Keturah Coffee Roasters: Artisan Coffee Crafted in Vernonia

Vernonians now have a new option for a really great cup of coffee right here in town.

Sam and Kari Hough are now roasting small batches of artisan coffee in their home and are making it available for purchase.

KeturahCoffeeRoastingBeans-webSmall batch artisan coffee is a newer movement built on the idea that consumers are interested in knowing about the product farm-to-cup.  The coffee generally uses high quality beans that are lightly and medium roasted to retain the flavors from the region where they are grown and can be personally roasted to fit the taste of the consumer.

“We’re happy to be introducing people to the world of good, fresh coffee, said Sam Hough during a recent visit to see their coffee roasting operation.

What started as a hobby and a desire to drink the best coffee they could brew, the Houghs have expanded their passion into a small, home based business.

“I’ve been roasting my own coffee for quite a long time,” said Sam. “I started out doing it in a frying pan, and learned how to roast it really well that way, and then moved into using a popcorn popper. Back then we were doing it for ourselves and giving it to friends as gifts, and people really liked our coffee.”

KeturahCoffeeFamily-webSam is the pastor at the Vernonia Christian Church and Kari does pet grooming and pet care in the community.  They homeschool their children, and have created a small urban farm on their property on OA Hill, with rabbits, chickens, bees, a small orchard and they make their own kambucha and keiffer.  A home based coffee roasting business was a perfect fit, something they could fit in around their somewhat flexible schedules and other responsibilities.

Sam says his goal is to build up some small and medium wholesale accounts; he’s already secured several through connections in Vernonia.  A local Bed and Breakfast is using their coffees as well as several local realtors in gift baskets for new clients.  They have also established a good retail following of locals who stop by to pick up their roasted coffee beans or have them delivered by Sam or Kari.  They’ve also started a website (www.keturahcoffee.com) where customers can order coffee for mail shipment or delivery if they live in Vernonia.  The website also features high quality coffee grinders, drip coffee makers and espresso machines that can be purchased through Keturah Coffee Roasters.  

Of course the proof is always in the finished product and Keturah Coffee certainly doesn’t miss there. They start with high quality beans from all over the world: Central and South America, Indonesia, and Africa. Then the Houghs try to cater the roasting and blends to their customers’ tastes, where the “small batch artisan” part of the business comes into play.   “If we have a customer that likes a certain coffee but they want it roasted darker or a little different for their personal taste, we can experiment and do that for them because we have such a small operation,” says Sam.

The result is a delicious cup of coffee that is flavorful, easy to drink and enjoyable.

Sam explained that coffee culture in the U.S. has experienced “three waves” that have changed the way consumers buy and enjoy their coffee.  According to Sam, the first wave was canned coffees like Folgers or Maxwell House, when people would throw grounds in a pot and let the coffee sit and drink it for hours.  The second wave was the Starbucks movement with national retail establishments that include Dutch Brothers selling coffee straight to consumers.  These chains featured better quality whole beans, but tended to over roast them, eliminating the unique flavors of the beans.  This resulted in beans that were dark, burnt and oily, but ensured that a cup of coffee would taste the same anywhere you purchased it.

“In the third wave people want to know, not just that the beans come from Africa , but are they from Ethiopia, are they Ethiopian Yirgacheffe, and what farm did they come from?” explains Sam.  He says that in the third wave, the lighter roasted beans and brews aren’t necessarily weaker coffees, but instead retain more flavor and individual characteristics of the soils and region where they are grown.  Sam says you can taste the difference: their Guatemalan coffees will have a bright front and a licorice flavor; Brazilian coffees will be more mellow and just a good all-around cup of coffee;  Ethiopian Yirgacheffe  will be almost fruity; Sumatrans will be more earthy and nutty.  Keturah Coffee also offers blends of beans that combine flavors they think will work well together.

Sam likens it to wines and the way grapes from different places and harvests will all taste unique, with consumers finding certain vineyards and even specific properties, they prefer.

KeturahCoffeeKariRoasting-webThe business endeavor involves the entire family.  Kari helps with the roasting and other business details.  The Hough’s three children, Avery, 10, Riley, 8, and little Sammy, 6, help out in different ways.  “Kari and I wanted to teach the kids about entrepreneurship and do something as a family that we could build into a side business,” said Sam.  Avery and Riley have been helping at the Vernonia Open Air Market on Saturdays and learning about sales.   Riley and Sammy help with clean up after roasting.  The children even were part of the licensing and permitting processes.  The family recently had a booth at the Vernonia Salmon Festival where they were handing out samples and making contacts.

Before starting their business the Houghs did a lot of research and leg work, including visiting numerous coffee roasters in Portland and Seattle.  “We started doing what we called ‘coffee crawls’ where we would visit seven or eight coffee shops, sample different coffees, and talk shop with the roasters,” said Sam.  They also spent time with Tim Davis, who operates Vernonia Coffee Roasters, another local coffee roasting operation, who Sam says was extremely helpful.

After finally deciding to take the plunge, the Houghs remodeled their basement, with a school room on one side for the kids and the coffee roasting operation on the other side with a showroom, storeroom and roasting room, with the ability to expand. The remodel included approvals and licenses from the Department of Agriculture, and the City of Vernonia.  A commercial roaster was purchased that can roast batches of two and a half pounds at a time, a logo and packaging were designed, and fresh beans were purchased.  Completed in January of this year, the Houghs have been slowly building their business.

The name, Keturah, comes from the bible.  Kari says initially they were looking for a name with a hard “K” sound for several reasons and came across the Hebrew name Keturah, who was Abraham’s second wife after Sarah, and is known as the wife Abraham loved.  The name means “fragrance” which certainly fit with the roasting part of the business.   “We wanted a name that doesn’t already mean something to most people, and when we came across the name and looked it up, it just fit our purpose,” says Kari.

KeturahCoffeeBag-webKari worked with local artist/designer Jennifer Draeger to help create their logo.  The final design includes hints of a clock gear, (Kari collects old clocks) to signify “coffee time” and socializing,  or a bicycle gear and bicycle spokes, which represents a growing part of the Vernonia economy.  It also includes coffee plant leaves for obvious reasons.  “The finished design, looking back after we finished, looks like a saw blade as well,” says Kari, “which certainly represents our community.  We really had fun doing it.”

For the Houghs, drinking coffee is about a shared experience with family and friends.  Their passion, enthusiasm, and excitement about bringing people together, with a good cup of coffee in front of them and the aroma of coffee in the air, is infectious.  The quality of their product is a wonderful end result.

Contact them at www.keturahcoffee.com.