Wille Yli-Luoma didn’t take a traditional path to owning a coffee roastery and café. The Finland native and professional snowboarder settled in Portland. He became fascinated by specialty coffee, started roasting at home and eventually started offerring his beans to surrounding professionals. His Heart Coffee Roasters, which debuted in 2009, was the talk of the town when coffee pros descended on Portland for SCAA. I met Yli-Luoma on April 20 on the SCAA showroom floor, and he shared insights at how he’s found success in the coffee world.
What brought you to Portland?
I decided to move to the States for snowboarding when I was 23, and it seemed like a town that suited me most. It reminded me of Europe, and it was a little nicer city, and closer to nature. The food culture was good here.
Had you worked with coffee at that point?
No, actually, not at all. I wasn’t a big fan of coffee back then. I had some espressos and some coffee beverages, but I wasn’t a big consumer. When I got to Portland, I started drinking more coffee from all the local roasters. I somehow got really into it.
Was was your first coffee related job?
What was it that inspired you enough about coffee to open your own company?
I liked trying different coffees all the time, and then I wanted to know more. So I started brewing more at home, and eventually I started roasting. When I was roasting at home from a small batch roaster, the coffees I was getting at home, I thought tasted much better than most of the coffees I was getting around town, so I felt like there was no reason not to open a coffee roaster.
Have you had any coffee mentors over the years?
A lot of these guys have helped me out, Coffee Collective and Tim Wendelboe, those guys have given me their honest opinion about my coffees, and helped me in a way. I look up to what those guys do, but I don’t really have that one person that guides me.
Does it make your job easier or harder to stand out considering all the other coffee roasters that are already in Portland?
I think it’s quite easy for us, actually, because it’s so different. Either people like it or they hate it.
What are characteristics that you’re looking for with a Heart coffee?