The Twin Cities has long had a coffee culture every bit as robust as your favorite dark roast blend.
This is where java giants Caribou Coffee and Dunn Brothers are headquartered, after all. But it isn’t just the big guys who call the area home. As craft beer booms, the caffeine scene is having itself a moment, too, with micro-roasters bringing complex, flavorful beans to countless cafes and coffee shops.
We caught up with six roasters doing very different things to learn why they brew what they brew.
Johan Podlewski and Jared Thompson were just 18 years old when they started roasting coffee—and a tender 21 when they opened their Whittier coffee shop last November. Yes, the guys who roast the beans for Modist’s acclaimed First Call cold-press coffee lager were just old enough to drink it when it hit taplines in 2016.
These wunderkinds are the kind to take it slow. That’s true both with their beans (they roasted and perfected only one coffee in their first year, two their second) and with their brews (behind the Wesley Andrews counter, ice water filters through a stylish glass Kyoto cold brew tower at the rate of about one drop per second). And they encourage customers to slow down, too. The shop was initially called “Wesley Andrews Conversation Compliments”—a wordy moniker they’ve since trimmed—but the sentiment remains. These painstakingly prepared drinks are meant not just to accompany your commute but to encourage you to sit down and engage, all without being intimidated by things like the aforementioned Kyoto tower. “We’ve had people tell us, ‘It seems like you’re having so much fun,’” Thompson says. “It’s like... why wouldn’t we be?”
111 E. 26th St., Minneapolis
Driven Coffee Roasters
Coffee for moms.
Well, not just for moms. But Matt Vassau and Dan Oksnevad, the duo behind Driven, run a roastery for all those moms who get labeled “unhip”; for the uninitiated, for the people who might be a little too intimidated to walk into a hyper-trendy, Instagram-friendly coffee shop or don’t know what the heck a Chemex is.
The guys met in Minneapolis but roast out of Chaska, a suburban location that informs Driven’s approachable personality. “The thing about the suburbs is, there’s just not a lot a lot of roasters out here,” Vassau explains. “It feels like a dramatically underserved population, from our perspective.” It’s why he says their eventual brick-and-mortar cafe won’t be in the city, but out there in the ’burbs.
Blackeye Roasting Co.
From the matte black bags of beans to the slogan (#wakeupwithablackeye), the Blackeye guys are kings of cool—and so is their coffee. Blackeye trades in nitro cold brew, iced coffee’s kickass cousin. Velvety and smooth, the gas-infused brews—available in growlers, in cans, and on tap—drink like an alcohol-free, caffeine-packed Guinness.
“We’re garage-door entrepreneurs who got lucky,” founder Matt McGinn says, grinning. He first started roasting out of his apartment, and this summer, just three years after founding Blackeye, he oversaw the completion of a brand-new, 30,000-square-foot brewing facility in St. Paul. The fast-growing company now has two coffee shops of its own in town, and Blackeye brews are available at more than 1,000 places throughout the Midwest.
Peace Coffee Roasters
At 21 years old, Peace Coffee has been around since before there even was a fair trade certification. That’s part of the reason behind its unique structure; as one of 22 co-owners of an importing co-op, they only buy fair trade and organic coffee from small farmer cooperatives.
Peace Coffee’s director of coffee, Anne Costello, explains that beans are typically bought and sold in 40,000-pound increments. That’s tough on small farmers—and back in the ’90s, “We couldn’t buy 40,000 pounds either!” Costello laughs. The co-op means the roastery has just about the most direct possible relationship with producers, who band together to get A) better prices and B) more information about how to farm organically and produce a better product.
“It’s not only the price piece that farmers get access to—it’s the knowledge to create a better product so you can continue to get better prices over time,” Costello says. It’s helped Peace grow, too. The company now buys more than 800,000 pounds of coffee a year.
Bootstrap Coffee Roasters
Bootstrap doesn’t have a cafe of its own, which wasn’t founder Micah Svejda’s plan at all. He initially wanted to own a coffee shop. Then he thought maybe he’d open a coffee shop that roasted its own coffee. Then—ah, hell, turns out roasting’s where his heart was all along.
His three-year-old roastery is aptly named; Svejda really is bootstrapping this operation. The former barista and cafe manager doesn’t have outside investors, and when he got his start in the bean biz in 2014, he did it in his dad’s garage with a second-hand roaster he fetched from Iowa in a UHaul. But what started as a man in a garage with a handful of wholesale customers has grown into a St. Paul-based roastery with a booming online business thanks to a rotating lineup of flavorful, accessible short-run coffees that change with the seasons.
Before it was a roastery, Spyhouse was a Nicollet Avenue coffeehouse, a brownstone where in-the-know coffee lovers met friends to smoke cigarettes over cappuccinos.
It’s obvious the three additional Spyhouses share a bloodline with that 17-year-old sibling. They have the same industrial-meets-mid-century-modern cool—all exposed brick and clean lines, antique fixtures, gold flourishes. But behind the scenes, founder Christian Johnson, a self-proclaimed coffee obsessive who spends hours each week just reading about the stuff, was retooling his business plan. He wanted to support independent farmers, especially women. He wanted to focus on ethical sourcing, and to roast in-house. Today, he does, thanks to collaborations with small farms around the world and to the cafe and roasting facility that opened in Northeast in 2013.
Of course, he’s doing it with Spyhouse flair. The roaster is an antique, too: a hulking, refurbished Probat UG so stylish you may look at it and think, “Maybe I need a German coffee roaster from the 1950s.”