Based in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Contrast Coffee is growing rapidly, having expanded its roasting production line and added a second retail shop, with a third café on the way.
As a spin-off brand launched last year by the more cause-oriented parent company Mission Arabica, the aim of Contrast aim is to provide an undistracted, quality-driven experience to lovers of fine coffee, some of whom this time of year may just be passing through in search of outdoor adventure. And yet growth of the Contrast brand through retail and wholesale also quietly benefits projects pursued by Mission Arabica — namely, the development of new coffee farms that can provide livelihoods to people living in remote areas of Laos.
“Our wholesale strategy of growing the Contrast brand has also benefited Mission Arabica wholesale growth as well — perhaps even more than Contrast,” owner Chris Cheney told Daily Coffee News. “We work with [clients] to determine which brand best fits their needs, so often a call about Contrast wholesale ends up being a Mission Arabica wholesale account in the end.”
Cheney also happily reported that Mission Arabica has been able to provide scholarships for roughly a dozen students in Laos in 2016. “The scholarships are our way to stay connected with the core of why we exist as a company,” Cheney said. “The fast growth of Contrast is making that dream of getting to the farm level and establishing farms much closer to reality.”
The handsome original Contrast Coffee roastery café is now just rounding its first anniversary in Iron River, Mich., where it shares a building and clientele with the recording studio getaway Interpose Productions. In December of last year, Contrast opened a second location on the opposite bank of the Ottawa National Forest in Ironwood, Mich., a straight 80-mile shot from the first on US Highway 2. A La Marzocco Linea backed by a Mahlkonig K30 grinder anchors the service bar there, with a Mahlkonig Guatemala grinding for French pressed batch brews and a V60 pourover bar.
Last month back in Iron River, the company’s production capacity nearly quadrupled as their 6-pound-capacity fluid bed Artisan roaster was joined by a 10-kilo-capacity North machine from Mill City Roasters that’s soon to be fired up. There’s some discussion of replacing the hot-air roaster with another drum roaster from Mill City just for consistency’s sake, though for now the production set-up consists of the Artisan, the North, and an Ikawa sample roaster that owner Chris Cheney described as “a pretty cool little machine.”
Meanwhile, Contrast recently unveiled the location of a third cafe, coming to the UP’s largest city, Marquette. “Marquette is a really cool town on Lake Superior that just carries an energy that makes you want to be there, and in my opinion, I really believe we have one of the best spots in town for a coffee shop,” Cheney said of the 1,500-square-foot space. It’s located on 3rd Street in Marquette between downtown and Northern Michigan University, in close proximity to a stretch of local, independent shops and restaurants as well as residential areas.
The Marquette Contrast is projected to open by the fall. The Ironwood location is open now, at 108 E Aurora Street.