At the 2015 SCAA Event, we tasked Sprudge contributor Emily McIntyre with a series of interviews, highlighting coffee professionals from across the United States making their own subtle marks on the nation’s coffee culture. This week, we’ll be bringing you a new interview every day, each one a snapshot of the men and women behind American specialty coffee.  

Natalie Van Dusen, Little Red Wagon Coffee Roasters, Bozeman, Montana

“I’ve always loved coffee,” says Natalie Van Dusen. “I would fill up my parent’s mugs from the auto pot and then help myself to the rest, with tons of milk and sugar…I was seven!” Van Dusen radiates joyous appreciation of life, and, of course, the cherry she first really met on a motorcycle tour of South America. “It was 2008, I was riding my bike through South America, and on a whim I went to visit a small coffee farm in Colombia. It was the most incredible experience I’d ever had. My Spanish was terrible, but the farmer gave us a tour of the farm and the processing, and we roasted coffee on the gas stove in his kitchen—and then we drank it and I thought, ‘I know nothing. This is AMAZING.’ So I bought some green beans from him on the spot, took them back with me to San Francisco, and started roasting in our kitchen. They were still in the parchment paper! We were trying to grind the parchment off before roasting, and it was hilarious. But I started buying small lots of green and roasting at home, and figuring it out.”

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The name, Little Red Wagon Coffee Roasters, is a shameless tribute to Van Dusen’s love affair with kids’ summer camps (it’s the title of a sing-along campfire song). In a former life, Van Dusen was the director for the summer camp she attended every year growing up, and in a fun twist, the daughter of the family who owned the camp became Little Red Wagon’s first employee. The roasting company started in a trailer (“That first winter was HARD. It was cold a lot.”) and just completed its second move into a larger production space. Van Dusen loves to share coffee experience and education with locals and Bozeman visitors, saying “So many are like, what do you mean—a green bean? And I love sharing with them!”

Why Bozeman? “I knew I wanted to do something in coffee, and my husband and I knew we wanted to live in the mountains. We weren’t sure where, so we took off on an 8,000-mile road trip, and when we made it to Bozeman, we fell in love! We also checked out Colorado but we thought there were too many people, so we came back to Bozeman.” It’s a unique city, a hub for outdoor pursuits, and over the years, Van Dusen and her partners have reached a clearer vision on the essence of Little Red Wagon. “I think lately we are really starting to identify that we are about catering to Bozeman’s community of outdoorsmen. Really being able to enable people to live their extraordinary lives without sacrificing their coffee experience. We sell great stuff so people can brew in the back country, and we are even working with disposable pour-overs.”

The creativity inherent in coffee roasting is Van Dusen’s favorite aspect. “All of this came from us just doing what we love, and I’m excited to see where it goes.”

Emily McIntyre is a Sprudge contributor based in Portland, Oregon. Read more Emily McIntyre on Sprudge.

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