The art of coffee

Mar 12, 2019

 

Hollis Swan finishes up a test batch of coffee in the new location of Declination Roasting in Soldotna.
Credit Shaylon Cochran/KDLL

You don’t have to look far to see that there’s a sizeable demand for coffee on the Kenai Peninsula. It’s a staple. And, for one local entrepreneur, it’s a way to bring together different passions in, hopefully, a fresh, profitable endeavor.

 


 

 

If you’re into coffee, you may have seen Hollis Swan's operation, Declination Roasting, pop up here and there over the past couple years around Soldotna. Getting a coffee roasting business off the ground has been the product of some six years of planning. Now, he’s got a permanent home and will have the doors open in just a couple months. But the recipe adjustments never stop.

“This is the fun part; tweeking it, doing these things. I love doing it. The science behind it, figuring out why, why not," Swan says.

There’s a lot of science, but art will play a central role here, too. Swan has studied, taught and created art and intends for the coffee shop to be a showcase down the road. It’s all part of that plan that was years in the making and has taken shape in a similar way as one of his art pieces might.

“I will come up with a work in my mind and develop it in sketches; I’m talking sculpture, printmaking, those kinds of ideas. After it’s in my mind, I’ll do it physically; create this object. Then it may or may not change. If it’s exactly how I thought it was in my mind, I’m upset. I want it to have a life of its own."

On the business side, growth has been slow on purpose, starting with a demo-sized roaster and selling the finished beans a bag at a time.

“I didn’t want to jump into it too fast because I knew there would be a lot of learning curves….because even if I knew everything about roasting coffee, the business side? I’m not a businessman. I’m becoming one, but that’s a whole other gamut I’ve never been down. So once we get the coffee established, get the business established, we’re going to jump back into the art.”

 

Balance is a key word for Swan and for his business venture, which he hopes will combine those loves of coffee and art with that of the outdoors.

“A bigger picture in the company is selling maps here. Adventure planning. There are so many people who hesitate doing things because they’re scared of where to go or what to do...Again, this isn’t so much about making money. This is our home. Why not share it with everybody.?”

In a previous life in San Diego, Swan worked building and installing roasters professionally. The one in the new shop is named Mitch, for reasons we can’t divulge on the air. He plans to add another as they scale up. They will also continue to offer coffee tasting classes once the shop is finished. Or, as finished as an artist’s coffee shop ever is.

 

Swan says he’s not worried about trying to turn a hobby into a business in less than ideal economic times, because it’s not totally about the economics to begin with.

“We can maintain. I have faith. Again, it’s what I like to do, so I would rather fight my way for years doing what I love than fight my way making money at something I absolutely hate.”

Declination Roasting has had a soft opening and will continue refining the recipes and shop space on the way to an intended official opening date at the beginning of May.