When railroad tycoon James J. Hill commissioned the Stone Arch Bridge in 1881, the project became known as “Hill’s folly” because of the exorbitant cost—it wasn’t until the bridge was completed in 1883 that people saw the utility of it.
That’s the story that inspired the name behind Folly Coffee, a new Minnesota-based coffee company.
“If you’re from Minnesota, you definitely know what the Stone Arch Bridge is,” founder Rob Bathe says. “But it seems like the second you cross the state border, it’s something that not a lot of people know about. It’s kind of like our hidden gem.”
Bathe honors the architectural icon in the packaging for Folly’s House Bean blend, which features an emoticon-esque illustration whose smile is shaped like the bridge. The local branding is representative of Bathe’s aim: to make coffee as unique and inimitable as Minnesota itself.
“If I walk into some of these national chains in Minnesota or if I go to one in California, I’m getting the same cup of coffee,” he explains. “That’s really not our goal. Our goal is that every batch we roast, you’re just getting the most amazing cup we can roast out of that batch, out of that origin. If you taste the house bean now or a few months from now, it’s going to be a different cup.”
The company, which launched in January, aims to bridge—pun intended, thank you very much—the gap between the high-end specialty coffee drinking community and the everyday java drinker. How does it do that? Through exceptional beans and fastidious roasting. “If you get a really low-end bean and roast it skillfully, you’ll get at best an OK cup of coffee. If you get a really nice, high-end, single-origin bean and it’s not roasted properly, you’ll get the same result. It’s when you get the combination of very intentional sourcing of high-quality beans and then roasting very carefully and strategically to bring out certain flavors of the bean, that’s where you start to get these really unique flavors coming through,” Bathe explains.
In the same way that the small batch concept has been embraced by breweries, distilleries, and wineries, Bathe is the latest in a line of Minnesota roasters bringing the best coffee possible to your cup—and that means an ever-evolving flavor profile.
Folly currently offers three light-roast blends, and each are the result of a unique processing method.
First, a refresher: A coffee bean is actually the pit of a cherry. What determines the flavor of a bean is a combination of origin, the altitude it was grown in, and processing methods. The House Bean, the company’s flagship coffee, comes from a natural process: The cherry is picked, dried in the sun, and the cherry falls off the coffee bean. Fermentation occurs, imparting fruity qualities and berry notes into the bean. The Winer blend gets its acidic and complex flavor from a wash process in which the cherry is picked and stripped from the coffee bean using water. The Classic Joe blend derives its nutty, chocolaty flavor from a process where just the skin of the cherry is stripped off but the pulp is sun-dried.
Folly rotates the origin of each of its blends every 10 to 12 weeks, striving for that perfect balance between too much acidity (which results in an unpleasant taste) and over-roasting (which makes for a boring cup of coffee).
Bathe wasn’t always such a coffee aficionado. In fact, it wasn’t until after college, while doing “feet on the street” sales for Samuel Adams Beer in Chicago, that a co-worker chided him for drinking hotel coffee. When he tasted his first cup of specialty joe—a light roast with berry notes—he became obsessed with roasters. After learning to roast one-pound batches himself, he realized he could turn his passion into a business.
In 2017, Bathe quit his job and moved back to Minnesota, where he met Ken Schweikert, a coffee seller at a farmers market. Schweikert gave Bathe a few roasting lessons on a Diedrich IR-12 commercial roaster that he had purchased and rebuilt. “I knew that if I was going to do something like this, I’d need someone who had really mastered the process,” Bathe says. So the two made a deal: if Bathe helped Schweikert build out and renovate his backyard pole barn roasting warehouse and secured a commercial food license, he would roast with Bathe. Seven months later, they completed the build in the Silver Lake space, about an hour west of Minneapolis. Thanks to solar and geothermal energy, the space boasts a zero carbon footprint.
Folly Coffee went to market in January and is on shelves in 15 independent co-ops and grocery stores throughout the Twin Cities. By the end of this month, the brand will also be available in 20 Lunds and Byerlys locations.
Bathe is on the lookout for retail partners that focus on quality-first, locally-made products. In the future, he’d love to see Folly at cafes and restaurants around the Twin Cities; even better, he hopes Minnesota will eventually adopt the West Coast trend of multi-roaster cafes.
“People are starting to appreciate high-end coffees and they’re starting to look for them,” he says. “I’m excited just to be a part of the coffee community. That’s been one of the greatest parts about starting this business—meeting all the people in the coffee community.”