If there was a moment in Kevin Sprague’s life that foreshadowed his future as a coffee roaster, it was sitting on his cousin John Mitchell’s lap as a child, tasting coffee from a butter knife. As soon as he could reach the mugs in the top cabinet, coffee was a part of Kevin’s life.
During a stint in Hawaii, Kevin’s taste developed, as did his appreciation for a well-balanced brew and a good bean. Sixteen years ago, his now-wife Marta entered the picture, when a friend of hers introduced her to “the guy in a band who drank his coffee black.”
The two shared a passion for coffee, and, in 2003, Marta gave her musician boyfriend a roaster for his birthday. He began to recognize that each bean has a unique set of characteristics – its own chord and timing, as he describes it – and so began his obsession. He researched beans and roast levels and noted which techniques brought out certain flavors. He experimented by roasting beans in popcorn poppers and cast-iron skillets. Playing with coffee fueled his need for creativity, and he took pleasure in sharing his roasts with family and friends.
“Coyote is the term for the men who run between the farmers and buyers, and, essentially, that’s what we do,” Marta says.
In 2009, the environmentally conscious couple exchanged rings made of pinyon and juniper branches on his family’s property in New Mexico. Their wedding favors, not surprisingly, included fresh roasted coffee. When the two traveled, they often met with other roasters. Then, after the company they worked for folded, Marta suggested they turn their hobby into a business. And so Noble Coyote Coffee Roasters was born.
“Coyote is the term for the men who run between the farmers and buyers, and, essentially, that’s what we do,” Marta says. These noble roasters do as much direct-trade as possible with farmers, stores and restaurants. They believe strongly in ethical practices, namely organic and fair trade. They invest in shade-grown beans from areas where the growing process doesn’t interrupt the ecosystem.
Once the beans are chosen, Kevin roasts them at 340 to 460 degrees Fahrenheit, in the roaster they affectionately named Geraldine. The time is determined by the roast profile, which is measured by the environment, humidity and taste. After the beans have cooled, Kevin and Marta sort through them for defects and then bag, weigh, heat seal and stamp the roast date on each bag. They go through this meticulous process twice a week.
The Spragues are as serious about social and environmental responsibility as they are about roasting coffee. In addition to purchasing those handmade wooden wedding rings, they power their home and roaster with wind energy. They recycle as much as they can, and they compost the bean chaff, the leftover bits of hull that come off during the roasting process. There’s no question that these bean fiends are some of the kindest and environmentally friendly people in town.
And perhaps most humble too. “You can never get cocky,” Marta says. “You have to be as open as you can about how to do better.” That includes continuously experimenting with different beans to bring their customers the best-tasting coffees, of course. But it also means supporting the community by promoting nonprofits like Cafe Momentum — the Spragues created a custom blend, and they donate a portion of proceeds directly to the organization — and fellow artisanal producers like Pop Star Handcrafted Popsicles, with whom they collaborated to produce the Noble Coyote Cold Brew Pop made with Honduras coffee. “When we cold brewed it ourselves, it brought out a really nice chocolatey sweetness,” Kevin says.
Information about Noble Coyote coffees — from the countries of origin to flavor profiles — is available on the website. To enjoy a cup of Noble Coyote joe, head to Bryan Street Tavern, Carbone's, Sissy's Southern Kitchen or Snug on the Square. To purchase your own bag of beans, visit Jimmy’s Food Store, White Rock Local Market, St. Michael's Farmers Market, Pop-Up Market at the Eco-Op, and online at Artizone.com and the Noble Coyote website.