Dan and Meg Donohue are passionate about coffee.
Dan will jokingly snap at you, "None of your business!" when you ask him how many cups of coffee he drinks in a day. He loves everything about coffee. He prefers shots of pure freshly drawn espresso to anything more diluted so he can enjoy the full flavors of the bean: lively with fruit, rich like intense dark chocolate, intoxicating, aromatic.
The Donohues started Blue Star Coffee Roasters in Twisp six years ago. Dan had worked for Seattle's Cafe Appassionato and Cafe Vita as a green coffee buyer and roastmaster since the 1990s. Meg had started a couple successful theater management and ticket ordering businesses. When they decided to open their own coffee company they were ready with experience, contacts and a sound business plan.
"Dan is the genius behind the coffee," deferred Meg. Dan traveled throughout the world to find the most flavorful, organic, fair-traded and shade-grown coffees from sustainable farms during his early years in the business. What cranks you up in the morning is a big worldwide business. Coffee, he said, is the second most traded commodity in the world, behind oil. He travels much less now. A small group of contacts representing those farms now send him samples with which he can experiment with to find the perfect roasting methods.
Green coffee beans are roasted in a modified 1963 Probat coffee roaster that can roast up to 50 pounds of coffee at a time in its cast iron drum. Roasting is a precise art. Recipes are closely followed, but a roaster must use his senses of taste and smell to determine perfection because every batch of beans can be different.
"How you bring up the temperature affects the different flavors released by the beans. Even three seconds can be an eternity in coffee roasting," said Dan, who works closely with roaster Sharmarke Yusuf.
"Coffee beans are like wine grapes," Dan said. Great coffee starts with great fruit, he said, but the full array of flavors can only be released by correct handling.
Dan and Meg's favorite part of the job are the mornings when they taste different coffees and refine their recipes and selections.
All of the selecting, roasting, bagging and shipping is done at Blue Star's cafe at 3 Twisp Airport Rd. Customers can watch the whole process through a large window while sipping their latte and morning pastry.
Blue Star sells wholesale coffee to restaurants, espresso stands and stores throughout North Central Washington.One of the joys of moving from Seattle to Twisp is the daily interaction with the public, Dan said.
"This is a good business, but it's also a small town business where I get to see the cross section of the entire community," he said.
This is one of a series of stories Rick Steigmeyer found while traveling the Cascade Loop this summer for a story in Foothills magazine. For more information about the Loop and its many offerings, check out the website cascadeloop.com.