The origins of Zaltana

Zaltana Coffee Roasters contribute to Elk Valley cultural identity

by Brielle Will

A local treasure and the first to delve into coffee roasting territory in the Elk Valley, Zaltana Coffee broke their two-year mark on New Years 2012.

Owned and operated by husband and wife, James and Xan Hillman, the company has adopted the name Zaltana, Cree for “high mountain.”

Although once known as Blue Collar Coffee, the product's name change embraces the diverse identity of both leisure and industry in the Valley.

“It gives people a cultural crossroads of hard work and pleasure to be proud of,” said James, who has kept his passion for coffee as a hobby-profession.

He first began roasting for himself on a modified popcorn machine lent to him by his brother-in-law five years ago.

Soon after, he got the idea of bringing fresh quality roasted coffee to a local level.

With an upgrade to a Diedrich coffee roaster, the Hillmans developed a four-season functional roastery in an old sea-can outside of their home located on a piece of land between Sparwood and Elkford.

Raised in Cranbrook, James moved to Victoria where he met his wife and took part in the beer and wine service industry for some time.

The motivated couple of over 15 years moved to the Valley to raise their two young girls in the beautiful and spacious mountains.

Along with a focus on the marketing of the business, Xan is also a self-employed fitness instructor and hair stylist.

A do-it-yourself advocate, James is employed in the mining industry and recognizes the importance of hard work, which also applies to the business of coffee roasting.

“There is nothing else which takes this much effort to create—it is labour intensive all the way through,” said James. “For the most part, people consume (coffee) on the way to work (and) at work, and it carries the intellectual labour to coffee houses. I was always conscious of the fact that coffee represents this.”

A sustainable coffee industry

Carrying the same frame of mind back to the origin and farmers, Zaltana sources out the most ethical and best quality green bean they can get their hands on, maintaining a certified direct and fair trade product.

“My biggest wish in life is for coffee as a commodity not to be a commodity. We cannot change that, but direct trade is the ultimate goal,” said James, who hopes that five years from now they will consistently be dealing directly with the farmers.

One must not overlook the importance of creating quality roasts, with the aim to bring out the natural characteristics of each bean’s origin, whether it be Kenyan, Guatemalan, Ethiopian, Brazilian or another source.

“That is where the craft meets art—finding and coaxing the best thing out of a bean, as well as blending and trying to sustain the consistency of flavour,” said James.

Local philosophy

Zaltana’s one-of-a-kind contribution to the Elk Valley is largely supported by—and a part of—the growing local economy.

“There are so many great roasters out there, and every coffee roaster is very indicative of where they are,” said James. “It is part of my provincial mentality. One day I would like for people to come to Sparwood and say, 'Hey, did you stop at the big truck? Well, next time make sure you check out Zaltana while you are there,' ”

And similar to the milkman delivery systems of years past, residents can have their coffee orders dropped off right at their door.

“We deliver in town with other daily activities to be more carbon friendly,” James said.

Often found at the summer and winter markets in Fernie and Elkford, retailers who carry Zaltana include Chauncy Ridge Market, Happy Cow, Cash Town, Island Lake Lodge and a fresh brew at Temptations.

“It is beautiful here. I enjoy our lifestyle, the space and the seasons,” said James. “It is important people have a reason (other) than work to be proud to live in the Valley. We do need the diversity, because in the long term it (is) where we need to go.”

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