Startups

This Maryland founder is creating a sustainable coffee company, powered by renewable energy tech

Veteran Donnie Hill created Cosmos Roastery to be a social and environmentally sustainable coffee company, powered by renewable energy.

Most coffee roasters are powered through natural gas.

(Photo by Image Catalog via Flickr)

How much do you know about your morning cup of coffee? Probably not that much, right?

Donnie Hill, the founder of Rockville, Maryland-based Cosmos Roastery, is hoping to change that with his social and environmental sustainability-focused coffee company. But that wasn’t always the case. A few years ago, he was a Defense Intelligence Agency worker trying to figure out his next step.

But after earning a graduate degree in foreign services from Georgetown University, Hill said the field wasn’t quite the right fit for him. Instead, as he told Technical.ly, something else got stuck in his brain (warning: beverage puns incoming).

“After I finished my degree, I did full-time work in the Air Force Reserves for a couple of years, and that was the period when Cosmos was brewing in my mind,” Hill said. “I guess the idea was fermenting.”

Hill said that he wanted to make Cosmos different from many commercial coffee roasters, which are powered by natural gas, by instead powering the machine with renewable electricity. His machine, from a California company called Bellwether Coffee, is about the size of a home fridge and located in the Mess Hall culinary incubator’s Northeast DC space. It contains all of a typical roaster’s parts — like a hopper, drum and cooling drip — and is powered by solar panels

In the same way that an electric stove or oven can take a little longer than a gas-powered one, it does take slightly longer for the electric coils to heat up than a gas roaster. Otherwise, he said, it largely resembles any other roaster and makes the same kind of coffee.

“The flavor profiles are consistent across electric versus gas-powered,” Hill said. “So really, it’s just a matter of the environmental aspect of it.”

While Hill’s machine boasts the capacity to roast about 400 lbs, as a one-person operation that primarily sells at area farmers’ markets, he only produces about 40-45 lbs per week. But he’s working on getting a coffee cart up and running for vending that can increase his selling capacity and respond to higher demand. So far, the startup has been entirely bootstrapped, although he’s been a member of the Bethesda Green incubator since April of 2021.

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He believes that the smaller scale allows him to him educate people on many coffee operations’ environmental impact. It also gives him the chance to speak about his decision to prioritize sourcing coffee from historical conflict areas. He currently sources coffee from areas in Columbia, Rwanda and Yemen, which have all undergone or are currently undergoing political violence in the past few decades.

“By purchasing coffee specifically from areas like that, you can promote economic development and make them more resilient to any resurgences of political balance in the future,” Hill said.

Cosmos recently participated in a pitch event for Bethesda Green companies. The event, which technically wasn’t a competition, was open to all members of the spring 2022 accelerator cohort and select companies from Bethesda Green’s Innovation Lab programs. Financial awards for some of the accelerator program companies will be awarded in June.

Here’s who pitched (and who to keep your eye on from Bethesda Green):

  • Dynamhex: Baltimore, Maryland
  • GaiaXus: Bethesda, Maryland
  • Grateful Gardeners: Boyds, Maryland
  • I-NESS 360: New York City, New York
  • Loop Closing: Washington, DC
  • MāKā: Arlington, Virginia
  • Margik: Charlotte, North Carolina
  • MasPanadas: Rockville, Maryland
  • Old Dominion Flower Co: Fairfax, Virginia
  • Pirl: Frederick, Maryland
  • Terran Material Resources: Rockville
  • The Goods Finder: DC metro area
  • TrueAlgae: Chantilly, Virginia
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