Women takes hobby to new level

Barb Arthur, Osterdock, is shown with the roaster she uses to create her Big Muddy coffee line.

souvenir bag of coffee from Seattle inspired an Osterdock woman to start a new hobby and that hobby has now grown into a full-fledged enterprise.

 Nine years ago, Barb Arthur’s daughter, Ashley, returned from a trip to the Pacific Northwest with a bag of fair trade, organic coffee. Seattle is the birthplace of Starbucks and has a strong coffee culture, so finding good beans for her mom was an easy task. Though she appreciated the gift, Barb wasn’t sure she understood the hoopla surrounding artisanal blends of freshly roasted beans.

 “At the time, I wasn’t into specialty coffees,” she said. “I thought all coffee was pretty much the same. Boy, was I wrong.”

Impressed from the first cup. Barb began researching the process of roasting coffee beans to see if it was something she could do on her own. She was surprised to learn that all she needed to start roasting was something found in most homes: a popcorn popper.

“I ordered some green coffee beans off the Internet, and just went from there,” Barb continued. “I was so amazed at what I could do with just one pound of beans.”

Barb continued roasting in her popcorn popper for several years.  The only change she made to her equipment was the addition of a thermometer to monitor the utensil’s internal temperature, which is a critical component in roasting. The modification was easily accomplished thanks to the handyman skills of her husband, Gary.

Barb made the move to a larger-scale operation about four years ago when she had the chance to buy a used, commercial-sized roaster. She also moved her roasting operation from her basement to her front porch where she can more easily manipulate temperature and humidity levels.

“Here’s the other thing about roasting in the basement,” she said. “The odor came up through the vents leaving the entire house smelling like coffee. Most of the time, that’s OK. But when you’re trying to fall asleep, that smell is like consuming a powerful shot of coffee.”

Roasting is not a time-consuming process. It takes about an hour from the time Barb prepares a batch to the time it’s roasted and cooled. She does about 55 pounds every two weeks.

Research has always been an important part of Barb’s endeavor. Early on she learned there are 30 different origins of beans. She sticks to nine origins, including Columbia, Brazil, El Salvador and Sumatra, a western Indonesia country. Each bean can be roasted at four different levels from light to dark, giving Barb a possible 36 different flavors.

Like wine, coffee has its own sipping notes. Some of the words used to describe a glass of wine are also used to relate the characteristics of a good cup of coffee. Barb talks about aroma, which can be anything from smoky to chocolatey to wine-like; body, which is described with words like light, smooth and creamy; and acidity or brightness, which Barb calls the most misunderstood characteristic of coffee.

Barb’s Big Muddy Coffee is featured at Treats in Elkader and the Picket Fence Cafe in Guttenberg. She also sells it by the bag to coffee aficionados like herself.

“I could grow the business a bit and maybe take on another shop but I don’t know if I want to do that right now,” said Barb. “I really enjoy where the whole thing is at right now.”

By Pam Reinig, Register Editor

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