Magic Bean Stocks

The enlightened self-interest of brewing a great cup of coffee

At north Minneapolis's Steamworks, Aaron Hardley, who owns the coffee shop with his wife Barbara, says that he feels that it's important to do whatever he can to make sure that other families don't suffer to ensure his family's success. "As an independent coffee bar, we are all about relationships," he opines. "In our relationship with our own customers, we have to be able to say, 'This is the finest coffee available,' be assured that the coffee is the best available and that the people who produce it are being treated fairly."

One part of customer service, says Hardley, is making sure his customers and staff aren't inadvertently implicated in ethical troubles. "Here is the earth reflected in this bean from Colombia, all the beauty of the earth, the sunshine and the water, the love and labor of someone far away, they are all in this bean and in this cup of coffee. We think about that idea a great deal, about trust and customer service and relationships." In coffee, as in all things.

Ever notice how the nicest people often have the best products? I've noticed that. I especially noticed it while tasting all this thoughtful, ethical coffee. I did a cupping in Duluth, and while I can't honestly say my coffee palate is acute enough to tell the difference between great coffee and staggeringly great coffee, it all tasted pretty swell to me. A cupping, in case you've never done it, is when 12 grams of coffee are placed in a cup, covered with the right temperature water, and allowed to steep for the right number of minutes as determined by the professionals around you, at which point you pierce the crust of grounds that float atop the cup with a spoon, and smell the aromas that are released. Then the crust is removed, and you use your spoon to bring enough coffee to your mouth to slurp noisily, spraying a coffee mist about the inside of your mouth and, if you are particularly slurp-skilled, all the way into your lower nasal passages.

Fair trade and a fabulous pour: Alakef Coffee being served at Minneapolis's Pandora's Cup
Tony Nelson
Fair trade and a fabulous pour: Alakef Coffee being served at Minneapolis's Pandora's Cup

Location Info


Alakef Coffee Roasters

1330 E. Superior St.
Duluth, MN 55805

Category: Coffee Shops

Region: Outstate

Me, I was able to discern enough to note that the Alakef Mexican coffee we tried was floral, bright, and clean; the Colombian chocolatey and round; the Kenya AA winey, fruit, and brightly acidic; while the Zimbabwe was dark and malty. But when the coffee professionals in the room--like Chris von Zastrow, who was born on a coffee plantation and owns a personal hand-forged coffee spitoon--start bandying about opinions about the blueberry, buttery, or peppery notes of the coffees, I just start smiling and trying to get out of the way.

While I was up at Alakef, I also couldn't help notice that their cupping room was well stocked with little Melitta plastic cones to hold individual filters for individual cups of coffee. Why? For camping, of course. Enter the Boundary Waters, which simply had to factor into this story: How did the Bohbots, who met on a kibbutz in Israel, become coffee roasters in Duluth? They vacationed in the Boundary Waters: "For me, coming from Europe, it was unbelievable," says Nessim Bohbot. "In Europe you go to a forest, there are crowds of people right at your elbow. Here you can be alone, really alone, which is unbelievable. People take it for granted, but it is an amazing experience." Moreover, says Bohbot, the water you get from a Boundary Waters lake is the best in the world. Seeing as coffee is mostly water, filter it, boil it, and you're sitting pretty.

Which is to say there's good coffee, and there's bad coffee, and then there's fresh-roasted fair-trade coffee in an oxygenated filter steeped for three minutes and made with pure northern-Minnesota lake water. Which the Bohbots think is the best coffee in the world.

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