It's Monday morning! Have you had the best cup of coffee in Montana yet?
You can find cups of gourmet coffee in every corner of Montana, from Alberton to Wibaux. There are even many places where coffee is roasted on the premises. You'll find your own favorite coffee as you travel around the state, but I urge you to stop at the Dillon farmers market (opening July 10) and look for Montana Morning Coffee.
Montana Morning Coffee is roasted one bag at a time by one woman, Mary Anne Wofford, whose passion for good coffee is revealed in many ways.
"I'm selling Montana," Mary Anne told me when I visited her to see how the process works. "I'm selling everything that goes with Montana, through the ambiance of a cup of coffee, through the ambiance of the morning, the mist, the fresh air."
She is also selling some mighty tasty coffee. She says she's heard "This is the best cup of coffee I've ever had" many times. In fact, her business started soon after her son came home one day in 2006 and said just that about some coffee he had drunk. She found the source and started asking questions. Her first experiments began with a hot air popcorn popper.
"Smoke was filling my house, there was chaff flying everywhere. We went through a lot, a lot of stuff to figure this out."
Mary Anne graduated to a small home roaster and did a lot of fast talking to keep her warranty intact, promising the manufacturer she would buy a commercial roaster next time.
Finally, Mary Anne purchased the fluid bed roaster she now uses. This method of roasting is similar to the popcorn popper she once used, with the coffee beans cooked by being tossed in hot air instead of banging against the hot surface of a drum roaster that larger companies use. A drum roaster is not cleaned after every use and oily residuals can build up, slightly altering the coffee beans' taste.
Mary Anne can roast only one pound of coffee at a time, but this attention to detail makes hers a true specialty coffee because she can adjust the process for each customer. She keeps meticulous records of each roast so that customers can ask for the same thing they had last time, or request something lighter or darker.
She says several shops have wanted to sell her coffee, but she prefers taking her coffee to the farmers market or other places where she can have one-on-one contact with customers. Part of her business is to educate people about coffee as they buy a cup or a pound.
She is also careful about the beans she buys. She researches online and buys the best she can find, organic and Fair Trade when possible. If there isn't enough information about a bean to satisfy her, she doesn't buy it. "I don't want bad coffee," she insists.
Once you buy the coffee, Mary Anne suggests using it within 10 days if possible. Otherwise, put the whole beans in a good-quality plastic container (no bags or glass, according to her research) and store in the freezer up to two months. You can use the beans right out of the roaster, but their quality peaks in 4 to 24 hours. A French press is the method of coffee-making Mary Anne recommends, although the drip method is fine.
When she sells cups of coffee at the market, she uses reverse-osmosis water, from jugs she refills at Safeway. She also has a formula packet that she adds, which results in "150 total dissolved solids, and that makes the best chemical reaction, the best extraction and bonding of the coffee molecules to the water." She sells these formula packets, but only one customer regularly buys them. Ordinary water is perfectly okay, she says.
But Mary Anne's passion does not stop at selling the coffee. By her couch is a pile of books and magazines about coffee. She showed me one called The History of Coffee, printed in 1922, from which she has gleaned some marketing ideas.
In the mid-1800s John Arbuckle began roasting and selling coffee by the pound. Until then it was roasted at home -- or at the cowboy chuck wagon -- in a pan, a process that could result in burnt beans. Soon bags of Arbuckle coffee included premiums, like a candy stick.
"I just get really excited about this kind of stuff," Mary Anne said, her eyes sparkling. "Back then a peppermint stick was a big thing. Now kids have too much candy. But what I'm banking on is drawing it all together and bringing the late 1800s into the 2000s, and that's where the excitement will come in, not just the piece of candy."
At the end of our conversation, Mary Anne said: "I like what I'm doing right now. I don't want to talk about [making] oodles and oodles of coffee. I want to talk about one pound at a time and going to markets. I love it. I just love it. It's just so much fun."
As shown below, Mary Anne ably described a complex process so that even I could understand it.
Mary Anne will measure just over a pound of coffee to go into the roaster, which you see behind the can she is filling here. She is a stickler for cleanliness, but she can be a bit more casual at the pre-roasting stage because the beans will cook for 20 minutes in 400-degree heat.
Mary Anne usually stays nearby during the roasting process. Although the machine is computer controlled to her specifications, she still uses all her senses to tell when the beans are ready. Sight, smell, and hearing are each important. For example, there is a first crack and a second crack to listen for, which sound something like corn kernels popping.
If you can't wait for the farmers market to open to get a gourmet pound of coffee, contact Mary Anne at email@example.com.