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Friday, January 14, 2011

A Sense of Place

Artwork in basket by Samantha French

For as long as I can remember, my mother has sat down in the afternoon for what she has always described as “a nice hot cup of tea”. Perhaps it was a holdover from her childhood, some symbol of her Irish heritage passed on to her from her grandparents or perhaps it was just her personal celebration of quiet. 

For many years at that time of day, the current baby of her nine would likely be napping and the older children not yet home from school. Was this her time to come back to center before the hectic second half of the day?

I tend to be something of a hermit if left to my own devices (that ritual cup of tea, or more likely afternoon coffee at home, having been passed down to me) but on this lightly snowing winter day, I do what all the locals do and head to the neighborhood coffee shop.

nectar of the gods

In my day (do those three words make me look old?) the local coffee shop was Harold's in Florence, on the corner of 30th and State streets in Omaha, Nebraska. More like Hemingway's 'A Clean Well Lighted Place' in my mind, 'old people' sitting alone drinking coffee seemed depressing; surely they had no place else to go, nothing to do.


As I enter Stonehouse Roastery in Nisswa, a few miles from my house, I greet Lyle from the City Council, chat for a moment with Dianne, a local caterer, then sit alone with my coffee and my thoughts quite contentedly. 

 I move over a little to allow a young couple, shopping for a new French press to look over the selection. They smile at me and give me a sort of sad, apologetic look, as though I have become one of the 'old people' having coffee alone at Harold's. I smile at them and suddenly in my mind, there is a paradigm shift. I begin to have a different take on Harold's and its place in my universe.

Maybe 'alone' is perspective. This isn't depressing, it is calm; warm; familiar. The artwork on the walls, beautiful impressionistic paintings of people swimming underwater or standing together at the beach, contrast starkly with the snow that now blankets my car just outside the window. The images capture a moment in time. Maybe this cup of coffee fills that same need for me. It slows me down and allows me to stop, breathe and celebrate my own quiet on a snowy January afternoon.


When Mike French started roasting coffee some 10+ years ago, his successes were spread among his undoubtedly very happy friends. “There was a lot of bad stuff too,” says Mike, “but that got dumped in the woods”. Luckily for us, he mastered the skill of coffee roastery and now brings us his beautiful blends. Black Pearl, his best selling coffee is a blend of 3 carefully selected beans in a medium-dark roast. It's rich deep aroma fills my head and there is no hint of that burnt-black bean so commonly sold in coffee shops elsewhere. This is coffee art.


Mike invites me into the roastery, introduces me to his son Nathan (who now does most of the roasting) and produces a gorgeous product from green, almost herbal smelling beans to a perfectly even-roasted and finished bean before my eyes in about 15 minutes. As the beans come to the final stage of roasting they being to pop, popcorn-like, as they cool. The room is filled with the strong scent of freshly toasted coffee beans as they pour out of their roasting chamber. To my astonishment, the entire batch is cool to the touch in a matter of minutes. 

About 75% of the beans Stonehouse buys are Organic or Fair Trade coffees but Mike insists that this is not by design. “I buy the best coffee I can find and it happens that most of it is organically grown.” As a chef, I appreciate his candor. It is great to support an important cause, but can I get a good product too?

His beans are sourced from around the world, including a Kenyan bean with a price tag of over $1000/bag or about $10 per pound as a raw product. Consider that beans shrink by about 1/3 in the roasting process and you can easily do the math on the finished price. Is it extraordinary coffee? Yes.

Another spectacular find was from PT Toarco Jaya in Sulawesi, Indonesia. This is a difficult to find, very high quality bean also produced by certified organic standards. The farm uses only 60% of their property for cultivation in coffee and retains 40% naturally forested lands.

If you really dig your Folgers, this type of coffee is clearly a waste of your money but if you do appreciate the good stuff, ditching the chain stores and savoring a hand roasted product is definitely the way to go.

Do they ship, you ask? Yes, but you have to know someone. Okay, okay, you don't actually have to know someone, you just have to call them: 218-961-2326.

Check back tomorrow for news on
Stonehouse Roastery's NEWEST VENTURE.
Hint: You bakers are going to love this...

1 comment:

  1. Awesome blog on Stonehouse Coffee! The pictures are soooo good and tell a great story. Thanks for the pub!

    -Chris French