HARBERT — Red Arrow Roasters owner Jessica Nance has a supply of specialty coffee beans and a high-end roaster in her production (and recently retail) space located at 13933 Red Arrow Highway in Harbert.
“It doesn’t get better than that,” she said.
Nance said she started as a wholesale coffee roaster by working directly with small businesses. The Whistle Stop Grocery in Union Pier was her first customer in November of 2017, and she developed an exclusive coffee for them and other clients going forward.
“You can only get Ragamuffin’s Organic Mexican down in South Bend at that location. You can only get Whistle Stop’s Sweet Blue at Whistle Stop,” she said.
Red Arrow Roasters’ wholesale customers include: Luisa’s Cafe - Harbert; Whistle Stop Grocery - Union Pier; Black + Blue Farms - Sawyer; Viola Cafe - Three Oaks; The Phoenix Coffeeshop - Benton Harbor; Houndstooth Restaurant - Benton Harbor; Rare Bird Preserve - Oaks Park, Ill.; and Ragamuffin Bakery & Coffee - South Bend, Ind.
Nance said the pop-up retail endeavor at 13933 Red Arrow Highway in Harbert began as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“My wholesale customers were shutting down or slowing down. It was an avenue for me to stay alive and work directly with the customers,” she said.
While her overarching goal has been to help people in the community build up small businesses, Nance said, “It’s great to have people … who can walk over here and get a cup of coffee.”
Nance works with Clara Fasciglione and her mom, Mary Lou Nance.
The walk-up window (there also is outdoor seating) is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The menu on July 17 included: hot coffee of the day; iced tea (Piper and Leaf artisan blends); cold brew (African blend bottled to take home); iced cafe or chai au lait (served over ice); iced blended treats (coffee, chocolate or chai tea blended into a smooth, creamy iced frappé); fresh roasted coffee for $15 a pound (whole bean or ground) in — Kenya light roast; Rwanda medium roast; Brazil (natural) medium; Red Arrow Roasters morning blend; Colombia dark roast; Zambia dark roast; Red Arrow Roasters Blend dark roast; Swiss Water Decaf.
Nance said the cold brew that has a Kenyan roast coffee is its base (and is used to create chai au lait and iced blended treats) has been a pleasant surprise this summer. She also has been happy with the products from the Piper and Leaf artisan tea company out of Alabama.
The Sawyer resident started out renting time on a roaster — first in South Bend and then in Muskegon before the the spring of 2019 when she felt ready to invest in her own machine — a Diedrich drum roaster, fueled by natural gas, that is the heart of the current 400-square-foot Red Arrow Roasters operation in Harbert.
“It’s basically like a grill … There are burners under the grill,” Nance said. “It has a pilot light and it has burners that you flip on and it heats that steel drum. You have conduction and you have convection that are … cooking your (coffee) beans.”
She said the “green” coffee beans start out as two-part pits in cherry-like fruits that are hand-picked off trees and processed to be exported.
“They go from green to shades of yellow to then shades of brown, and it’s really how hot you take your temperature that determines how hot your coffee is.”
The machine also has a cooling area from which the beans are dispensed into bags. It can roast batches as small as five pounds (5 kilograms is the upper limit).
Once pre-heated Nance said it takes between 12 and 15 minutes to roast a batch (about 20 minutes with the cool-down period included).
Nance said she has been developing direct trades with exporters or the farmers themselves for single-origin coffees (all of the beans are from the same source).
“I’m waiting for a crop from Nicaragua, and I’m really excited about a group of Costa Rican farmers that I’m working with (she currently has four large bags from Cafe Conamor and Farmer’s Projects).
The neighboring Silly Sausage cart returned on the weekend beginning July 24.