Welcome to a somewhat special article from Bear Essentials, this week marks two years since I first published an article on this site. So I’m going to take a chance to reflect on the journey that came after, and to talk about what’s still to come.
Bear Essentials began as a way for me to “do” something. Having been diagnosed with gluten ataxia and suffering from multiple episodes of paralysis every day, since confirmed as Functional Neurological Disorder (FND), I had lost my job and was stuck at home at a loose end. More info on my history and illness can be found here.
In amongst all this I had hit a pretty low place and my wife Em suggested (repeatedly and firmly despite my stubborn and unhelpful attitude) that I start a blog. I have been writing and communicating in various forms all my life, and she knows damn well how much I enjoy the process. Eventually I relented, pulled my head out of my arse, and sat down to write about coffee.
A few weeks later I launched Bear Essentials on WordPress, with a couple of very basic articles, one on explaining specialty coffee and direct trade still available here and one on a local favourite coffee spot of mine also still available.
The Next Steps
For the next few months I spent some time just developing a few simple articles and connecting with some great people in the local and national coffee scene. After being contacted by some amazing and supportive folks and sent some free coffee’s, I branched out into doing a few coffee tasting articles which went down pretty well. As a quiet little way to exercise my creativity Bear Essentials was doing its job.
What I hadn’t banked on was the sheer volume of support that I would find in the industry, the number of coffee pros and roasters who were willing to send samples my way, meet up to chat, or just pick up the phone and answer emails was immense. I was positively swimming in material and questions for articles.
I’ll admit at that point I started to get pretty overwhelmed and fell behind on my schedule for articles. I also ended up with a huge pile of coffee to taste, I know, first world problems right?!
I had to take a moment to refocus and accept that Bear Essentials was liable to be more than a little outlet. This was of course amazing, and very exciting but it also raised some questions. First among them was money and monetization.
At around this point certain offers and possibilities were either fully or indirectly offered, and I had to meet some people I trusted with experience to get advice, and make a call on how I wanted Bear Essentials to grow.
In pretty short order I came to the conclusion that I didn’t want to adopt the click through economy that some blogs and review sites use. For those who don’t know the deal, this basically boils down to setting up agreements whereby a system monitors how many people click on the links you publish and either record if a sale is generated and offer a commission, or just pay per click.
I have nothing against this concept, but I didn’t want Bear Essentials to become a rented digital shop front, as I wasn’t prepared to compromise and adapt my writing to suit that model. Instead I elected to retain my independence and to offer freelance copy and writing work (I still do if you are interested).
Old Friends & New Horizons
Some months after making this decision I met with a friend who had sold his London based coffee place and was looking at the future. It so happens that as part of this process he had opened a spot in York some time ago, which rapidly became mine and Em’s go to coffee place. Now that coffee spot, I am sad to say didn’t work out, but he and I got talking about the good, the bad and the ugly of the coffee industry.
It was in this conversation that the future of Bear Essentials would be found. While honestly assessing the industry we spent a lot of time discussing the frustration of trying to find work when disabled, and the more general barriers that continue to exist in the coffee world. I’m not going to go into all that depth, that’s probably an article on its own. But this line of thought led us to a new idea.
Green Bean Project
The result of these discussions was an idea, why not create a company that would focus on opening up coffee to anyone interested, as a drinker or a worker? A company that would champion best practice and accessibility. So we decided to give it a whirl, and we called it Green Bean Project.
As with many ideas, the reality was a harder path than coming up with a good idea, and while we did meet with some positivity, and even managed to pick up a little contract work with a disability and work enablement focused cafe in York Council’s offices. The reality was that we couldn’t take off at great pace and that while plenty of people were interested in the concept, most weren’t prepared to reach into their pockets.
We did however make some great connections and learn that the issues we identified were very real. Still financial reality will always rear it’s less than helpful head. In the end Green Bean hit a wall and had to be folded back into Bear Essentials as an idea, rather than flourishing on it’s own.
This takes us up to the end of 2019/start of 2020. At this time Bear Essentials had changed a lot from its humble beginnings, my wife Em had come on board to manage our social media and had taken a small niche blog from about 200 followers to over 2,000. Clearly there was a connection with who we are, what we do and stand for.
At the start of the year we connected with some more great people and even began negotiating some training contracts for roasters who had a demand from cafes for training they felt they couldn’t fully provide. Here we had hit something we were excited about, I have always wanted to be able to pass on my knowledge and experience and help improve the industry I love. This was the moment when we finally realised that dream…
The New Normal
So let’s talk 2020 and Covid 19, because we kinda need to. As you can imagine when the global pandemic and lockdown arrived on the scene all the above changed in a heartbeat. The new normal has hit coffee hard, and small businesses are fighting to keep heads above water, this is not the time for a focus on training programs.
Frankly this was a blow, and one no one wanted to take. But adapt and overcome, as they say. In the past 7 months or so we have had to adapt a lot. We are deeply fortunate that we had not committed to Bear Essentials as a way to live and pay the bills yet, and so we are able to ride this out. We have also been able to maintain our connection to some awesome people.
In the midst of Covid 19 Bear Essentials has been part of some successful online coffee outreach, and we are hopeful of some more exciting opportunities in the future. Despite the incredible challenges facing the world at the moment we remain positive and hope to be a part of the coffee industries recovery after the storm passes.
So that’s it, a potted history of Bear Essentials. To all you folks who take the time to read my work, follow our social media and to interact with us. Thank you. So much. We are excited for the future, and we aren’t going anywhere.
We hope that everyone reading this is holding up as well as they can in the current circumstances.
Stay well, stay safe.
Much love to each and every one of you.
About Bear Essentials Coffee
Thanks, – Bear