November 2021: Five Good Minutes with Wonderstate Coffee | Viroqua, Wisconsin
Wonderstate has examined every inch of the coffee supply chain, and they start each day asking themselves, "how can we make this better?". Frankly, we were pretty enchanted with their story, and wish we could have spent hours diving deeper into so many areas.
Please enjoy our interview with co-founder and Director of Coffee, Caleb Nicholes.
Better Grounds: In 2021, you’re committed to paying 55% above Fair Trade Organic prices. 55 percent! Can you talk about why it’s so important to go above and beyond in this area?
Caleb Nicholes: The bottom line is that many coffee producers don’t make enough money to cover production costs. It seems vastly unfair to enjoy some of the best coffee the world has to offer without paying a fair price to the farmer who produced it. Adequate pay also paves the way for more sustainable farming practices, helping to protect the future of coffee.
BG: Your logo is, in a word, cool! Would love to know the inspiration and any thoughts on designing it, etc.
CN: The team working on our rebrand was kicking around a lot of different ideas for logos. We honed in on natural elements, particularly animals. We played around with a few animal ideas, but nothing felt quite right. Someone on the team suggested an insect, and the group all resonated with that--we'd liked the idea of using something small that might normally go unnoticed as a logo. When the idea of a cicada came up, we all lit up. They are emblematic of the Midwest in our minds, and they have such a wondrous, odd sound that they make. When we learned they are also a symbol of renewal we knew we had landed on the right bug. As for the design, we worked with Jolby and Friends on our redesign. We loved the kind of funky, odd quality of this cicada.
BG: The Midwestern ethos is something you talk about on your packaging and in your story. What is that Midwestern spirit and what does it mean to Wonderstate?
CN: The Midwest is full of towns that are small and unexpected. Within these small microcosms, there exists vibrant people with a deep appreciation for the ground beneath their feet. Wonderstate feels very much at home in Viroqua, Wisconsin, where we roast coffee in between biking, canoeing, fishing and cross-country skiing right in our backyard.
BG: What’s the single best coffee you’ve ever had? Don’t skimp on the details :)
CN: It's hard to pick a favorite. Today I am going to answer this one by saying it is a coffee from Eudis Taipe, from the San Fernando Cooperative in Incahuasi, Peru. Eudis renovated his small, 2 Hectare farm, 5-6 years ago and planted a rare, local bourbon variety as well as gesha onto his farm, La Manda. His attention to detail processing these unique varieties paired with some insanely high altitude, 2200-2300 Meters, has produced one of the most dynamic and floral coffees I have ever tasted. He produced just 5 bags of it this year and it will be hitting our menu this winter.
BG: Best coffee experience you’ve ever had? Whether at a roaster, drinking a cup at a coffee shop, on a sourcing trip, etc.
CN: I remember vividly the first time I tasted a gesha. It was at a Chicago Intelligentsia and was brewed by Michael Phillips at the Broadway location. Of course it was from the iconic La Esmeralda farm in Panama. I remember it tasting like 7Up with a spritz of white flowers. So amazing.
BG: One of your 9 pillars is climate resilience, and you mention that you set up a system that tracks your carbon impact. How does that system work?
CN: We had the good fortune of being helped through this process by a non-profit called Taking Root. The importing cooperative that we are members of, Cooperative Coffees, has a strong commitment to climate resilience, and they ask all their roaster-members to go through a carbon tracking process in order to estimate what the average carbon impact is for every pound of roasted coffee. The model that was introduced to us and that we've continued to use each year calculates the impact of various factors and takes into account shipping green coffee, employee commutes, energy consumption, any travel our team members do for work (hotel stays included), and the shipment of our product to end users.
BG: What’s the next frontier of coffee? Clearly, Wonderstate is a group that’s very plugged in on the goings on in the coffee industry. What should we be keeping an eye out for - whether that’s from Wonderstate specifically, or the industry in general?
CN: Hopefully the next frontier of coffee is that the specialty coffee industry, Wonderstate included, can somehow figure out how to pay decent prices to coffee farmers. Sadly, the tremendous amount of work it takes to grow and process specialty coffee remains grossly undervalued and undercompensated.
Favorite band? Mulatu Astatke
Favorite album? Ethiopiques #4 1967-1974
Favorite hike in or around Viroqua? Blackhawk Rock
Bucket list travel destination? Oaxaca City, Mexico
Favorite book? The Ground Beneath Her Feet, Salman Rushdie
If you weren’t running Wonderstate, what are you doing? Being a full-time dad