Coffee is more than a beloved beverage to Kansas City coffee roaster Bo Nelson, co-founder of Thou Mayest Coffee, which this spring will open its first retail coffee shop to complement its wholesale business.
To Nelson, quality java is ultimately a conduit for mind-expanding conversations and meaningful relationships.
“People ask me how I found coffee,” Nelson said. “And I say, ‘Coffee found me.’ I was just kind of floating around out there, and it just grabbed me out of left field on some crazy trip to Africa.”
It was during Nelson’s second trip to Africa—made shortly after earning a liberal arts degree at the University of Missouri-Kansas City—that his relationship with the bean was dramatically transformed. Nelson found himself experiencing the “other side of coffee” through the coffee farms he encountered in Zimbabwe.
“They get pennies and live an impoverished life,” Nelson said. “I’d never seen it. I’d never put it together. I didn’t know how it all worked. And that’s when it clicked, and I asked myself, ‘Is this the best we can do?!’”
The horticultural aspects of coffee also
appealed to Nelson, whose family has operated Family Tree Nursery locations since 1965 in the Kansas City area. Nelson’s increasing passion for coffee led him to found Thou Mayest Coffee with friend and former Family Tree Nursery co-worker Bill Holzhueter.
After a year or so of roasting coffee mostly for friends and family, the two enthusiasts turned their hobby into an official business in 2013 with the goal of roasting for the good of coffee drinkers and farmers alike.
“What I’m trying to accomplish is a triple bottom line—a win for everyone involved in the coffee journey, from farm to cup,” Nelson said. “I want the relationships with the farmers and I want a better way of doing this.”
Ultimately, he wants the relationships with folks in Kansas City, which is why Thou Mayest will soon open its first coffee shop at 419 E. 18th St. in the Crossroads Arts District.
Thou Mayest Coffee’s retail site will strive to offer customers the best coffee, but never dictate how to best enjoy it.
“We want it to be a top-shelf craft, but we want it to be accessible and easily approachable,” Nelson said. “We want this coffee to speak for itself and for people to have fun with the product. Our name, Thou Mayest, is from John Steinbeck’s book, ‘East of Eden’ and means ‘the way is open.’ It’s about classic American values—freedom, choice and action. We want to caffeinate people and be a catalyst to make Kansas City an awesome place to live, work and play.”