellwether last December and that has been MUCH better. I knew that I wanted to stay with Bellwether because of my mission in sustainable coffee roasting, but it was definitely a little nerve-wracking when we jumped in and bought the Series 2. But thankfully, it has held up much better and we’ve had way less issues with the new roaster.
Otherwise my experience with Bellwether has been good! I especially have loved working with my Customer Success rep, Stephanie! She’s amazing and anytime I just need a little advice or help with my operation or anything to do with roasting, she is always so helpful and great to work with.
Tell us—what does being a coffee roaster mean to you?
Being a coffee roaster has been such an amazing evolution for me in my business. I love having full control over what my business puts out there. I love being able to combine my passion of sustainability with my business of roasting. And I love having the ability to be creative with our coffees. Since I don’t have the traditional coffee background, I think it actually allows me to think outside the box and possibly do things differently. Roasting has truly brought everything full circle for me.
Do you have a favorite coffee to roast? Is there one you find more challenging?
I don’t technically have a favorite coffee to roast, but overall Ethiopian coffee is my favorite coffee. I drink it every day and can totally understand why it is the birth place of coffee!
I think all coffees are somewhat challenging to roast. Without having that traditional coffee roasting background, it takes a lot for me to really figure out what I want to bring out of each coffee during the roasting process. It’s been a lot of trial and error, but I think the challenge is actually what makes me love it so much and keeps it interesting!