There’s something exciting brewing in Alaska. While it’s not the first state you think of when specialty coffee comes to mind, the Last Frontier is not to be overlooked. The coffee culture of the Pacific Northwest made its way to Alaska in a big way.
The specialty coffee scene has spread from small coffee carts to cafes featuring locally roasted beans with bold flavor. Whether you’re in-state, or looking to try a new coffee at home, here are a few Alaskan specialty roasters to check out.
With the motto “made in Alaska, by Alaskans, for Alaskans,” Kaladi Brothers serves as a strong representative of the state. The company started with a coffee cart in 1986 and has grown into a powerhouse with 13 cafes, mostly in Anchorage.
Kaladi Brothers sources high-grade beans and roasts on a Sivetz Fluid Bed Roaster, which uses fresh, hot air to roast the beans as opposed to the heated surface of a barrel roaster. The result: a clean, uniform roast that can be dark without bitterness or oily tar taste.
The Guatemala Finca La Severa has a deep-roasted flavor without being too heavy. It has a little bit of spice and brown sugar sweetness and is great for any time of day. Their selection includes coffee from Rwanda (nutty and chocolaty), Java (nutty and earthy), and Mexico (fruity).
The first specialty roaster in Alaska, Black Cup (formerly Cafe del Mundo) was launched 40 years ago. Inspired by his travels through Central America, founder Perry Merkel started his company with a small air roaster in a shed behind his home. Now Black Cup is part of the Kaladi Brothers brand.
Black Cup seeks out the finest coffees from producers around the world and evaluates countless samples, searching for the most compelling characteristics, according to general manager Doug Griffin. “Our focus is to unlock the best of the inherent qualities using a roasting profile for each coffee,” says Griffin.
The Kenya Gondo is a medium-bodied coffee that tastes freshly roasted. It’s fruity and flavorful with notes of peach, caramel and grape. Enjoyable for morning or afternoon. The Alpenglow Blend provides a solid and satisfying taste for everyday coffee drinking.
SteamDot an espresso lab and a second coffee bar in Anchorage, where they feature fresh beans roasted on a Sivetz air-roaster (which seems to be the local roaster of choice). Their cafés feature Alaska’s only slow bar, with single cup, artisan coffee preparations.
The Dusangirijambo from Burundi has a mix of fruity and flowery flavors of blackberry and rose. The Finca La Playa from Peru is also a fruity gem with cranberry and orange flavors. Both have complexity and depth.
Established in Juneau in 1974, the founder of Heritage Coffee was so inspired by the quality of San Francisco-based Peet’s Coffee, he approached them about supplying beans for his new Alaska-based shop. Worried that shipping from San Fran to Juneau would compromise the beans freshness, Alfred Peet recommended Heritage work something out with a new Seattle-based company called Starbucks. A partnership was born. Heritage has evolved into a direct trade company that sources its own beans and a roastery with a wholesale business and cafes around town.
The Black Wolf Blend is one of my favorites that I sampled. It’s a delicious blend of beans from the Americas with a smooth, spicy chocolaty taste with an amazing aroma and warm, deep-roasted flavor, which is bold and yet sweet. You can brew a big pot for the office or, better yet, bring it on your next camping trip.
Alaska Roasting Co. has been based in Fairbanks for the past 20 years. Founder Michael Gesser lived in Kenya for several years, where he learned a lot about the coffee business. Now the company specializes in selling single estate varietal coffee beans. They also roast on an air-fluidized bean bed roaster.
The Yemen Mocca Sanani has a slightly tart medium roast flavor that mixes notes of spice and fruit flavors, wine, and dark chocolate. Exporting coffee from Yemen is famously difficult so getting your hands these beans is a real treat. Grown at 2,000 – 2,500 meters, the altitude creates a sparkling and layered flavor experience.
This boutique coffee roaster in Gustavus features fresh organic coffee. Launched more than 10 years ago, Sentinel does small batch roasting every week. Sentinel Coffee offers organic beans from Africa, Latin America, Java and more. They mostly sell through local subscriptions and cafes, which is consistent with their focus on freshness and sustainability.
Their offerings change regularly. I tried the organic Mexican Vienna Roast style, which has a dark and smoky roast flavor with hints of clove and pepper. The Papua New Guinea Full City roast is dark, full and nutty.