Sunergos partners seek to bring Gospel light to coffee industry

Communications Staff — November 28, 2008

Late-night study sessions at the Founder’s Café may have gotten more enjoyable for students at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

That’s because the school’s food vendors now serve Sunergos Coffee, a locally roasted brand that offers gourmet flavors from around the globe.

Matthew Hustad and Brian Miller, co-founders of Sunergos, take their commitment to providing quality coffee with the utmost seriousness.

“We do all that we can to both present and preserve the unique flavor of each kind of coffee bean we use,” Hustad said.

“We buy especially great coffee,” Miller said. “We try to treat it with respect to its origin. We treat each coffee as an individual and seek to bring out the characteristics that are inherent to it. We have around 20 different coffees that we purchase from all over the world. We emphasize single-origin coffees because it’s such an experience to learn to appreciate the distinctives of each bean.”

Although Southern only recently began selling Sunergos coffee, the seminary’s connection with the company stretches much further into the past: Hustad and Miller met at Southern in the fall of 2001 while both were pursuing master of divinity degrees. Their friendship blossomed when they discovered their mutual love of coffee-roasting.

“I love good coffee, but I couldn’t afford it,” Hustad recalled, “so I did some research about folks that were doing home-roasting and got into that process. And then Brian and I met at Sojourn [Community Church] and at Southern, and we had a common interest there. We began to buy green coffee together and roast it and talk through each other’s experiences.”

By the spring of 2002, the men began considering how they could turn their hobby into a business, with both abandoning their tentative plans of pursuing vocational ministry. Hustad completed his degree, while Miller left his program of study.

Once the spring semester ended, both men took jobs at local coffee shops in order to build capital and to learn more about the industry. They bought a roaster and began selling their own flavors to local shops. In September of 2004, Sunergos opened an espresso bar on South Preston Street. Since then, the company has continued developing its wholesale business, and it plans to open a second store on West Woodland Avenue next spring.

In addition to enjoying commercial success, Miller and Hustad have grown spiritually while operating their business. The Greek work “sunergos” means “a companion in work.”

“Part of the name Sunergos has to do with working together and the idea of God’s orchestration,” says Miller. “We’ve taken a lot of joy in tracing that theme throughout the development of the business and the community that’s grown out of it.”

Hustad has found in Sunergos a means of responding faithfully to creation mandates.

“Being made in God’s image,” Hustad said, “we have the aspects of work and creativity as parts of our character. As flawed and as broken as we are, we also has the capacity for good and beautiful things, like providing for one’s family, or supplying a place that people can be in community together.”

As Sunergos expands, Hustad and Miller grow increasingly aware of ways in which they can be responsible stewards of the resources with which God has entrusted them.

“When we scoop and shake our wholesale coffee into bags,” says Hustad, “one of the things that I always think about is the accuracy of measure. God loves honest scales – that thought has grown in me, both to good ends and to make me uncomfortable in some ways. What I mean by that is that our financial dealings with people – whether that’s right here across the counter, or in our purchasing from vendors – must be something that rolls out of the heart of God. And I want to learn to be right about that.

Hustad and Miller are also learning much about fallen human nature through the lens of the coffee industry. They seek to apply the teaching of Scripture to their business, to conduct it in such a way as to honor God and bring Gospel light to an industry with an ignoble history.

“The coffee industry has a pretty horrendous past, and even an unfortunate present state, though it’s improving,” Hustad said. “Coffee is the most highly traded commodity in the world, second only to oil, so that gives you kind of a perspective on the larger economy that’s involved. And of course, when there are large dollar amounts involved, there are lots of incentives to profit unethically. Most typically, the people who suffer are indigenous people who are laborers. Whole people groups have been wiped out in the name of coffee profit.”

In response to injustices in the coffee trade, Sunergos offers fair trade coffees and attempts to develop personal relationships with its suppliers. As Hustad puts it, “if accurate measure at the scale is pleasing to the heart of God, I think it is also pleasing to the heart of God that we consider others and creation, and how our work is affecting them. That needs to be played out more and more for us as a business.”

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