Inuit-owned coffee company open for business in Cambridge Bay

On Sunday, the community of Cambridge Bay got to taste and buy coffee from their own coffee company for the very first time.

The company's name, Kaapittiaq, means 'good coffee' in Inuinnaqtun

Elder David Epilon holds up a cup of Cambridge Bay's first Inuit-owned coffee. Kaapittiaq is owned and run by the non-profit Kitikmeot Heritage Society whose board is made up of local elders. (Brendan Griebel/PII)

People in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, will wake up and sip a cup of the territory's first Inuit-owned coffee on Monday morning.

The coffee startup Kaappittiaq — which means "good coffee" in Innuinaqtun — is celebrating its grand opening Sunday. Locals gathered at Kuugaq Cafe for some merchandise and free coffee at the company's open house.

The business is owned and run by the non-profit Kitikmeot Heritage Society, also known as Pitquhirnikkut Ilihautiniq, whose board is made up of local elders.

Profits from the sale will help fund the society, which helps keep Inuit traditions alive with cultural programs such as parka and qulliq-making workshops, and teaching children the Inuinnaqtun language.

An elder makes Kaapittiaq's first coffee bag purchase. (Brendan Griebel/PII)

"We feel it's important to be starting to create Indigenous to Indigenous business networks. That's something there's not a lot of right now," says Brendan Griebel, a research associate with the society, who helped start this new coffee company.

Coffee beans picked in San Francisco, Peru, will travel to Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. (CBC)

Griebel said that by solely relying on government funding or grants, often organizations have to follow funders' priorities.

"Having this income from the coffee will bring in a bunch of money that we can dedicate to areas where we really know it's needed."

This startup has been in the planning stages for almost two years.

The company partnered with Cafe Vasquez located in San Francisco, Peru, which directly buys its beans from Indigenous coffee bean farmers in the country's northern region. 

The coffee is then roasted and packaged through Beaver Rock Roastery in Barrie, Ont.

Griebel said the hope is to sell the beans throughout the Arctic, and 75 per cent of all sales directly invested into Inuit culture and language programs.

The coffee-growing region in the Colasay district of Peru is so remote, farmers haul the beans off the mountains using donkeys. Here, farmers are processing green beans in preparation for bagging and shipping. (Cafe Vasquez)

The "big project" now is to have it on shelves in grocery stores across the North, said Griebel. 

Griebel said though it's expensive, the society hopes to one day find a way to roast and package the coffee from Cambridge Bay and employ community members.

But for now, it's developing a training program with the roastery to send locals South to learn the trade.

Erci Vasquez, left, of Cafe Vasquez in Barrie, Ont., and Pamela Gross of the Kitikmeot Heritage Society with roasted coffee. (Brendan Griebel/Kitikmeot Heritage Society)

With files from Mary Powder