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Get To Know Ruby Coffee Roasters

Creative, committed, and colorful, this hometown hero has big-time flavor.

by Team Trade | May 23, 2019

Creative, committed, and colorful, this hometown hero has big-time flavor.

With humble beginnings operating from a spare room, Ruby Coffee Roasters is changing the way the world looks at coffee.

Tell us about your community.

Ruby is based in Nelsonville, a town of 192 people in the center of , Wisconsin. Our roastery is right along the Tomorrow River, a beautiful trout stream that also attracts paddlers. The roads nearby are mostly rolling, windy country roads that make for some of the best cycling in the state. Nelsonville has a majestic and historic old mill called the Rising Star Mill, which is a focal point of the community and hosts a variety of arts-focused events throughout the year. Local businesses in Nelsonville include our friends Alchemy Concrete, Tomorrow River Homestead, and Bubba Jay’s Maple Syrup. Nearby are a lot of other small farms that we source ingredients from for our new Stevens Point cafe. Stevens Point is the economic hub of Portage County located about 15 minutes west of Nelsonville and has a population of roughly 25,000.

We love the access to the outdoors that our location provides and we value the abundance of amazing food grown nearby as well. It’s a tight-knit region, and people are very supportive of each other.

How have your surroundings inspired your business?

Ruby opened originally as a wholesale and web-only business by installing a roaster in a spare room of the house that Jared Linzmeier, the founder of Ruby, grew up in. After initial success in that space, it was clear that the production space would have to match demand and a warehouse in the nearby town was purchased and renovated. The surrounding community is very supportive of Ruby, and a small coffee bar was built out at the roastery to meet the demand to serve coffee. That led to Ruby doubling-down and opening a full café in Stevens Point this week. A lot of the products we use are produced locally — maple syrup from next door, milk from a nearby dairy, pastries from the local bakery, produce and meat from nearby farms, but there are also other inspirations too. Being involved in a small community in a rural area intimately connects Ruby to the surrounding landscapes — the roastery is steps from the Tomorrow River and a nature walk forest preserve, which both help inspire our sustainability efforts.

How does Ruby approach sustainability?

Operating a coffee business is hard — a lot of necessary materials are single-use items. Coffee packaging and to-go paper cups, these are hard to avoid in day-to-day operations. We’re pursuing every option we can for alternative packaging, and are searching heavily for truly compostable or recyclable packaging materials. Until we can find those, we’ve been transitioning to biodegradable coffee bags and building programs to reduce paper cup usage in our cafes. We have heavy composting programs at the roastery and the new café as well.

In sourcing coffees for our menu, we approach sustainability a lot of different ways. Many of our coffees are organic (certified or not), which is a conversation that we’ve had with many of our producer partners. Other elements of sustainability are financial, social, etc. The biggest thing we can do to build a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship is to continue to pay high prices even in a down market.

Tell us about your new location.

We found an amazing location near the Wisconsin River in Downtown Stevens Point. Like many small cities, this area once had a mall and was an economic hub of the county. Big box stores opened up in the last 20 years and many businesses closed down in the center of the city. We saw the tides shifting again and jumped at the opportunity to invest in this area to build more momentum. Adjacent to our café is the Green Circle, over 30 miles of mixed surface trail that runs throughout Stevens Point. The library is across the street from us, along with many of the county and city offices and buildings. A lot of exciting and inspiring businesses have been started in the last five years. We’re incredibly excited to be part of this network of awesome people building up the Stevens Point area!

There’s a full coffee bar menu and food program, with as many ingredients sourced locally as possible directly from farms. That might get a little trickier over the winter, but we love the idea that a college professor could sit down at the cafe and be right next to Jay whose maple syrup was in their latté or someone from [White Feather Organics](http://White Feather Organics) who tended the micro-greens in their quiche. It’s a beautiful space, but it’s also designed to be an approachable neighborhood café.

Why the name Ruby?

Jared named the business after his grandma, who lives a few hours further north in rural Wisconsin with one of her sons. He wanted to pay tribute to her, as she was a strong, positive example for him growing up, and he wanted to carry her ethos through to his new business. The name also rolls off the tongue well and is open for interpretation. For some people, it might tie into the idea of the coffees we offer being rare gems, or for others, Ruby could reference the deep hues you see when you hold a cup of brewed coffee up to the light.

Explain the concept of Colorful Coffees.

Colorful Coffees is a way of categorizing our coffees. Generally, it’s a way of trying to present the depth and complexity in the coffees we offer. For people with synesthesia, it might be a more literal connection. We work to develop strong relationships with the producers that we buy coffee from and want to showcase the beautiful and wildly diverse subtleties that every coffee has to offer. It’s a representation of the time, energy, hard work, and care that starts at the farm level.

We also leave this one is up for interpretation: what does colorful coffees mean to you?

What do you look for when sourcing coffees?

We care a great deal about developing relationships with producers whenever we can. As a small roasting operation, we love to feature coffees from small producers and hope that we can make a big impact by paying high premiums for the coffees we source and by translating that to lasting relationships. A lot of our relationships with producers also count on our relationships with small importers and progressive exporters.

A truly amazing coffee we’ll be bringing back this year comes from a Mam Mayan community in rural Guatemala which only speaks the Mam dialect of the Mayan language. Our import partners at Shared Source were able to find translators and help bridge a gap that met the needs of both the ASDELFLOR producer group and Ruby. The ASDELFLOR had been producing amazing coffee, but needed to find a roaster partner who was looking for high-end specialty coffee and could afford to pay premiums for it, and Ruby needed a way to connect to beautiful coffees while being somewhat isolated in Central Wisconsin.

A big thing we look for when sourcing coffees are clear flavor profiles, clean acidity, balance, and structure in the cup, but we feel like there are a lot of coffees in the world that could meet our quality standards, and we’re definitely more excited about finding producer partners who share our environmental goals, social wellness goals, and growth rate. With a lot of our producer partners, we’re growing as a roasting operation similarly to how they’re growing as producers — Finca De Dios managed and owned by the Prentice family is a modern estate, also in Guatemala, that we have strong relationship ties to. As they try new experiments in processing, lot separation, and agronomy, Ruby is there as a roaster partner to support those initiatives, and also help with feedback from the roasting side of the business.

How did you get started roasting?

Ruby was built around Jared’s experience roasting and sourcing coffee for a variety of larger coffee operations. He had the chance to develop his roasting skills with Intelligentsia in Los Angeles over ten years ago, and then revamp the sourcing and roasting program for Caffe Ladro in Seattle after that. Through building relationships, he started to realize that there were a lot of amazing smaller lots of coffees that would end up bulked or blended, and he and his wife Deanna co-founded Ruby by moving back to Central Wisconsin and installing a small Samiac roaster in a spare room of Jared’s childhood home that was originally set up to be a hair salon. Ruby now roasts on a Probat machine that was installed in our production warehouse — all with the goal of sharing amazing coffees that had been overlooked in the past, while consistently working hard as a team to find sweet, balanced, and approachable avenues to complex, subtle, and diverse coffees.

Tell us about your emphasis on microclimates.

As a small roasting operation, it has been amazing to be able to feature small, unique lots from smallholder producers. Coffees from Colombia have been part of Ruby’s backbone from day one, and with such close proximity to the equator and extreme mountain ranges, the microclimates in Colombia allow for coffee ripening to stagger in a way that we don’t normally see within a single geographical region. This year we were able to feature coffee from both Over and Duvan Rivera, who manage small plots on their family’s extreme 2200 m elevation farm. While only hectares apart, these coffees were both strikingly unique and beautiful.

The shifting microclimates in Colombia have allowed us to feature two lots from the Aguacate group this year — an early and later harvest — which helps showcase the amazing work that group has been doing. A main drive of Ruby is to celebrate unique lots of coffee — these colorful coffees, if you will — and those can either be the result of microclimates, soil quality, agronomy, or processing innovations.

What have you found to be the most exciting part of the specialty coffee scene?

Coffee gives us a way to connect. It’s an immediate way to bring people together in our Central Wisconsin community, but it’s also a way to directly make an impact on a farmer’s life in a part of the world we’ve never seen. It’s also a way to help connect at the roastery. There’s always a new coffee being brewed throughout the day, and it gives us a chance to stop quick to taste it and engage with each other. We really want the café to be a way to extend those moments where we get to come together over a cup of coffee with the community around us. We’re really most excited though to be able to pursue these goals with such a strong and tight-knit team, guided by the leadership of Jared and Deanna — all in the spirit of the original Ruby.