Sometimes you plan for things in life, and sometimes you get thrown into the deep end, head first. Such is the story of Goshen Coffee in Edwardsville, Illinois, a small town located across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, Missouri.
Every morning for eight years, entrepreneur Jay Beard was at the door of 222 Artisan Bakery in Edwardsville for his morning cup of Goshen Coffee. When he found out Goshen’s founder Matt Herren was ready to close up shop and move away, his morning ritual was on the cusp of disappearing. Instead of finding another cup of coffee to drink, Beard bought the company.
“I didn’t know much about coffee other than I loved this product,” he says. “It was started from right there and not wanting it to go away for selfish reasons.”
As Beard retooled his newly acquired passion project, Argus Keppel was hired as an apprentice roaster in August 2012 after “a solid year” of sniffing around the project, asking Herren questions. Herren worked with Keppel, a former prep cook and barista at Goshen wholesale client Foundation Grounds, for 27 days on the ins and outs of Goshen’s custom air roaster. Just as quickly as Keppel started roasting, he soon found himself steering the ship. “(Herren) told us that Thursday that he had sold his house and would be moving to Iowa,” Keppel says. “Monday came around, and it was just Jay and I and this roaster.”
Twelve-hour days ensued, with Keppel roasting, bagging and delivering all the coffees. He devoured as much coffee information on the Internet and as many coffee books as possible to get up to speed on roasting. “Honestly, it was so brutal,” Keppel says. “Because I have so many questions and he was not around to entertain any of them. It wasn’t like he moved and said, ‘Here’s my phone number,’ it was like, he moved and that’s just flat it. So there was no getting a hold of him.”
Initial cuppings told Keppel that all of Goshen’s coffees tasted the same due to a dark roast profile. As Keppel’s knowledge increased, Goshen’s coffee began to transform. The heavier, darker roasts began to lighten up. Goshen was now straddling the line between a more classic roast profile and something more contemporary, even Third Wave. The company adheres to a 100% organic motto with both their original collection of coffees, referred to as their “grocery lineup,” and the recently added Secret Stash, a single-origin line heavy on natural processed beans. “I didn’t understand how this coffee had so much fruit notes,” Keppel recalls about his first natural coffee experience. “I thought somebody had put syrup in it. I love naturals. That’s why we have a lot. I gravitate towards those naturals and just want to recreate that moment that I had, I want other people to experience that… because they totally opened up my eyes, to like what coffee flavor can be.”
Originally doing their business through wholesale clients, Goshen recently added a place where people can experience their coffee direct from Goshen employees, and some beer too. St. Louis’ 4 Hands Brewery, who features Goshen’s Bona Fide Blend in their Bona Fide Imperial Stout, hosts a tasting room inside the brewery. Goshen’s micro cafe concept originally started as a series of pop-ups, but now it’s a permanent part of the 4 Hands brewery tasting room, with Goshen’s Secret Stash collection offered as part of a condensed menu.
After getting thrown in to the deep end in those early days, today Goshen coffee is a thriving small business; indeed, they may soon outgrow their Edwardsville roasting facility. St. Louis accounts for 80% of Goshen’s business; “In 2013, we did 53,000 pounds of coffee,” Keppel tells me, “and in 2014, we did 76,000 pounds of coffee. So that is a huge turn up, 20,000 pounds in a year, and if that keeps going up we definitely going to have to move.”
You come away with an origin story like this one knowing yourself a little better, I suspect. “I know my limitations,” Beard says. “All I’m trying to do is make sure that this place can stay sustainable, and can keep doing its best.”
Evan C. Jones is a Sprudge.com contributor based in St. Louis. Read more Evan C. Jones on Sprudge.