For Wonderstate Coffee, “Sourcing Coffee for the Collective Good” is what they do. That collective good is to the benefit of the people working hard at the source, all the way to everyone enjoying coffee both from afar and nearby.
"Our roastery is tucked amidst the rolling hills and valleys of the Driftless Region, a rare topographic wonder in the Midwest. Life is a little bit slower here, giving us the opportunity to hike the forests, bike the winding roads, and focus on roasting spectacular coffees. Honoring a connection to place and to the people that define it is at the heart of what we do." Can't make it to Viroqua, Wisconsin? You can still get a taste for this local roaster, here:
How does sustainability shape your brand?
Sustainability is the backbone of our brand. Every decision we make is in some way connected to our motto of “Sourcing Coffee for the Collective Good.” When you think of sustainability you often think about the environmental impacts, and that’s a big part of it, but at Wonderstate we treat sustainability as a holistic concept.
We’re committed to creating a sustainable supply chain in all ways. Environmentally, fair farmer pay, sourcing transparency, and social equity. A truly sustainable future in coffee must be a just and resilient one for everyone along the way. From our efforts to ensure equitable farmer compensation, to supporting regenerative agricultural practice, to packaging our coffee in sustainable packaging, we’re always striving towards this goal.
Tell us about your decision to be a solar-powered roastery.
In 2015 our roastery went 100 percent solar-powered, becoming one of the first coffee roasters in the world to generate all its power from an on-site solar array. Going solar-powered was a big step for our company, but it was just one part of our mission of sustainability.
It sets us apart because it’s an open invitation to question the norm, to question what’s possible. To our peers in the industry, customers and our community it’s an invitation to say “Hey, this is possible!”
Our work of creating a resilient future demands a dedication to challenge the status quo. Going solar at the roastery is one part of the carbon impact of running a coffee business. We also purchase carbon offsets for all of our wholesale shipping, source 95 percent of our coffees from certified organic producers, and use sustainable packaging for our coffees.
Our producers are already feeling the impact of climate change with fluctuations in weather patterns and growing seasons, and climate change exacerbates the spread of plant diseases like La Roya. We work with them to support regenerative agricultural practice through our roaster-owned importing cooperative, Cooperative Coffees, and with other non-profits working at origin.
We like to think our field of solar panels as the tip of the iceberg. It’s the first thing you see when getting to our roastery, but when you look deeper there is much more hiding underneath.
What is Wonderstate's approach to sourcing?
Our sourcing model isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. When we evaluate any coffee and potential partner we look at three measures: taste experience, ethos and practices, and community impact –– the “what,” the “how,” and the “why” of a coffee. Together, this helps us determine the integrity of a coffee. We like to call this approach “sourcing for the collective good.”
It’s a very human and imperfect science, but this organic model allows us to center the voices of the smallholder farmers we partner with and remain nimble — staying open to learning and responding to the ever-changing realities of coffee farming. For us, that's what sourcing for the collective good is.
To get even closer to our farmer partners and participate in a more transparent process, we are also members of Cooperative Coffees, a roaster-owned importing cooperative. By being active participants in the importing process, we’re able to bridge the gap that traditionally exists in the coffee market and bring farmers and roasters to the same table.
We also talk a lot about fair farmer compensation. In fact, on our bags you’ll see “Paying Farmers More.” But what does that mean? While the Fair Trade movement and Direct Trade model have both made meaningful progress in addressing poverty at origin and inequity in the supply chain, both have fallen short. All of our coffees are purchased at an industry-leading minimum price to farmers that’s 80 percent higher than the Fair Trade minimum and 50 percent more than Fair Trade Organic prices.
By investing in long-term producer relationships, seeking out innovative new farmer partnerships, funding community-based development and educational opportunities, and supporting buying models that not only sustain the livelihood of one farmer, but of an agricultural community, we can truly create a sourcing network that benefits the collective good. This is the work of building integrity across communities to create a resilient coffee supply chain.
Tell us about your 5 Percent Giving Program.
Every year we donate 5 percent of our profits to community-based initiatives that support a more equitable and resilient future in the coffee industry and beyond. Many of these groups are in our small communities in rural Wisconsin and in small communities at origin.
At home, we donate to groups like the Valley Stewardship Network who work to protect the land and waters of the beautiful Driftless region of Wisconsn through water quality research, public engagement, and educational outreach programs. At origin we partner with groups like On the Ground who encourage empowerment and equal pay for women in our coffee-growing regions with educational initiatives that help families see that when women prosper, communities prosper.
How does Wonderstate name its blends?
Our blend names are tied to our sense of place in the Driftless region of Wisconsin and to our passions. Driftless Blend, of course, is named after our love for our region. Off-Grid Blend is a nod to our staff who live off-grid, or who try to live as close to off-grid as possible.
If you get off the beaten path you might stumble upon the real Star Valley, which our Star Valley Decaf is named after. If you’re in Wisconsin in the spring and fall you might witness birds overhead migrating on their flyway, hence the name Flyway Blend. Panorama is for the hikers, Big Dipper for the stargazers on our team.
What are you most excited about right now?
The details are under wraps still, but we are working on launching a new year-round blend with a mission-driven focus. Similar to our Organic Project Muungano, we’ll be donating a portion of the profits to a sustainable cause.
Something more tangible: At the end of 2020 we opened a new café in Madison, Wisconsin. This project had been delayed numerous times due to COVID. Getting the doors open felt so amazing and the response from the community has been fantastic. It’s located right on the capitol square. Anyone familiar with Madison knows of the legendary weekly farmers market that has been happening since 1972. We’re very excited to be part of that tradition!
Who is that mascot cicada on your bags?
Who is that mascot cicada? that makes me think we need to name it. Maybe we should :)
The cicada is a funny little bug. In the rural Driftless, we’re driven by the rhythms of the season. The ebb and flow of time. The cicada is the same. It emerges from the ground at a pre-determined time sometimes many years apart. On warm summer nights, their big, ominous hum crescendoing in a chorus sparks a sense of mystery in us. A good cup of coffee isn't so different.
What does your local community mean to you?
We talk a lot about how the terroir of the land our coffee is sourced from shines through in the final cup. In that same way, the terroir of our small tight-knit community shines through in our brand. The rolling hills and the winding rivers are embedded in our blend art and our bag design. Our area is home to many organic farms, a creative food scene, and a vibrant Main Street.
Our café is a community hub for our small town and for the region as a whole. When COVID hit, we feared the worst but the local community doubled down on our shop. Even operating as a to-go café the locals still wanted that spark of connection, that moment of community that only a familiar coffee shop can provide.