Thriving Thirties Crisis Anyone?

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Another trip around the sun means I’m one step closer to the inevitable mid-life crisis that happens at 40. Or, at least that’s what I’ve been told. What baffles me, though, is nobody talks about the time between your quarter-life crisis and your mid-life crisis. That in-between time where so much happens your head spins. So this is a post about the unnamed, unknown crisis turned opportunity I’m calling the Thriving Thirties.

I was thinking this week, what a shitstorm of highs and lows, all in a decade. Ones you think you can anticipate, and in many cases long for, but society does a great job of masquerading into something else.

There is of course the biggie—my status. I went from girlfriend to fiancé to wife and now mother. Each time, I discovered my beliefs and understanding of what unconditional and unwavering love means were completely underrated. You hear about the sacrifice that comes with parenting, often when you are rolling your eyes at your parents, but experiencing it is a whole different ballgame. Talk about high highs and low lows. There really needs to be more about the tough days, because frankly I’ve never experienced something more challenging than raising a family.

My career took a backseat—something I never thought would happen. I changed jobs three times in my 30s, only to discover that while I know I want to make my mark in the world, I have no clue how to do it. Career advancement, which seemed to come so easily in my 20s, came to a screeching halt as I realized that living in a place I love, doesn’t always come with abundant economic opportunities. Guess what? I wouldn’t change a thing (other than my paycheck).

The lifelong learner in me had a near meltdown when I finally paid off my student loans and realized for the first time in 34 years I wasn’t attending or paying for continuing education. I opted to re-enroll for my 4th college degree creating a seamless transition from being a student to graduating at the same time my son enters school. And so the cycle continues.

And then there was the pursuit of happiness. Despite self-help books telling me that I could in fact wake up everyday and conquer the world and be happy, I seriously question the sanity of those so-called authors. Living the life that I want with those I want, where I want, means compromise. It means prioritizing and sacrificing and wiping boogers and changing diapers. It means long commutes, limited shopping, befriending Amazon Prime and fighting over things like uncrushed diet Mountain Dew cans scattered around the house. It means experiencing unmet dreams and acknowledging that sometimes life is bigger than your needs and wants.

Nobody warned me about the weight-gain that comes with an aging metabolism. Gone are the days of downing Dr. Pepper and munching on chips and Top the Tater while binge watching the latest season of Dawson’s Creek. Instead, I found myself hitting the pavement (literally) and crossing the finish line not once but ten times over the past six years, to barely maintain the weight gain that I’m lovingly calling my dirty thirty in honor of my attempts to do Beach Body at this size. The running highs and lows are a whole different post but if you had told me in my 20s, I’d have some of my heaviest and hardest conversations with myself wearing running shoes, I would have laughed.

My 30s did not result in endless afternoons hanging out at coffee shops chatting about the weather like the characters on Friends. Instead, it was spent scrambling to keep connections with lifelong friends on Facebook messenger and recognizing that many of those friendships would fade away, despite noble and in some cases knock down, drag down attempts to keep them. It was hard to let go at times but I find friendships now are easier—more based on common interests, shared values and day-to-day life experiences than the baggage of what you were once pegged to be.

And somewhere in all of this, I discovered that one of life’s greatest gifts arrived for me in my 30s. It frankly couldn’t have happened sooner. And, maybe I’ll change my mind after my next centennial crisis, but in this moment, I’m still a bit in awe.

I distinctly remember my quarter-life crisis. It played out like a bad after school special that left me leaving television news and moving to the Northwoods of Wisconsin. It meant abandoning bad habits, facing my demons and acknowledging that the person I was trying to be, wasn’t me. But, then my 30s hit and I discovered that instead of trying to be someone or something, I could instead, just be me.

Better yet, I could embrace it. There’s something empowering about grabbing life and saying, I’m good enough. I wake up everyday and I do my best. Frankly, that’s enough. It may mean 175% some days or surviving on others. And that’s ok, despite the self-help books saying otherwise. It isn’t that I don’t care. It isn’t that I don’t embrace life and all of its complexities and know all too well that we never know when our ticket is going to come up. Instead, it is acknowledging that some of the best things in life happen, when you just let them be.

So in a long winded way, I discovered I know less in my 30s than my 20s. But this I know. At times I’m irritable and unbearable and cranky. I’m stubborn like my mother. I’m a bit odd. I crave meaningful connections but am an introvert. I love to try new things like roasting coffee and buying obscure plants that have no chance of survival (banana plants anyone) because it is fun to try and fail. I run races with mediocre times and battle the bulge, while still finding a way to love myself even though health blogs and beauty magazines tell me I’m obese. I tell really bad jokes and most times, people can’t even tell if I’m joking. I’m inpatient. I’m independent. I’m loyal. And the best thing is, all of this could change in a heartbeat because the thing I know most, is I’m a constant work-in-progress and that’s what makes me, me.

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Running Towards My Dream

635818006858912368At lunch yesterday, a couple of curious friends casually hinted that I hadn’t posted about the coffee shop lately. I’ve been hesitant to doing so because I’ve found when I put things on this site, they tend to happen. Or in this case, don’t happen. That’s right. The coffee shop is on hold.

I could give an entire laundry list of reasons why—with the largest being a suitable space. There is also the whole regional workforce shortage and inability for me to find work-life balance as well. But the truth is, these roadblocks could be conquered… but only if I was 100% ready to go all in and compromise a bit on my vision for Iron River Coffee.

Over the course of the last year, I spent a lot of time exploring how to make a coffee shop work. I met with a lot of individuals smarter than I and crunched a lot of numbers. I dreamed big about having my own private coffee label and began envisioning my brand. I met with realtors, saved money and read coffee business books. I looked at auction sites and spent a lot of time researching other shops by taste testing drinks and treats and testing wi-fi. I learned a ton. And, I know that someday in my future I will own or invest in a coffee shop.

But someday isn’t today. This fall I spent some time doing the hardest part of business planning—soul searching. And the more I searched, the more I discovered that while there are many reasons I should go into business, there are many reasons I’m just not ready. Sure, some of it is fear of the unknown. Some of it is fear of failure. Some of it is risk tolerance. Some of it is timing. But, even if I push beyond those basic business fears, there was a large part of me that discovered I just don’t want the added stress of a business on my plate right now.

This is tough for me to acknowledge. The old me would have plowed ahead and said well I said I was going to open a business so I’m going to do it… even if I’m not ready and I know the timing isn’t right for me and my family. I know some of you are thinking there will never be a good time for me to do this. But, I can guarantee you there will be a better time for me to do this. And that will be at the moment when my heart says so.

So for now, I’ll continue to jot down menu ideas. Create coffee concoctions at home and set my grill on fire roasting beans from around the world. I’ll visit shops on my travels and allow myself to wonder what if. And someday, what if will become what is. And, when that time comes, I know is it’ll be built on my timeline and achieve my dream of a creative community space where folks can connect while indulging in affordable caffeine.

You might be wondering why a post all about the coffee shop involves a random pic of me running. I’m not sure other than to say, this month I completed my 6th Half-Marathon. It was my best Whistlestop time and I missed a PR by 3-minutes. I didn’t achieve my goal this year. But, I made it halfway. And I’m not done yet. The older I get, the more I’m learning life is about making tough choices. In many ways it would have been easier for me to open a coffee shop and abandon my running goal. I’m pretty confident I’d be a much better business owner than athlete… But, I plan to keep on running.

I’m working on some changes for next spring when I line up again in hopes I can break the 3-hour barrier. Because that my friends, is one dream I’m not willing to put on hold.

Fun Times! Coffee Roasting Article Wins Statewide Award

I just learned that an article I wrote on Roasting Your Own Coffee won a gold award at the Minnesota Magazine and Publishing Association Excellence Awards ceremony in the category of How-To. It ran in Duluth-Superior Magazine last fall. It turns out the article never made it to their website but I dug it out of my archives to share.

In terms of buying green beans Northwest Coffee Mills out of Washburn is no longer an option since the passing of Harry Demorest. (But for those who love his coffee, the Bulk Food Store in Mason has taken over the business). Alakef is still an option. Or, my new personal favorite spot is Happy Mug Coffee. Great product and the owner is willing to go above and beyond in providing some at-home roasting tips!

For those who take the leap to roasting their own coffee, Happy Roasting!

 Holiday Gift Guide-
Home Roast Coffee: A unique and fun holiday gift for coffee addicts
Some of our fondest memories revolve around the sites, smells and flavors of palette pleasing delights. From the cool sensation of ice-cream on a hot summer day, juicy burgers fresh of the grill, the sweet surprise of sugar snap peas straight from the garden, or a freshly picked berry from the heart of the North Woods, these simple palette pleasers improve our everyday life. But, for the millions of coffee addicts in the US, nothing compares to a fresh cup of coffee consumed daily.

This year, why not share in this intimate experience with your closest friends, by carefully hand roasting raw coffee beans as the perfect holiday gift? The process itself is simple, start-up costs are at a minimum, and the outcomes are endless.

Similar to the grapes used in wine, coffee beans vary from region to region with certain areas being known for specific types of beans. Even this can vary, though, based on the conditions of any particular growing season.

Separate from the region, Arabica and Robusta are the two general species of coffee beans made available. Arabica, which contains less caffeine, tends to have a wider variety of flavors. Robusta, on the other hand, has more caffeine but tends to be lower grade than Arabica. For the purpose of at-home roasting, we recommend focusing on Arabica beans.

To roast at-home, the first thing you need to do is purchase raw coffee beans. Alakef in Duluth or Northwest Coffee Mills out of Washburn, Wis. sell raw or green coffee beans online. In terms of selection, reading the brief summaries of the beans will give you a general sense of flavor. Sumatra, Ethiopia, Kenya, Guatemala and Costa Rica are great regions to start experimenting with and will provide a wide range of outcomes when roasting. Assuming you start with a moderate flavored bean, the largest variable will be how dark you roast your beans.

Once you have the beans in hand, it is time to start roasting. There are several ways to roast at-home but our experience is it tends to be smoky (especially if you burn the beans) so be prepared to have your smoke detectors go off. And, as beans roast they shed what is often referred to as chaff, which can get extremely messy. While this is the downside of at-home roasting, the fresh flavor of a home-brewed coffee far outweighs the cons.

There are many variations in how to roast beans but what you watch for is the same. The beans, which are green in color, immediately begin to lose their moisture during the roasting process. Shortly after placing the beans on heat, you’ll begin to hear a cracking sound, often referred to as pyrolisis. This first crack occurs just below 400 degrees. At this point, you’ll have created what is often referred to as a Cinnamon or New England coffee. As the bean heats, it’ll get darker. At 400 degrees, it’ll be light. As it approaches 415 degrees it’ll become light-medium, then medium and medium high. By the time the bean reaches 435 degrees, you’ll start to hear a second crack. During the second crack, the beans will go from being dry and brown to having an oily surface. Soon after, you’ll have an espresso bean. And, for those who like extremely black coffee, you can roast up to 475 degrees which is a dark French or Spanish coffee.

To start out, a medium roast tends to be the most forgiving because if under roasted you will have a nice light coffee versus the risk of being too underdone and if over roasted, you’ll have a full roast rather than an extremely burned, smoky mess. Once the beans have reached the desired outcome, immediately remove them from the heat source and begin cooling them with a fan. At this point, especially if you are roasting your beans extremely dark, cooling the beans quickly is key because as long as they are hot they will continue to roast each other. To expedite the cooling process, wear heat resistant gloves and continuously rotate the beans. This will also help remove the chaff.

In terms of how you heat the beans, there are numerous at home contraptions that’ll work. Perhaps the easiest is using a popcorn roaster. Poppers with side vents work the best because the airflow more evenly heats the coffee. To roast the coffee, limit yourself to 85 grams of coffee per roast and recognize that this may eventually burn your roaster out. Once the popper is on, slowly stir the beans until they start to pop. After their first crack, monitor them until they reach the degree of darkness you want. At this time, pour them directly into a bowl and begin the cooling process.

Another option is on the stove top in a large fry pan with a crank lid that allows you to stir the beans while having them covered. Line the fry pan with a single layer of beans and place on direct heat. In this case, gas stove tops work best. Roasting this way can take up to twenty minutes and requires continuous rotation of the beans to ensure even roasting. While tiring on the arm, it is the most intimate and easiest way to make sure you don’t burn your beans.

Our personal favorite, though, is roasting on a grill outside using a steel drum with holes attached to a rotisserie. Similar to stovetop roasting, this can take up to 20 minutes but you can do larger quantities and the mess is outside.

These methods tend to be smoky and take a while to perfect but are a hands-on, inexpensive approach to crafting the perfect holiday gift for your coffee loving friends and family. Expect to pay about half the price for green coffee beans as normal beans but recognize you lose some weight in the roasting process.

If at-home contraptions aren’t your style, a second option is making an investment of several hundred dollars for an at-home coffee roasting machine which simplifies the process and guarantee you more consistent results.

Once roasted, the beans will need to rest at least overnight prior to grinding. To preserve flavor, grind the beans at the last minute possible. Or, better yet, present them as whole beans with a burr grinder (the best way to grind coffee) as the perfect holiday gift. Roasting beans can be a rewarding and flavorful gift for friends and family, along with something you can give yourself year-round. Once you’ve perfected the craft, it can save you money as well while providing fresh brewed coffee at home.

Beth Probst is a coffee addict and freelance writer in Iron River, Wisconsin who began roasting her own coffee beans after discovering the closest coffee shop open by 7 am is more than 30 miles from her home.

What makes a great cup of coffee? A Bayfield roaster just might have the answer…

What makes a great cup of coffee? Is it the quality of the bean or the company you share it with? I’ve recently become a coffee snob after discovering the difference in quality a cup of coffee made with freshly ground beans can bring to one’s morning. Since caffeine plays such a critical part of my morning, I also started to play with roasting my own beans at home to see if I could create the perfect morning brew. While the end result is not as great as the pros, it certainly beats a burned cup of ground coffee from our local gas station.

I’m finding, though, that part of the joy of that morning (or afternoon) brew comes by sharing it with someone special. Perhaps that someone special is yourself, alone on your deck listening to the loons sing before your newborn wakes up and life takes a sudden turn into the unknown. Or, perhaps it is catching up with a long-time friend that you rarely spend time with. I am now convinced that whoever or however you enjoy that cup of coffee matters. And, I’m not alone. So often, the local coffee shop is the core of a community.

This past month, I had the opportunity to chat with Big Water Coffee owner Danielle Ewalt about her venture in Bayfield. She and her husband Jon took a leap of faith and invested their lives in Bayfield. So far, it is paying off. While we have yet to meet in person, I hope to meet them someday when my adventures take me to Bayfield. In the meantime, here is the piece I wrote about them, along with some fabulous photos by Hannah that ran in the October issue of Business North Magazine. Enjoy!

 Beating the Odds in Bayfield

Photo Courtesy: Stonehouse Photography
Photo Courtesy: Stonehouse Photography

Once named the Best Little Town in the Midwest by the Chicago Tribune, Bayfield swells with tourists from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Given the sparkling blue lake, quality shops, gourmet food and quaint Bed and Breakfasts, it is easy to see why this is town is a hot spot for tourists and businesses alike during peak tourism season. But, come off-peak times, the town paints a different picture. With a population of just over 500, many businesses recognize year-round sustainability is a pipe dream and turn off their lights.

Big Water Coffee on Main Street is one of several exceptions to the rule. But, achieving this goal didn’t come easy and remains a constant work in progress—something owners Jon and Danielle Ewalt thrive on.

As for how they became owners of the coffee shop on Main Street, Danielle claims it was “serendipitous.” The couple, who was in their mid 20’s, dreamed of opening up a café somewhere in Wisconsin. As they were exploring small towns to possibly build in, they found themselves in front of a for sale sign in Bayfield on a crisp October day. “We had never been to Bayfield before but we had heard it was a cool progressive place,” Danielle Ewalt says. “After seeing the shop we did some research and ultimately decided this was the place for us.”

By February, they were living their dream of operating a coffee shop in small town Wisconsin. “John and I love food and drink. That’s how people connect with each other,” explains Ewalt. “We love the coffee shop because it is a gathering spot for everyone. Anyone can come and enjoy a $2 cup of coffee and feel welcome.”

Despite their passion for community, keeping their doors open hasn’t been easy. “We had no experience in food service,” says Ewalt. “We’ve made a lot of changes since we first opened. It has been a steep learning curve.”

For example, the couple no longer offers made to order food, instead focusing on being really good at what they do—making quality coffee drinks. They’ve also learned to scale their business up and down, going anywhere from 6-8 full time staff during slow times to 15+ during the busy summer months.

Photo Courtesy: Stonehouse Photography
Photo Courtesy: Stonehouse Photography

Jon, who is a self-taught roaster, has spent years perfecting his craft. He’s shadowed roasters he respects and cupped endless cups of coffee to learn how to get the best flavor from the beans. The couple has also learned that when it comes to quality coffee, freshness counts. “Our freshness differentiates us from other coffees in the area.” This includes encouraging folks to recognize coffee is perishable and stamping their package with a roasted on date. “A lot of companies don’t do this because they don’t want coffee to be seen as a perishable product, but we recognize that’s what makes our product different.”

As they have worked through the kinks of being self-taught business owners, Ewalt says a welcoming community has made the entire experience worthwhile. “You really get what you give in this community,” she says. “Once people realized we weren’t leaving in a year, they found no reason not to invest in us. It really is a supportive community.”

It takes more than a supportive community to remain profitable year-round, though. As a result, the Ewalts have spent the past few years focusing on how they could grow their business during off-peak times. As the only local coffee roaster in the region, the couple saw an opportunity to expand their wholesale business.  To accomplish this, the couple invested in new packaging that includes a UPC code, which is easier for other business to handle. They also hired a full-time wholesale rep, with an ultimate goal of balancing out the extreme seasonality doing business in Bayfield brings to them.

Despite this growth mode, the couple remains committed to community. They find ways to give back to their community—whether it is donating free coffee to local non-profits or serving on the Bayfield Chamber of Commerce.  In fact, their coffee shop is just an extension of the community—a spot for folks to sip a perfectly brewed drink, break bread (their bakery items are fabulous) and come together.

Bayfield Chamber of Commerce Director David Eades says having this type of business open year-round is key to bringing a community together. “Having a year round coffee shop is vital to the life of a small town – or any town. Not only does it serve as place to energize with a cup of coffee and a scone before you head out on your daily adventure, be it sailing, kayaking, skiing, hiking, or just going shopping, it also serves as a gathering and meeting place for the locals to discuss the pressing issues of the day. The coffee shop serves as an anchor business for the visitor as well as the resident as they begin their day and is an integral part of life in a small town.”

 To learn more about Big Water Coffee, visit their website here.

Artisan Coffee Roaster calls Bayfield County home

Update: March 13, 2013

I am very sad to report that Harry Demorest passed away on Monday, March 11, 2013. I’ll be drinking a cup of Northwestern Coffee Mills in his honor and can only hope to live life with half the passion he had. Rest in peace Harry.

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“I get to participate in people’s lives. It is an important part of their day and I get to be a part of it.” Harry Demorest, Northwestern Coffee Mills.

One thing I’ve grown to love during my freelance career is the opportunity to meet passionate people committed to something they love. This couldn’t be more true of my encounter with Harry Demorest of Northwestern Coffee Mills in Washburn.

The meeting was particularly exciting due to my recent discovery of how delicious at-home roasted coffee beans taste. Harry was quite patient with my new-found passion for roasting and allowed me to watch him in action, pick his brain for some simple tips on roasting, while also learning a bit about his journey as a coffee roaster which I’ll share below.

The word artisan means different things to many people but I think everyone would agree, this man knows coffee and is creating a great product right in Bayfield County that everyone should have the pleasure of trying at least once in their lifetime.

Here’s a copy of the article that initially ran in Business North and some photos from my adventure.

P.S. If you’re reading this and feel a strong desire to buy me a present, this is a great option, as is any of the fresh roasted coffee at Big Water Roaster in Bayfield. While newer to the game of roasting, I find their stuff fabulous as well!

Coffee Artisan Finds Comfort in Northern Wisconsin

harrydemorestSitting in an unassuming office in north woods Wisconsin, Harry Demorest points to his hands and simply says, “these are working hands.”

Working hands are not uncommon in northern Wisconsin. In fact, the pre-dominant industries in the region demand sweat equity. But Demorest isn’t working the dominant industry of northern Wisconsin. The truth is, his at-home business isn’t even signed. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t something extraordinary taking place at this 20-acre spread in Washburn, Wisconsin.

Demorest’s trade is one of the oldest in the world—a craft that defines people’s morning around the world. You see, Demorest is a coffee roaster who has devoted his life to mastering the craft. At 70, he’s most certainly one of the oldest, active coffee roasters around.

Demorest first started learning about coffee in Milwaukee in the mid 1900s at Northwestern Coffee Mills. Demorest didn’t know coffee would be his life’s work—the fact is he was getting his masters degree in economics and was bound for corporate USA when he determined he liked working with his hands. Fate stepped in and before he knew it, he was no longer a college student but an apprentice of the coffee industry.

Training among some of the long established, successful coffee roasters and merchants (the company dates back to 1875) in Milwaukee, Demorest learned everything he knows about coffee by practicing the trade. Over time, his mentors moved on and in 1974, Demorest finalized purchase of the business.

At the time, the business included retail, mail order, servicing area restaurants and a small wholesale operation. In addition to coffee, there was also a tea and spice business. A solid businessman, Demorest constantly sought ways to grow business. In the 70s, this included being listed in the Whole Earth Catalog. Many of those customers remain his base today.

After years of battling retail and the Milwaukee business front, Demorest decided it was time for change. In the late 90’s, he and his family moved to northern Wisconsin. He credits the move for making him a better roaster.

“You don’t feel the same pressures up here that were in Milwaukee,” he says. “In Milwaukee there were too many other things to focus on.” The move also marked the last time Demorest had a retail store. Then again, he doesn’t really need one.

Today, Northwest Coffee Mills roasts over 800 pounds per month during slow times and more than 1,000 pounds per month during peak times. Most of the coffee goes directly to 500 customers in 43 states across the United States. The rest is distributed locally. In addition, he sells about 100 pounds of special blended teas and additional spices. He estimates selling more than $2 million in the past 20-years alone, but remains incredibly humble.

When asked about his accomplishments, Demorest is quick to point out that coffee is similar to a chair in that it needs four legs. The legs include the grower, roaster or processor, brewer and the context in what you drink the coffee.

Demorest says he is just “the processor,” but he takes the job seriously. “I get to participate in people’s lives. It is an important part of their day and I get to be a part of it.”

In his 40+ years in the business, he has watched the industry evolve into a marketing machine that at times grows tiring for this 70 year old.

“You walk down the coffee aisle in the grocery store and pick up different packages of coffee and they are all the best, freshest, world’s greatest coffees. How can that be? It ends up being all fluff and no stuff.”

The roaster at Northwestern Coffee Mills in Washburn, WIsconsin.
The roaster at Northwestern Coffee Mills in Washburn, Wisconsin.

At Northwestern Coffee Mills, Demorest has mastered the other extreme. He spends minimal money on marketing. His website is simple. His customer base is loyal. His focus is customer service and making sure each batch meets his expectations. He doesn’t claim to be the best but instead lets the product speak for itself.

During our visit, he shares his process. Roasting a 25-pound of Sumatra to a full, medium body blend, Demorest takes his time. A single roast can take up to nearly an hour—something Demorest says large commercial roasters balk at.

“Large roasters want to hurry up and get the next batch in,” he says. For them, time is money. But for Demorest, time allots for the senses to engage in the roasting process. Watching the beans color, listening for the crackling sound and smelling the bean roast is how Demorest gauges the process. At more than 43 years of roasting beans, he trusts his 70-year old senses more than any gadgets, gizmos or lesson books. His customers appreciate that.

coffeeBefore we know it, the batch is done and cooling in a stainless steel container. Soon, it’ll be packaged up and sent off for a customer to enjoy at their kitchen table hundreds of miles away. It is just one of many things Demorest loves about the business. “I’m in the business of putting a smile on people’s faces,” he says.

Looking ahead, Demorest doesn’t know where the business will be in 5 or 10 years. “I just turned 70. I’m ready to reinvent myself,” he says with a chuckle.