Jim and Crystal Whitmarsh were living in Mankato's Trail Creek neighboorhood when Jim went online and discovered the art of roasting coffee in 1980's-vintage popcorm poppers.
Alas, you could only roast about half a cup at a time, and the person in charge had little control over the smoke-filled process.
Jim decided last fall that he could make a business out of roasting coffee. He’s doing that now with a small commercial coffee-roasting machine, producing about three pounds per batch out of his garage in Kasson, where the couple and their two children moved last April.
And the Whitmarshes – Jim is superintendent of a sand mine near Mankato, and Crystal is a physical therapist on the rehabilitation unit at Mayo Clinic in Rochester - are working with the city to modify a lease agreement in order to take their business uptown.
They hope to open a coffee “roastery,” Trail Creek Coffee, in the former public library building at 16 1st Ave. NW. The building is being leased through May by Sophia’s Closet Thrift Store and Food Bank.
The plan is to open for occasional tastings on Saturdays, and to sell Trail Creek coffee beans at local stores and retail shops.
There may be a Trail Creek coffee shop, somewhere down the line.
“We like to meet people and kind of talk about coffee,” Jim said. “Not a lot of people are as into coffee as we are. We do run across people occasionally who do. We speak the same language, I guess you could say. But even so, there’s so much more to the world of coffee. We’re really pretty new, considering. There are a lot of people who know way more than we do. We’re just really look forward to expanding our little operation here, and sharing the coffee with the community and anybody who’s interested.”
“And then also just the global impact it can have, too,” Crystal said, “in terms of when you buy beans from other countries and you’re supporting a coffee farmer and their business and the people that they employ, too. We really have a heart for that as well.”
Jim roasted with those old plastic popcorn poppers as a hobby to try at home. It saved the frequent coffee-drinkers a little money, which they may otherwise have spent at the grocery store.
But they began to outgrow what Jim could roast with the popcorn popper.
“I was doing a couple batches every night, just trying to keep up with what we were consuming,” he said.
So he went in search of a countertop roaster that could handle multiple roasts. He found a 200-pound stainless steel beauty and purchased it through Mill City Roasters in Minneapolis, where he took a roasting course just over a year ago.
The goal was to sell their coffee at farmers markets.
The Whitmarshes do just that in Cannon Falls, and they’re also selling to family, friends and co-workers, and at community events.
He buys most of his beans from Café Imports, a Twin Cities-based importer of specialty green coffees.
Café Imports purchases the beans from farmers overseas, who receive a fair price and use their income to improve farm yields.
“The idea is, every year the yields will get better, the quality of the coffee will get better,” Jim said. “They also work directly with farmers to share best practices and really help them succeed.”
The biggest advantage of his new hobby is enjoying fresh-roasted specialty coffee from Guatemala, Ethiopia, and other bean-rich nations. And making small batches allows Jim to experiment some more.
The Whitmarshes have talked about opening a coffee shop since they first met as college students in 2004 and a blind date took them to Pizza Hut – and a coffee shop.
“We thought it was a dream,” Jim said. “But now, through coffee-roasting, it’s starting to come true, which is really pretty cool.”
He and Crystal will host a coffee-tasting event at 4 p.m. Saturday, April 14 at the Kasson Liquor Store.
≠See the Trail Creek Facebook and Instagram sites, send email to email@example.com, or call 507-995-8571 to order or for more information and upcoming events.