Posts Tagged: aryn henning nichols

Kick It Up With Kickapoo Coffee

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By Aryn Henning Nichols
Originally published in the Feb/March 2010 Inspire(d) Magazine

The room is literally abuzz. If caffeine were palpable, you could carve your initials in the air at Kickapoo Coffee headquarters in Viroqua, Wisconsin. Cups line a shelf, half-filled, grounds stuck to the lip after a morning cupping session.

Caleb Nicholes and TJ Semanchin, co-owners of Kickapoo Coffee along with Denise Semanchin, are busy tasting espresso. A basket (or gruppa) of ground espresso beans is thrust under my nose, “Smell like blueberries?” Caleb asks. He moves on like a mad scientist, working quickly and making plenty of noise as he grinds, whirs, and thwacks the various tools it takes to make the perfect cup of coffee. Oh, that elusive perfect cup.

 

“We totally geek out on coffee,” says TJ. “The other day we used the same type of beans, brewed the same way, but with three different kinds of water. And the coffees were all completely different from each other.”

Therein lies the most difficult aspect of the Kickapoo crew’s – and any other coffee roasters’ – trade. The bean is merely an ingredient to be properly prepared, like asparagus or sweet corn. It’s sometimes compared to the nuances of wine grapes: the origin of the bean, growing and cultivation practices, and ways it’s dried, stored, and roasted are all of utmost importance. Every coffee-producing region makes a different tasting bean and every roaster processes it in its own unique way. But the finished product, the cup, is not up to any of this. It’s up to the barista or the mere at-home-coffee-drinker to heat the (right) water correctly, grind the beans to the perfect consistency, and steep it not too long, but not too short. It’s not bottled and corked with an “open on” plan.

“You send the coffee out and trust that the consumer will prepare it properly,” TJ says. “There are so many variables.”

But Kickapoo closely controls the variables on their end to help you start with the very best ingredient. That begins for these roasters with a melding of Fair Trade AND great-tasting beans. And they’re quick to note these things are not always synonymous, although they’re striving to make it more so.

“The Fair Trade price is just the floor – it only covers the cost of farming,” TJ explains. “We want to do better than that, treat the farmers better, and we want to help them learn that if they put a little more work into the quality of their beans it will really pay off.”

They became owner-members of Cooperative Coffees to help further this cause. A fair trade importing business owned by 23 like-minded roasters, Cooperative Coffees sets the bar higher for the fair trade world. According to the Kickapoo website, the Coop’s pricing minimum is 10 cents above fair trade standards at $1.61. (“A price that in practice we routinely exceed,” Kickapoo says.) They also offer farmer-partners pre-harvest financing. Kickapoo imports more than 80 percent of their coffees through this avenue.

As Kickapoo and the other Cooperative Coffee partners grow in popularity, it’s the hope that consumers will realize these beans are not just good politics, but are the best-tasting as well.

“It’s about getting those two things to combine and cross. It’s at the core of what we do,” TJ says. “And we do it for our own sake too – we love to drink a good cup of coffee.”

This commitment has helped get their business buzzing (pun intended). Kickapoo Coffee was named 2010 Micro Roaster of the Year by Portland-based magazine, Roast, and has received favorable nods from Consumer Reports and Coffee Review. In just over four years since their first roast in November of 2005, they’ve grown Kickapoo to produce 1700 pounds of coffee each week – and last year they even saw a profit: no small feat for any new business. It seemed that fate led them all to the tiny Wisconsin town of 4,400 people.

With Organic Valley headquartered in La Farge, Wisconsin, just 15 miles from Viroqua, many locals were knowledgeable about what they put in their bodies and where it came from. TJ, originally from Buffalo, New York, came to know Viroqua through his work with Minneapolis-based roaster Peace Coffee, where he pushed for social change in the industry for years, spurred on by his travels in Latin America that focused on sustainable development. He was convinced that fair trade, organic coffee farming could change the face of rural Latin America. When he and his wife, Denise, were planning on expanding their family, they also planned on a move.

“I didn’t see myself in a city long term. Viroqua was on the radar for a long time,” says TJ. “It’s a hotbed for organic farming. We planned to move here and start our own roastery.”

Unfortunately – or so it seemed – someone had “beaten them to the punch.”

Caleb had begun Kickapoo Coffee with his sister, Haley Ashley, after having roasted coffee at home for the past five years. Originally from the West Coast – Oregon and then Idaho – Caleb has spent most of his life dedicated to food and drink, including three years as a boutique European wine importer. This work took him all over Europe, but it was family that brought him to Southwest Wisconsin.

When TJ decided to introduce himself to the new Kickapoo Coffee roasters, it appeared Caleb’s talented palette was a perfect match for TJ’s years of experience.

“I knew right away we could work well together, so I asked if they wanted to join forces,” TJ says. It turned out there was nothing unfortunate about the combined Kickapoo team. They all bring various talents to the table: Caleb is the head roaster, in charge of roast profiles. Denise, currently taking a leave to be a stay-at-home-mom, maintains marketing and outreach. Hallie is the office manager, doing much of the business-end/paperwork-side of things, and TJ is a self-proclaimed “Jack of All Trades,” being able to pinch hit in any of the positions should it be needed.

“No one’s really sure what exactly I do around here,” he says, joking.

The roastery is housed in Viroqua’s old train depot, a formerly vacant historic building that Kickapoo restored. The restoration process, like their business, was focused on sustainability. They reclaimed studs, salvaged trim and wainscoting, installed efficient heating and recycled insulation, and sourced local carpenters for their custom storage bins and cabinets.

The result is a bright, warm space that has a comforting feel and retro appeal. The vintage 1930s German roaster (that even runs on handmade Amish belts!) and complementary mint-green vintage canner help this aesthetic along, and the sustainable good looks continue with their packaging: reusable, recyclable steel cans containing 80 percent post-consumer recycled steel that bear the artwork of Viroqua-based woodcut artist. And their one and five-pound coffee bags are biodegradable.

(UPDATE: Kickapoo has moved on up! Their new (and gorgeous) headquarters are located at 1201 N. Main St., Suite 10, Viroqua. They host public cupping events regularly, so like them on Facebook to get the next one on your calendar!)

Although they ship coffee all over the county, they’ve also gained local popularity. The bulk of their beans is hand-delivered or shipped within a 200-mile radius.

These smart business practices don’t stop with their roastery; they also strive for a sustainable home life, working just four-day weeks so they can spend time with family.

“It’s kept us really efficient,” TJ says. “I don’t think we’d get any more work done even if we spread it out over five-days.”

Of course, it makes sense. Family values fit right in with the laudable vision that has made Kickapoo Coffee what it is.

“We’ve been very clear about what we set out to do,” says TJ. “Having and staying true to that vision makes it easy to make decisions in our business. We know what the right thing to do is before the question is even asked.”

Find lots of great information about coffee, Fair Trade, Kickapoo and more at www.kickapoocoffee.com

Aryn Henning Nichols spent many mornings attempting to achieve the perfect cup of coffee after this interview. She was successful about half the time. Must be something in the water…

Where to get Kickapoo Coffee in the Driftless Region:
Decorah: Oneota Community Co-op, Magpie Coffeehouse
Winona: Mugby Junction Café, Bluff Country Co-op
La Crosse: Pearl Street, People’s Food Co-op, Root Note, Sip & Surf
Viroqua: Chilito Lindo, Driftless Fair Traders, Harmony Valley Farm CSA, OZone, Viroqua Family Market, Viroqua Food Co-op

Below is a run-down on the best brewing and storing practices, directly from the coffee masters themselves (see more info at www.kickapoocoffee.com).

Brewing is a critical aspect of making great coffee. It is extremely important to follow a few basic guidelines related to water quality, temperature, equipment and grinding. Below is a list of general coffee brewing principles. For more specific brewing recommendations, please click on one of the brewing icons.

WATER
Excellent coffee requires excellent water ­– there’s no way around it. Do not use distilled water; instead use filtered water, spring water, or Artesian well water. Minerals are important for coffee flavor so reverse osmosis water, while filtered, will not yield optimum results.

TEMPERATURE
Coffee tastes best when brewed between 195 and 205 degrees Fahrenheit. Most drip coffee makers don’t quite hit this temperature. You can achieve this range on your stove by bringing water to a boil and letting it rest for a minute or two. Do not use boiling water – it will cook the nuances out of the beans.

 GRIND
For best results, we recommend a burr grinder because it produces a much more consistent grind (though a blade grinder is still preferable to pre-ground coffee). As a general rule, coffee should be ground finer for quick extractions like espresso, medium for the auto-drip method and coarser for slower extractions like the French press. Measure your coffee first before putting it into the grinder and only grind as much as you need per brew. Once the coffee is ground, its flavor will immediately begin to deteriorate.

 STRENGTH
A general rule of thumb is 2 rounded tablespoons, or 8 to 10 grams, per 6 ounces of water. If you like a weaker or stronger cup, adjust the amount of coffee you use, not the grind of your coffee. A grind that is too fine under a long extraction period will taste bitter and over-extracted, while a grind that is too coarse will taste weak and diluted. Remember that the full expression of the coffee will become most evident as the coffee reaches lukewarm temps, so drink slowly and appreciate your brew as it cools off. If it is too strong, or too weak, this is when you will taste it most.

 STORAGE
Coffee should be stored in a dark, cool, dry place (like a kitchen cupboard). Our coffee cans are ideal storage vessels so feel free to use them throughout the season. The only time storing coffee in a freezer is appropriate is when you have more than a few weeks’ supply. If you do use the freezer make sure to put the coffee in an airtight container.

How to Make a Paper Bird!

A Paper Project by Inspire(d) Media/Aryn Henning Nichols

These paper chicks are a fun spring project for the young and young-at-heart!

Supplies:
Construction paper or card stock in whatever colors you want for body, beak, and eyes (scraps work well, but make sure you have at least one piece that is 10-11 inches long)
Glue stick
Scissors
Sharpie or black pen or marker
Ruler
Pencil
Toilet paper roll or other similarly round object (for tracing)

1. Mark an inch-wide strip along the long side of the paper with your pencil. Cut. Repeat to get a second strip.

2. To create the body, roll first strip and glue at the bottom, leaving roughly three inches at end for start of tail.

3. Cut second strip in half. Roll and glue at bottom to create head.

4. Glue head to body…you can position further up the body so the chick is looking up, or down if you’d like it to be pecking the ground!

5. Mark a 2-inch by 3/4-inch strip on your beak paper (mine’s traditional orange, but do what you want to make it your own!). Cut.

6. Fold your cut piece in half and trim the corners, making the middle attached part the small side.

7. Fold in the bottom sides so there is a little lip to attach glue.

8. Glue the beak to the head wherever you’d like the beak positioned. Little fingers are handy here – I find securing the bottom, then the top is easiest.

9. Cut the remaining half strip of paper (mine’s yellow) in half again. Then cut in “feathers” – just snip your scissors into the strip multiple times, the long way, leaving some space for glue at one end. Snip into the bird’s current tail as well.

10. Glue feathers to tail and then curl with your pencil (if desired).

11. Use something circular to draw a circle on your paper for the wings (I used a candle holder, but a spice jar or toilet paper roll would work well). Cut out, then cut in half.

12. Like the tail feathers, snip your scissors into the rounded sides to create wing “feathers”. Fluff up if you’d like.

13. Glue, slightly overlapping, to the body.

14. Cut two small circle for eyes (I used white paper, but you can certainly have colored eyes!). The Sharpie works well to trace. Cut out, then mark the pupil (black part) with a marker or pen.

15. Glue eyes to body, and then you’re done! Happy Spring! If you’d like to share a photo of YOUR spring chick, please tag @Inspire(d) Media on Facebook (and like us at facebook.com/iloveinspired). Thanks for making our Spring 2012 Paper Project!

Repurposeful: Recycling in Winneshiek County

 

Terry Buenzow

Terry Buenzow

 

By Aryn Henning Nichols

He’s been called the Willy Wonka of recycling. Terry Buenzow walks around the Winneshiek County Recycling Center pointing at different contraptions that squeeze, shrink, shred, and generally squish all sorts of recyclable materials. With a friendly, teaching sort of voice, he talks over the clang of cans and the whir of forklifts, explaining the path of the cardboard box or number one plastic ­– “You’re wearing number one right there. Polyester!” He names off numbers and details on each item like he’s listing off grandchildren; this guy really loves recycling.

For nearly a decade, Buenzow has been watching the paper/plastic/metal/textile/glass market to analyze what’s going to happen in the recycling world and how to most effectively and efficiently put items we no longer need or want back into use or back on our shelves. Since the Winneshiek County Recycling Center (WCRC) became a public facility on April 1, 2009, interest in the center has increased dramatically. People are stopping out to drop off items, learn a little (or a lot) or to just say hello.

“Our direct traffic out here since April 1 has tripled,” Buenzow says. “A lot of people in this county feel some ownership now. Which is good. That’s the kind of attitude you want in this business.”

Perhaps it’s this attitude that makes the area’s recycling so consistently high quality.

“People in this county are really great about recycling. Things are clean and there is very little public dumping,” Buenzow says. “As far as the recycling jobs in Iowa, I got the best one. This is it. I don’t complain.”

Other counties have a harder time, especially with appliances, and when it’s $15 a pop for disposal, this can really add up. “We are fortunate we don’t have to deal with that very much,” Buenzow says.

That being said, Buenzow has seen some interesting items come into the center over the course of his time there.

“You name it, I’ve seen it in here,” he says.

Barbie dolls?

“Tons of ‘em.” (FYI: you CAN’T recycle Barbie dolls – take them to a second hand store for reuse.)

Toilets?

“I’ve seen a toilet come in here,” Buenzow says. “But they’re hard to fit in the bins anymore ‘cause we made the openings smaller.”

The things they do accept have a varied life. Each state has its own recycling policies, Buezow says, and most centers are county-run. The different materials go to manufacturers across the US and Canada, and it is an ever changing market. The sale of recyclable plastic, for instance, is entirely tied to the natural gas market. The type of paper you’ve got in a bale can more than double its worth. Textiles can go to another country for reuse or cut up to be repurposed. It’s an amazing world of working with what you’ve got – something people seem to be relearning these days.

Luckily, the path can be pretty short for recyclables in Northeast Iowa. There are many manufacturers just a short truck route away. International Paper in Cedar Rapids. the largest cardboard recycling mill in the country, second in the world, is just 90 miles away.

“I’ll have a dedicated semi-load of cardboard in six days, same with paper,” Buenzow says. “Most likely it will go to Cedar Rapids, and it can be there in just a couple of hours.”

Check out Inspire(d)’s illustration of sample paths many of the things you put in those bright blue bins might take. Buenzow says that although people around here are educated about recycling, the center could accept even more materials. He hopes his latest education efforts – like entering the social networking world by putting WCRC on Facebook – will help people learn even more and in turn recycle even more. Check them out to learn more about recycling or how your tax dollars are being spent. Or stop out and say hi. Better yet, volunteer to help and really take ownership of this publicly funded organization.

“It’s great if you want some therapy – just come out and smash or shred stuff,” Buenzow says, (after signing a liability form, of course, he adds). “Junk is fun!”

Aryn Henning Nichols was excited to win the golden ticket and visit Terry Buenzow and the Recycling Factory.

Winneshiek County Recycling Center, 2510 172nd Avenue, Decorah, IA, 52101
563-382-6514

Find Winneshiek County Recycling on Facebook – there’s lots more information and even guides on how to prepare your recycled materials!

Below is some information Inspire(d) got on recycling in Winneshiek County while visiting Terry Buenzow.

Cardboard: Most of the WCRC cardboard heads to Cedar Rapids International Paper, the largest cardboard recycling mill in the country. “The cardboard industry thrives on recycled content. The International Paper mill is running totally recycled,” Buenzow says. Do accept: Basic brown corrugated boxes, cereal, cracker and cake boxes, 12-pack cartons and pizza boxes, shoe boxes and mailing tubes. Do not accept: Waxy containers like butter boxes and orange juice cartons. $65/ton

Paper: Paper comes in different grades – office paper, newsprint, mixed waste (the “I can do no wrong” paper) – the price range for paper starts at  $25/ton and runs up to $250/ton (that’s for sorted white, ledger). It might go to some tissue mills in Wisconsin or a newsprint mill in Ontario. “Our first choice is always to make a similar product.”
# 8 News – needs to be 80% newsprint – this is worth around $35 to $40/ton
Office paper – traditionally strong $165/ton at least – pure white $250/ton
And yes, you CAN recycle magazines! If you’ve passed Inspire(d) on and on and on and don’t want to save it for your “collection,” recycle it!
Things you might not know about paper recycling: don’t worry about staples or little plastic windows. Paper plates? Not recyclable, sorry.

Plastic –  #1 & 2 hold the best market value. The price of plastic is tied entirely to the price of natural gas. “Plastics are the most complicated and confusing of all the materials we take. We have to sort the plastics by their number at the recycling center because the different types are not compatible with each other when they are re-melted at a plastic processor.”
#1 – pop bottles, water bottles, etc.– might go to a place like Mowawk Carpets in Georgia Makes good carpet, fabrics, fleece blankets, etc. It’s a very strong plastic. “The power of number 1 plastic is unbelievable.” Over the past six months #1 has been worth from $120 – $175/ton.
#2 – milk jugs – can get 15,000 pounds in one bale. It squishes better. It can be made into pails, toys, car parts, or construction materials. The rest of the numbers (3-7) go into waste reduction bales along with enough 1 and 2 to make them at attractive on the market. The bales are sold to a variety of plastic processors.

Aluminum/Tin/Metal – “Metal items are some of the easiest products to recycle. In fact, almost all of them have some recycled content. The basic tin can may end up being part of a new car or made into a can again. Aluminum beverage cans usually become new beverage cans or foil. Aluminum frying pans and cookie sheets can become about any other aluminum product there is.” Some goes to processor in Eau Clair, WI, to make steel siding – you can buy that siding at Menard’s – and a lot of other metals go to Le Roy Iron.
Do accept: Food cans (the basic “tin” can), beer cans and pop cans, aluminum foil (they have an aluminum foil cubing machine), pie plates and roaster pans, metal cookware, such as frying pans, cookie sheets, sauce pans, etc., decorative canisters and tins, electric motors, electrical cords and wall chargers. Metal prices can range from $30/ton to quite a bit more for

Textiles and shoes: Take your used clothing and shoes to the Depot Outlet in Decorah (or another second hand store in your town). WCRC works closely with the Depot. What they can’t sell goes to WCRC for baling or sorting and selling. Textile bales may go some place like Toronto for resale “What’s not fashionable here might be there.”

Glass: “It’s really hard to work with,” Buenzow says. “That’s why there isn’t a market for it.” It’s not a favorite topic at recycling centers. That being said, you may take glass directly to WCRC. It will be crushed and used for landfill drainage at the Winneshiek County Sanitary Landfill. Best option? Be conscious of glass packaging you do buy. Choose plastic if possible.