Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Morgan Lopes, from Phoenix Community Coffee, shows the roasting process for the coffee at their Duluth shop. The nonprofit roasts, packages and sells coffee to raise money for its mission and others. When area nonprofits sell a pound of coffee for $12, their organization gets up to $4 from the sale.
DULUTH -- Morgan Lopes listens to the coffee roaster carefully, waiting for the first sounds of "cracking."
"The first crack, it sounds like Rice Krispies," he said. "Then it moves into second crack, which is more like a mouthful of pop rocks."
Right before the snaps, crackles and pops become more consistent, Lopes dumps the 20-pound load of medium roasted coffee into the cooling pan.
"As the coffee is being cooked, it loses flavor and caffeine," he said while examining the dark beans. "Contrary to popular belief, the medium roast is going to have more caffeine than a dark roast."
Lopes isn't just some micro-roaster trying to make his millions. He's a part of Phoenix Community Coffee Company, a Duluth-based nonprofit that roasts, packages and sells coffee to raise money for good causes.
When members of Atlanta's Phoenix Community Church wanted to make a difference through coffee in 2010, they sold bags to raise awareness and money for it's mission. But it wasn't gaining the popularity the group thought it would.
"We started out with a really great cause -- working with farmers, increasing the wage of the indigenous worker and the farmers, then just selling great coffee (to raise the money)," Lopes said. "People weren't as fired up about it as we were. That transitioned into working with people to help raise money on what they're passionate about as well as what we're working with."
Since then, Phoenix has teamed up with several nonprofits in Gwinnett and others across the state, totalling 85 partners in 2012. The group hopes to partner with at least 300 groups in 2013.
And the process to become a partner is pretty simple.
Local and international charities need to contact Phoenix first -- of course -- to see if they are a fit for a partnership. Then the Duluth coffee company helps create a website specifically designed for the new nonprofit. The site has logos, content and a selected color scheme per nonprofit, which has the chance to personalize the page with its personal story.
Individuals who want to buy the coffee visit the organization's website, order online -- or just donate to the cause -- and the coffee is delivered to their house. It costs $13 per bag for your choice of medium, dark and espresso roast, which can be flavored with caramel, hazelnut, french vanilla, pumpkin spice or chocolate.
Phoenix's nonprofit partners receive $3 per bag sold. Once it sells 250 pounds of coffee, the partner is bumped up to $4 per bag.
The rest of the profit returns to Phoenix for its mission work, and to pay its five full-time employees and bills for the warehouse.
"We started as a company by a church with a desire of being 100 percent generous, to give back to the community, to empower the broken, hurting, addicted and those in need," Lopes said. "Our goal as a company is to help sustain that vision, but also to pour into other nonprofits and organizations who are doing great things all around."
One of Phoenix's partners is Wellspring Living, a nonprofit helping victims of sex trafficking and childhood sexual abuse.
"It's been one of the best things to happen to us to date," said Dana Konick, community advocacymanager. "People seem to really love it, especially the flavored kinds."
Since partnering in November, Wellspring has collected $207 by selling 65 pounds of coffee.
"I love that Phoenix has created this model that helps them and the community," Konick said. "It helps us, too. We love the creativity behind the campaign."
In addition helping others, the coffee is high quality. Phoenix believes its coffee is better than many out there, especially because its sells a single origin coffee -- or made with one grade of bean, according to Lopes.
"When we say it's Panamanian coffee, it's Panamanian coffee," he said. "We don't blend in lower-grade coffee. A lot of companies blend in Robusta coffee, a lower quality bean."
The company has worked with a handful of farms in Panama, Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala for its product. The farms harvest beans once a year, then Phoenix receives the "green" beans in April and March, which are stored in its warehouse. The entire year's supply is shipped in the spring.
In 2012, Phoenix bought 22,000 pounds of coffee. This year, it's ordering about 40,000 pounds to roast until next spring.
The one thing that Phoenix doesn't boast much about is its faith-based roots. The church is still an active part of the company and members meet in the warehouse every Sunday.
"As a coffee company, we're not too in your face about it -- our beliefs that govern things," Lopes said. "The primary reason is that for so many people, the message of Jesus is ugly -- not good news. We want our actions to speak for ourselves. We are a coffee company that is focused on providing relief and love to the community."
For more information, visit www.phoenixcommunitycoffee.com.