Barista Hannah Bogard throws a cup and a half of beans into the grinder. She holds a personal pizza-sized filter up to the spout and waits about thirty seconds while the grounds pour out. She slams the side of the grinder to get every last bit. “The flavored coffee sticks,” she says. She puts the filter into the orange handled tray marked ‘flavor’ and sticks it in the Bunn coffee brewer. A slightly sweet aroma wafts from the steaming pot. Bogard is making a fresh batch of Moonlight — Kalamazoo Coffee Co.’s maple walnut blend.
Last week, Kalamazoo Coffee Co. replaced Water Street in the Book Club. Manager Kelly Kribs thinks the transition went really smoothly. “We haven’t gotten any complaints, which is rare,” Bogard agrees.
“I love it,” Vishakha Choudhary ’17 says about the changeover. “This is so different,” she says, moving her hand over the six pots, car wash-style. “I know Water Street had French Roast, but [Kalamazoo Coffee Co.] has flavors.” She loads up an iced Sumatra with half&half, a dash of vanilla powder and two packets of Sweet and Low. An avid coffee drinker, Choudhary usually gets the Crème Brulee. “I’m a flavored coffee person,” she says.
K students are excited about options like Moonlight, with hints of maple, hickory and walnuts. “The flavored coffee has become really popular,” Kribs says.
To achieve that popularity, Kalamazoo Coffee Co. has done a lot of flavor experimentation and countless taste tests. Owner Darren Bain describes the complexities in achieving just the right flavor. “For a huge amount of beans, you use about this much flavor,” he says, stretching his thumb and middle finger to indicate about a cup. For each broad flavor category, cherry for example – one of the hardest to get right because of our associations with medicine – Bain says there are 2-20 individual flavor options he can choose from (the list includes ‘Cherry Flavor,’ ‘Fresh Cherry Crème,’ ‘Cupid’s Cherry Crumble,’ ‘Chocolate Cherry Cordial,’ and ‘Cherry Vanilla’). They play around with different flavors, making batch after batch. “You have to test it and test it and test it,” he said.
While the beans are still hot from roasting, flavoring oil and nuts are mixed in, adding flavor dimension and perhaps distinguishing the blends from more synthetic tasting flavored coffee. Bain is looking for subtlety; he wants to attain “a really nice coffee, plus that extra flavor.”
Even students who prefer unflavored coffee are happy with the new options. “I can actually tell the difference between the different roasts,” Josh Foley ‘16, says, “which I didn’t feel like I could before.”
“I drink coffee black,” Willina Cain ‘16 says, “Since the change, I can finish a whole cup.” She likes having more medium roast options – “it’s the happy medium between light roast and dark roast, middle amount of caffeine, middle amount of bitterness and sweetness…”
Shannon Haupt ‘16, an avid coffee drinker, is also happy about the switch. The Backpacker Blend is her go to, though she likes a light roast like Bambino for her early morning cup. It’s not just the taste of the coffee that Haupt appreciates. “I think they’re really clever, and the Black Owl downtown is really cool,” she says, “It’s the whole package.”
Professor Amy Newday, former coffee-drinker, now black tea junkie, is happy with the new tea selection. She likes the Tangerine Ginger and English Breakfast, though she liked the Water Street teas just as well.
I asked Bain if this has happened before, if he’s replaced Water Street at other accounts. He said that making enemies was the last thing he wanted to do in going into business. “We’ve never gone out looking to get an existing Water Street account,” he says, “Ever.” They offer different products at more affordable rates.
The Book Club sells Kalamazoo Coffee Co.’s whole beans by the pound; $10.99 for a 12oz bag. It’s about three dollars cheaper than the Water Street blends they sold before.
“If it’s cheaper and good quality, then that’s a good thing,” says Luke Winship ’15, coffee drinker by necessity.