Dogwood Coffee, based in Minneapolis, has been hailed as one of America’s finest artisanal coffee companies. Late last year it opened its second retail location—in the MIA lobby. The partnership between a museum and a coffee company makes sense as soon as you walk into the revamped space, a Dale Chihuly sculpture lofted overhead, a blow-up of a geisha peering over the coffee bar, and, at this moment, a curious exhibition of miniature eye paintings—lovers’ tokens—across the hall. In the midst of curated art, there’s curated coffee.
Today, Dogwood launches a limited-edition, single-source coffee from Colombia along with limited-edition mugs (shown above). So I talked with Dogwood owner Greg Hoyt and coffee buyer Stephanie Ratanas about the new release, the romanticizing of coffee, and what it means to make it amid some of the greatest artworks in the world.
Let’s talk about the new coffee: How did you find it and what attracted you to it?
STEPHANIE RATANAS: Last year I made my first trip to Colombia and visited the farm of Nodier Andrade, who grows this particular coffee. It has great complexity, a strong depth of flavor—a pungent red-fruit flavor. It’s also very vibrant, on the brighter end of the spectrum, so if you like Kenyan coffees or really bright East African coffees you’ll probably like this.
How limited an edition will this be?
SR: Just one bag to start with, 150 pounds, and then we’ll get about three more bags a week or so later.
GREG HOYT: We’ll also be selling limited-edition coffee mugs with this launch, designed by Kevin Boettcher, our warehouse manager who is also an artist. We do this a few times a year, releasing special new coffees, a new crop—it’s like a new vintage of Beaujolais coming out.
How do you find growers like Andrade?
SR: We work with an exporter in Colombia that has labs in all these coffee-growing areas. They evaluate a lot—coffee from one day of picking—or cup it, as we say, scoring it and putting it into quality categories. They placed this in the micro-lot category, which means it scored exceptionally high.
How much stock do you put in the standard evaluation form?
SR: We use the form loosely, because we value some things that aren’t carefully represented on it, like sweetness and complexity, the depth of flavor. In this coffee, for instance, complexity is one of its strongest characteristics.
How many single-origin coffees are you bringing in every year?
SR: About 20. With Nodier, it’s just the one coffee. But there’s a guy in Costa Rica we buy 10 different coffees from: Luis.
I love that you can name him.
GH: We know these guys—Stephanie visits them every year.
SR: Single-sourcing, one guy doing his own thing, is most possible in Central and South America. But we’d like to offer more coffee from Africa and this is not how it’s done there—a couple hundred growers might be bringing their coffee in together. It’s not better or worse, it’s just different.
You’ve been in the MIA now for more than half a year. How do you connect what you’re doing to the museum?
GH: The museum represents a lot of different cultures, and coffee by its nature is global, but just like art it’s not the same anywhere in the world. One product, many different approaches.
The approach you’ve taken is akin to curating.
GH: And that’s in contrast to a lot of the homogenization going on in the coffee business—things like “breakfast blend.”
SR: That’s like taking a room full of Monet paintings and calling it “art for the morning.”
Admittedly, I have a classical music CD called “Sunday Morning Classics.”
GH: There’s a place for that. But when you think of what’s really been memorable in your life, it’s probably not “Sunday Morning Classics,” it’s probably a live orchestra performance.
Look, we’re not trying to make every trip to the coffee bar a religious experience. But part of what I like about the museum, for instance, is its restraint. Imagine if the museum wasn’t curated, if it just displayed everything it could get its hands on. It’d be diluted. Being here has affirmed our sensibilities, given us that validation. We’re not selling chocolate syrup here, we’re not trying to offer everything you can think of regarding coffee.
Have you found some favorite artworks?
SR: The mummies. I’ve been coming here since childhood and I’ve always loved the mummies. And the Chuck Close.
GH: Yes, the Chuck Close. It’s very badass, very Minneapolis, I’d say.
Do you relate what you do to art-marking?
GH: Our approach to coffee is to go to a depth similar to what an artist may go to. Someone’s going to have an experience with this coffee similar to what you’re going to have with a piece of art. That’s the path we’ve chosen to take.
SR: At the same time, I try not to over-romanticize coffee. Growing coffee is really hard work and it’s dirty and there’s a lot of risk. You’re dependent on the weather and resources.
GH: Which is maybe not all that different from art-making. A lot of artists struggle and get dirty making this stuff.
SR: That’s true. And we are embracing what goes into this—we don’t feel a need to hide the dirtiness.
GH: There are others in this industry who romanticize coffee and use beautifully preserved, museum-piece roasters that may or may not function well. Ours is from the late ’80s, maybe 1990, around the same time as the K car, but it functions really well. We don’t call our warehouse a “roast works” or something—it’s a warehouse. I don’t think some coffee makers realize that the reality of the business is just as interesting to people. Be honest about what you do and people will appreciate that.
Dogwood Coffee is open in the MIA during museum hours. For a behind-the-scenes look at Dogwood’s unique approach to coffee, check out this video from the MIA’s Verso digital publication.