Northwest Indiana has been awash in craft breweries for a few years, but the newest wave of artisan beverage makers are putting out coffees more complex than any barrel-aged porter or Belgian Farmhouse Ale.
A growing crop of local coffee roasters have sprung up across the Region as part of the so-called Third Wave of Coffee, a long-percolating movement that aims to elevate coffee into an artisanal foodstuff like craft beer.
Coffee by Gillepsie in Dyer, Dagger Mountain in Valparaiso, and Maple City Roasters in Michigan City all have been growing as consumers gravitate toward higher quality, more sophisticated coffee. Infusco Coffee Roasters in Sawyer in Southwest Michigan and any number of roasters in Chicago are also making coffee where customers know where in the world the beans hail from and when it was roasted.
“I think that roasting your own beans is becoming much easier,” said Gabriel Mauch, a co-owner of Grindhouse Cafe in Griffith, which carries locally roasted coffees. “With companies like Genuine Origin, small roasters are getting access to the same quality beans that larger roasters have access to. Small roasters will pop up all over the country because of that access and the demand for fresh and local products. I think there’s a ton of great coffee from Chicago, but places like Dagger Mountain are putting out a product just as good as the best roasters in Chicago.”
Needmore Coffee Roasters, a small-batch roaster of organic, ethically sourced coffee including a Cowles Bog Blend, had operated in Chesterton for a few years, introducing many to locally roasted coffee at the European Market downtown, where it was a staple. It's relocated downstate to Bloomington, where it's opening a coffee shop. And Smalltown Coffee Co. in Highland has been catering special events and is looking to soon start distributing its beans around the Region.
Java lovers in Northwest Indiana can order locally roasted coffee beans online, sign up for monthly subscription services such as through www.Indianacoffees.com, or find them at local coffee shops.
Dagger Mountain is now owned by Daniel Evans and Ashton Whitley, who bought out the business, invested in a new, much-larger customized roaster imported from Germany, and are bottling cans of small-batch iced coffee at Windmill Brewing in Dyer.
The roastery and chic coffee house in a garage in an industrial park in Valparaiso is brewing enough for about 300 cans at a time, which it’s selling at the cafe.
“We’re dialing it in to get it to taste good,” Evans said. “It’s got a summertime lemony note, nuttiness from the Brazilian beans. It’s about 40 percent Kenyan and has natural Ethiopian tastes like blueberry, and has notes like lime.”
The new owners also bought a new roaster from Germany that’s three times bigger than their previous set-up, which will boost their production capacity.
“That thing pumps out clean beautiful coffee,” he said. “It means more consistent quality."
Dagger Mountain was always a coffee roaster first and foremost, distributing to places like Grindhouse and Roots Organic Juice Cafe in Valparaiso, but the unexpected popularity of the coffee shop has made that more of a focal point. It was deliberately located off the beaten path. That's because Dagger Mountain didn’t want bad Yelp reviews from coffee drinkers weaned on sugary and lactose-heavy Frappachinos. There's no cream and sugar at Dagger Mountain so customers can fully appreciate the delicate flavors of the coffee.
Coffee drinkers are now largely gravitating toward higher quality food and beer, and they’re also starting to eschew stale mass-produced coffee, Evans said.
“People want to be connected with their food locally, they want to know what their eating and consuming and coffee is no exception,” he said. “Coffee doesn’t haven’t to be terrible. It doesn’t have to be something you swallow in the morning just to get through the day. It’s a nicer product.”
Maple City Roasters
Maple City Roasters has been roasting coffee in Michigan City for nine years, but current owner Scott Ott bought it in 2012 after a trip to Costa Rica to see how coffee was farmed.
“I’m a coffee drinker and I was there learning about coffee and roasting,” he said. “At the time I was looking for a new job so I decided I would see if I can make this work.”
Under his management, business has tripled in each of the last three years. He delivers freshly roasted coffee – including the best-selling Bonzo’s Blend of South American Espresso, Central American and Asian coffee – to customers from Crown Point to Southwest Michigan. Customers include coffee shops, bed and breakfasts and private businesses “of all sorts.”
Ott has a 1-pound roaster, a 12-pound roaster, a 75-pound roaster and grand expansion plans.
“We’ve got the capability to roast 2,000 pounds and get it skidded out the doors in eight hours,” he said. “We’re looking at distributing to big-box stores.”
Ott goes to Costa Rica and Columbia every year to source beans. He brews about 35 different flavors of coffee, including single-origin and blended varieties.
“Once the Folger’s people try fresh roasted beans, it’s hard to go back,” he said. “We’re following right behind craft beer.”
Coffee By Gillespie
Lutheran Pastor Christopher Gillespie had been roasting as a hobby, and sharing his coffee with friends and family come Christmas and Easter. He kept hearing they wanted to buy it so he set up a small-batch roastery that delivers coffee in two to four days to customers all over the world. Thanks to the reach of internet, he’s recently make shipments to Hong Kong and London.
“Most of the coffee you drink has been sitting on the shelf for weeks,” he said. “My goal is to make it as fresh as possible.”
All of his coffee, almost all single origin, is roasted to order. His wholesale business serves customers like churches, schools and offices. Many of his customers sign up for subscription services, where they get a different bag a month depending on what he gets in.
“One of the advantages to selling a beverage with psychoactive properties is that people drink it all the time,” he said.
The pastor of Grace Lutheran in Dyer runs Coffee By Gillepsie online out of his home. He's hoping to build up the business enough so it could support his work as a minister.
“It’s been a challenge for churches, especially smaller ones that are struggling financially,” he said. “My goal would be to grow the business to the point where it would fund my ability to serve the congregation.”
He works with several importers, paying them Fair Trade wages. He roasts beans to preferred brewing type, whether automatic, French press or drip.
“So many diverse and volatile compounds come out in the roasting process,” he said. “When it’s single origin you can taste different flavor notes when it’s from the same source whether it’s from the spring or fall,” he said. “With most blends, it’s coffee from multiple years, masking almost all the unique flavor.”
Gillepsie looks as it as a craft, appreciating the change to hone his skills and introduce people to a better coffee experience.
“With Third Wave specialty coffee, it’s like a guild of craftsmen,” he said.
Annette McKeown and Elizabeth Steel are starting Smalltown Coffee, a Highland-based roaster that has been doing special events like showers and is looking to open a cafe.
They moved back to the Region a few years ago and felt like there weren’t enough coffee roasters here. They hoped to put something out like Stone Creek Coffee in Milwaukee or Higher Grounds in Traverse City, Michigan.
“It was important to us to roast with excellence, brew with excellence, roast to perfection, and brew better coffee,” McKeown said. “We got a good response. People said they never drank coffee black before and didn’t know this was what coffee was supposed to taste like.”
The company has been building up a website, www.smalltown.coffee, and scheduling events like the Fetching Market. It will start as a roaster, and hopefully eventually branch into retail, wholesale and subscription service.
“Millennials prefer black coffee without chemicals,” she said. “They’ve learned to taste the beans themselves. Coffee has a more diverse tasting profile than even wine, and there’s such so much fun and community in grabbing a cup of joe.”