hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


News April 2016


Rural roasters

Quest for the perfect cup of coffee leads to a family business


Joan K. Lentini photo, Sheely and Alan Monder of Lucy Jo's Coffee RoastersBy STACEY MORRIS
Contributing writer


When Shelley and Alan Monder began roasting their own coffee nearly a decade ago, they were merely trying to satisfy their craving for a quality cup of java.
“We were able to roast coffee that tasted so much better than anything we could buy at the supermarkets, and Shelley and I enjoyed doing it,” Alan recalled.
And then practicality came calling. When Alan, a onetime computer programmer, decided it was time for a career switch, the couple turned their attention to their roasting operation.

“We wanted to keep living out in the country and started exploring what we could do job-wise,” he said. “We looked at a map and didn’t see any other coffee roasters in the region, so we decided to give it a try.”

The result was Lucy Jo’s Coffee Roasters, a home-based business the Monders started four years ago that now ships its products around the country and is represented at two area farmers markets, in Saratoga Springs and Troy.

Lucy Jo’s coffees are certified organic and fair trade. They currently come in 15 varieties including single origins, blends and decaffeinated. The Monders sell their coffees -- such as the medium-roast Lucky Day Breakfast Blend (with nutty undertones), the dark-roasted Brink Blend, and the slightly sweet Peruvian Aprocassi -- by the pound.

At farmers markets, Lucy Jo’s will custom grind the coffees on request, according to the type of coffee maker customers use at home. (The Monders use an automatic-drip coffee maker for sales at the markets, but at home they make their own morning brew with a French press.)
“We always have four coffees plus a decaf that are sold by the cup at farmers markets,” Shelley said.

To accommodate their growing coffee business, the couple converted a small barn on their rural property into a roasting facility.

“We started with a countertop roaster,” Alan recalled. “Then we took the plunge and bought the smallest commercial roaster we could find. We started at the Bennington, Vermont, farmers market and got really good feedback. So we decided we could do this.”

The company name honors their daughters – Lucinda, now 12, and Josephine, 9 -- both of whom help out at the weekend farmers markets.


Low-acid, iced blends
The Monders procure certified organic coffees online from various regions around the world, including Peru and Indonesia. Alan said many of their single-origin coffees and blends are lower in acid than many commercial varieties.

“Our most popular variety is Happy Belly blend, a low-acid medium dark roast,” he said. “It’s all about where the beans are grown in terms of acid. We have quite a few customers who’d had to quit coffee able to drink it again with ours.”

The coffees retail for $13 a pound and include varieties with playful names such as the chocolate-tinged Kick Pow Punch from Ethiopia, Battenkill Breakfast Blend, and a low-acid dark roast from Sumatra. At the farmers markets, Lucy Jo’s offers weekly specials that let customers save $1 if they buy a bag and a cup together.

“Being certified organic narrows the market for us, and we have to be picky about finding organic coffees that are flavorful,” Shelley said. “We take time to test batch samples before we sell them.”
Aside from the mellow smoothness of their lower-in-acid organic coffees, Lucy Jo’s has become known for its signature iced coffees, which Alan says are popular at the farmers markets even in winter. Made using the cold-brew method, the iced drink’s potency isn’t diminished by melting ice cubes. That’s because Shelley and Alan spend hours each week filling dozens of ice cube trays with coffee and then placing them in a series of chest freezers at their roastery.

“Then we take them to the market in a trailer with a freezer,” Alan said. “It’s a real labor of love. We feel strongly about the importance of using coffee instead of water: It makes a huge difference in the flavor and body of the iced coffee. The demand seems to grow over time, so it’s always a matter of making enough, … and we keep on buying more ice cube trays.”

Customers, he said, have been responding to the flavor of their iced coffee.

“One reason, I think, is we don’t sweeten our iced coffee drinks nearly as much as the chains do,” Alan explained. “We provide local milk, unsweetened almond milk, organic sugar, and stevia. And Shelley has three homemade syrups that can be added to our brewed coffees: magic mocha, coffee chai, and maple spice.”

“One year we discontinued iced coffee for the winter, and people were disappointed,” Shelley recalled. “They still wanted it.”


Meeting customers face to face
Though their coffees sell well online and at upstate specialty stores and food co-ops, Shelley said it’s being at farmers markets that affords them instant feedback on their product.

“You hear things right away, whether it’s a direct comment or overhearing people chatting,” she said. “Often, people are surprised that our coffee isn’t bitter. They’re accustomed to grabbing a cup of coffee that’s been sitting around for a while.”

Shelley said their makeshift coffee bar at markets offers a way for customers to experiment before they buy.

“Sometimes people are hesitant to try something new,” she said. “Coffee in the morning is a ritual, and messing with people’s rituals can be tricky. But if we’re out of their favorite coffee, I’ll steer them toward something in the same flavor profile. Over time, people at the farmers markets start to trust me and take suggestions on trying new varieties.”

Selling at the farmers markets makes the Monders realize the wide range of their clientele.
“There’s no typical customer at farmers markets,” Shelley said. “There are a lot of younger customers because of Russell Sage and RPI, and there are middle aged and older customers as well. It’s a diverse marketplace, and we love that. And our daughters love coming to the city and mingling with all kinds of people they’d never get to meet at home.”

And when the flurry of sales and sampling at the weekend markets have concluded, the family heads back to their retreat in the hills of Washington County for more work.

“We do all the roasting, selling and packaging,” Alan said. “It’s a small family business. We plan on growing it a bit more. We enjoy the craft of roasting and do it by hand to control the results.
Sometimes those results are intensely aromatic.

“We’re on top of a mountain in what I call a ‘little bowl,’ and sometimes when we’re roasting beans, that little bowl fills with coffee smoke,” Alan said with a laugh.


Lucy Jo’s Coffee Roasters can be found online at www.lucyjoscoffee.com, at specialty stores in Saratoga Springs, Albany and Washington County, N.Y., and at weekend farmers markets in Troy (9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays) and Saratoga Springs (Spa City market, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays).