All week, we're bringing you stories from Dallas' burgeoning roasting community. See other extended interviews in our coffee archive, or see them all in one place in this week's feature story, "Roasting Dallas."
Every Saturday, Kevin and Mara Sprague get up before the sun and set up their tent, table and coffee equipment at the White Rock Local Market, which rotates between two East Dallas parking lots. They spend the next five hours there, talking to customers, sharing samples, sharing stories about their coffee, all smiles through the wind and rain of spring, the heat of summer, the cool mornings of fall. In the afternoon they break it all down and go home.
This, of course, is all after a seven-day work week spent roasting, bookkeeping and delivering coffee beans around DFW, work the couple does themselves. And yet, they're still standing.
It all started when Marta bought Kevin a home roaster in 2002 for a birthday present. What began as a hobby quickly took over their lives. Soon, vacations revolved around trips to various roasters, and Kevin began reading everything he could about coffee. During the recession, the company they both worked for downsized, and they found themselves unemployed. One night in 2011, sitting on the porch with a beer, it clicked.
"Coffee was already such a huge part of our lives and we thought, Why not just see if we could roast coffee and give ourselves jobs in the process?" Marta says. "We didn't have anything to lose so we decided to go for it." They launched Noble Coyote Coffee Roasters that April.
The Noble Coyote Coffee Roasters logo bears the silhouette of their beloved shelter dog, Zephyr, but their name has very different origins. A coffee coyote is a middleman between coffee farms and destination countries. Many of these farms are small and easily exploited by the middlemen, who often offer unacceptably low payment for beans that are the result of years of hard work and care. "In many ways we are like a coyote or middleman," Marta says. "But we try to make wise choices to support ethical trade and make sure farmers are compensated." Ethical trade is only one of their three goals when choosing beans, along with quality and sustainable growing practices.
The Spragues are particularly interested in direct trade, or purchasing directly from a farm, as a way to achieve all three goals. One of their favorite relationships is with the Casco Family and their Honduran coffee farm. The Spagues met Gerardo Casco when they were visiting friend and mentor Joe Williams of Big Bend Coffee Roasters in Marfa, Texas. A conversation was hatched, beans were tasted, and they have been working with the Casco family ever since.
You can find their weekly coffee offerings at stores like Green Grocer and Jimmy's, shops like State Street Coffee and Café Silvia and, of course, White Rock Local Market, where Noble Coyote got its start three years ago. "Since we don't have a shop, it's great to have a place where people can come and taste all of our coffees and ask questions," Marta says. "We owe a lot to WRLM in terms of connecting to people and beginning to establish wholesale relationships. There is a wonderful familial feeling between the vendors and we have learned so much about the food the other vendors grow and make." One of those original WRLM connections was with Pop Star Handcrafted Popsicles, which now uses Noble Coyote Coffee in one of its popsicles.
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It's one of a handful of partnerships that keeps Noble's product on people's palates and its brand on their brains. You can find their coffee beans in foods at Dude, Sweet Chocolate, The Slow Bone, Carnival Barker's Ice Cream and Lakewood Brewing Company, whose new French Quarter Temptress features Noble-roasted cofee. The beans rested in a spent bourbon barrel for four months before being roasted and added to the beer. Rather than volatilizing during roasting, the bourbon aromatics only intensified, creating the perfect bean for a New Orleans-inspired brew. There is already a new spent bourbon barrel inside the Noble Coyote roasting room, holding beans that will eventually be turned into 2015's offering.
Beyond collaborations, Noble Coyote is always eager to give back to the culinary community. Particularly inspired by the work of Café Momentum, Marta says they "practically attacked" Chad Houser one morning at the market to let him know they wanted to find a way to help out the organization. The result was a special Café Momentum Blend chosen by Houser and several other chefs and board members, with proceeds going to Café Momentum, and with Spragues on hand to serve at dinners and Housers forthcoming restaurant.
As if all this isn't enough, Noble Coyote will soon move its roasting operation to Expo Park. Though the emphasis will remain on roasting, the Sprague's want to expand their availability to talk with people beyond Saturday mornings about their labor of love.
"We really want people to enjoy our coffee and would love for it to open up the realization that there is a lot of thought that goes into every cup of coffee, including sourcing and choosing the roast that we want to put out there," Marta says. "Also to know that without the backbreaking work of farmers and pickers we wouldn't have coffee at all. That is a lot to come out of a cup of coffee I know, but we love being a part of connecting people with the whole process."