ORLAND, Maine — If a dream – or a scheme – gets hatched over a cup of good coffee, Parker Russell is hoping it’s his coffee that will be part of the planning.
Parker was halfway around the world serving in the military when a delivery of coffee not only made him nostalgic – but it inspired him to encourage others who were brewing about their hopes and dreams.
"When you’re deployed you start to miss home, you start to think about what you appreciate about being home. For me, I think coffee was something I definitely missed," recalls Parker.
In 2015, he left his career in law enforcement and joined the Air Force. He was eventually deployed to Niger, near the Sahara desert in Africa, where he worked in cyber security. "I received a care package from a couple of roasteries over here and the coffee was just an amazing gift and the quality was awesome ... and it was just a little taste of home."
That gift of coffee got Parker thinking about what he might do when he returned home to Orland. "Before I came home I knew I wanted to start roasting coffee and kind of fueling the dreamers out there. I had never roasted coffee in my life before so I was kind of jumping in to this blind but I knew I was gonna keep going until I figured it out."
Parker talks a lot about dreams – about having the courage to follow those dreams and being someone who inspires others to do the same. "I needed a way to distinguish myself as a brand as well. What always resonates with me is people following their passions in life and I thought what better way to do it than through coffee because every great idea, every waking night someone’s working towards a goal it’s usually fueled by a cup of coffee to go hand in hand with whatever they’re trying to accomplish." He purchased his roaster thanks to a Kickstarter campaign – a few hundred backers supported his idea. “Founders” - as he calls them, and part of the Black Ink Family. "I was amazed at how many people came out to support me and support my project."
He had no experience with any facet of sourcing, roasting, or selling coffee. "I would compare buying the roaster without ever roasting coffee to receiving a car without knowing how to drive … It was a lot to take in, but I was definitely up for the challenge." He flew to Idaho to train with the manufacturer of the roaster and admits to plenty of burned coffee … getting the beans just right. He is a one-man band, except when he gets the occasional helping hand from his one-and-a-half-year-old daughter. Black Ink Coffee is now a little over a year old, navigating the pandemic, and finding a balance between wholesale, retail and a specialty coffee subscription service.
From his home base, he ships coffee all over the world. But the heart of Parker’s mission is to return the favor he received when he was deployed. "Receiving coffee when I was deployed? It honestly made all the difference. Receiving that coffee definitely made me feel like someone was thinking about me and it was an awesome taste of home that definitely helped a lot … it meant everything."
As a way of giving back, he offers Operation Caffeination – shipping coffee care packages to deployed members of the military who are nominated by friends and family. There’s no charge; for now he is picking up all the cost. Parker believes with a good cup of coffee in hand, there are few obstacles in life. "I want everyone to be motivated and to feel inspired when they’re drinking their Black Ink Coffee. A lot of veterans don’t follow their dreams or they just don’t know how to and I want to encourage not only veterans but everyone to follow their dreams."