Coffee traditions have been passed down from one generation to the next for millennia, and as anyone whose livelihood depends on the relatively newfangled world of specialty coffee can attest, old habits die hard.
Yet as a new generation matures — one that has only known a world in which specialty coffee has been sounding its call — it’s comforting to know that while the best coffee available today might be quite different from the coffee one’s parents or grandparents drank, the love of the brew is still a tie that binds.
It’s a warm cup brewed of something roasted and delicious, grown halfway across the world and prepared at home every morning. That’s the love that gets passed down; a love that, logically, should only grow stronger as quality improves.
About five months ago in Midland, Mich., whole bean and wholesale roaster Heirloom Coffee Company launched in this spirit: Providers of a classic yet well-crafted staple, ready to fit the hands to which it’s passed. Heirloom — not to be confused with Medford, Mass.-based Heirloom Coffee LLC, importers and roasters specializing in Southeast Asian coffees — strives to source coffees strategically so that a given bean’s strongest natural characteristics persist and shine amid roast profiles that remain familiar enough to their Midwestern small-town clientele.
“It’s a balance of what it can be and what you want it to be,” Heirloom cofounder Ben Marsh told Daily Coffee News. “I know some people would say they try to find the perfect sweet spot of that coffee based on its origin and characteristics, but I think another part of it is, what do you want to get out of it? I think there’s a little bit of wiggle room on that, and what do your customers want out of it.”
Marsh, who personally does the lion’s share of roasting for Heirloom, previously spent years roasting “Sweet-Maria’s-style” on a popcorn popper and also had a stretch of production roasting and legwork at Richmond, Va.-based Blanchard’s Coffee Roasting Co. The greens he sources today come through Café Imports, Royal Coffee and Coffee Shrub for roasting on 10-kilo-capacity Toper in a compact Midland production space of about 450 square feet.
Heirloom launched in May, expanding beyond a stand at a weekly farmers market to slowly build a wholesale business. “The market here is a little bit behind,” noted Marsh, adding that rather than come out swinging with bright, in-your-face, acid-forward coffees, they tend to err on the side of sweeter comfort roasts with more body in order to win fans at this early stage.
At their Midland Area Farmer’s Market stand, which is now drawing to a close for the season, they sold whole beans and served Bunn-brewed batch drip directly to consumers. Going forward they’ll be focusing more intently on growing the wholesale roster, and getting more retail bags on shelves in markets in the area.
“We like to be behind the scenes, doing the roasting,” said Marsh, adding that there are no current plans or intentions to go the café route at all. Although he did note that, just as coffee has from previous generations to today, “Things can change.”