Basin Electric employee embraces the region’s roots when starting Coal Country Coffee

Travis Helfrich, a yard operator at Leland Olds Station, found an interest and was grounded in it.

“I have always been intrigued by coffee – by the process and how it’s made – it wasn’t until a couple years ago that I actually started digging into it,” Helfrich says. “Digging into it” meant he traveled to Minneapolis, Minnesota, to take an introduction to roasting class then “buried himself in his garage,” researching roasting techniques, experimenting with flavors, and diving head-on into forming his own coffee company, Coal Country Coffee, in 2017.

Helfrich says he hadn’t really thought much about starting a business until after he began sharing the coffee he roasted in his garage with his family and friends. “I started giving it to friends and family,” and after receiving positive feedback, he “nailed down his roasts and found a niche market.”

Working at Leland Olds Station, which is smack-dab in the middle of coal country, the theme of his business became centered around what the region knows best. Not only is the name related to coal, but his three roasts, the light roast “Steam Engine,” medium roast “Boilermaker,” and dark roast “Lignite” are all nods to coal and the plants that convert it to electricity.

The process of making coffee is a blend of science and art. After obtaining the green coffee beans from Columbia, Costa Rica, Honduras, and Mexico, Helfrich begins the roasting process, paying special attention to the temperature of the roaster, a key factor in making his unique coffee. Watch the video.

The length of time it takes to roast the beans depends on how dark he wants the roast to be – the longer the beans spend in the roaster, the darker the blend will be. But all technology aside, the true test is in cupping, which Helfrich says is the most valuable part in the process.

“Sampling brewed coffee is where you get to experience your flavors and aroma. That’s where you can really test your coffee,” he says. His family and friends love this part, because they get to be his taste testers. When he created his Boilermaker blend, they sampled 30 different blends until they found the perfect one.

Helfrich’s family and friends aren’t the only ones who love his coffee. Coal Country Coffee has developed quite a following, and it is now sold in stores and online. Karmin’s Kitchen Table in Bismarck, The Dakota Store in Mandan, and Dialectic Brewing Company in Mandan all sell Coal Country Coffee.

After seeing success in such a short amount of time, is a coffee shop in Helfrich’s future?  “As of right now, I’m not planning to open my own store,” he says. “I love my job at Leland Olds Station and I like offering my coffee at local stores where they say it’s a big hit. They are doing well with it, and that makes me happy. Just getting that positive feedback, and seeing people recommending it to others is my goal. It’s what carries the company.”

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