WEST SALEM — Dan and Kari Moen’s shiny blue bags of Blue Coulee Coffee are for sale at three area retail outlets, and on their specialty coffee business website.
But nearly a year after they began selling their coffees, they have no plans to greatly expand the coffee roasting business they operate from their home in Bergum Coulee, northwest of West Salem.
Dan retired in December after 17 years of installing telephone systems and computer networks for CenturyLink, and before that 22 years as a mechanic at the G. Heileman Brewery in La Crosse. He plans to stay retired, except for operating the small specialty coffee roasting business. Kari still works for Schneider Heating and Air Conditioning in Onalaska.
Blue Coulee Coffee is a micro roaster dedicated to bringing area residents high-quality coffees from around the world, Dan said. “This is fine,” he said of the size of the business.
He began roasting coffee beans as a hobby about four years ago. “I was nearing retirement and looking for something to do,” he said. “And I had read a magazine article about home roasting and thought it would be fun,” he said.
Moen began roasting green coffee beans in a stovetop, hand-crank popcorn popper, and experimented with different kinds of coffee beans and roasting techniques. “I couldn’t believe how different all of these coffees taste,” he said.
About 3½ years ago, Moen decided to turn his hobby into a business, and bought the small commercial roaster that he uses now. “I liked the idea of being able to have people experience the different flavors from coffees all over the world,” he said of deciding to go into the coffee business.
After more than two years of experimenting with roasting and different blends, Moen and his wife began selling Blue Coulee Coffee last spring on the website of their business.
Last summer, St. Joe’s Country Market in St. Joseph, east of La Crosse, became the first retail outlet to carry Blue Coulee Coffee. Woodman’s Food Market in Onalaska began carrying the Moens’ coffees about two months ago, followed by Treehouse Gift & Home in Onalaska about 1½ months ago.
About 95 percent of Blue Coulee Coffee’s sales are through the three retail outlets, Moen estimated. But the business also continues to sell coffee on its website and at a few area events.
Sales of whole-bean coffee account for about two-thirds of Blue Coulee Coffee’s business, while ground coffee accounts for the other third.
Moen estimated he has created about 20 varieties of coffee, some of them seasonal, and has 10 to 12 varieties for sale at any given time.
He buys coffee beans from around the world — from countries such as Rwanda, Ethiopia, Colombia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama Mexico, El Salvador and Honduras.
One of Moen’s favorite and most popular varieties is his Rwandan coffee. “It’s a balanced, mild coffee with a good chocolate flavor,” he said. “And it’s got a good aftertaste that’s not bitter.” Moen said Blue Coulee Coffee’s Ethiopian coffee and its winter blend (a mix of coffee beans from Colombia, Papua New Guinea and Sumatra) also have been very popular. “It’s full-flavored,” he said of the winter blend. Moen also will offer seasonal spring, summer and fall blends.
Blue Coulee Coffee’s website has lots of information about its products, and about specialty coffeee in general.
“They all taste different,” Moen said of the coffee beans he uses. “It depends on things like the variety of the bean, the soil, how much rain and sunshine they get, and the elevation. And how the coffee is handled and processed also affects the flavor.”
Moen roasts about three pounds of coffee at a time; each roast takes 10 to 12 minutes. He roasts several batches of coffee on the days he roasts. “And I roast two or three days a week,” he said.
He prints the labels that he puts on the shiny dark blue 12-ounce bags that Blue Coulee Coffee is sold in. The business logo and labels were designed by local graphic artist Daniel Johnson and depict a blue coulee.
From a distance, Moen said, “The valleys around here have a blueish tint to them.” That’s why he and his wife chose the Blue Coulee Coffee name for their business.
“I enjoy everything about this,” Moen said of the couple’s business. “I enjoy researching (online) coffees from around the world, and I enjoy the roasting and the challenge of getting the best out of the coffee beans.”