Lofty Coffee

January 2019 View more

The morning mainstay has evolved into more than just a cup of caffeine, influenced by both urban sophistication and global altruism

By Carly Boers

Gone are the days of settling for a subpar caffeine fix or trekking into the city to score the perfect pour-over. “The community demands good coffee at this point,” says Tyler Fivecoat of five-year-old Wheaton roaster and café Five & Hoek. “We have people in their 30s and 40s moving out from the city and wanting specialty coffee,” he continues. “It’s fun to show them that we care about coffee as much as places in the city do, and that our product delivers.”

Around the time Five & Hoek debuted, Chris Ptacek and some like-minded coffee-craving friends took matters into their own hands and began home roasting. “I was crazy jealous of the quality of coffee you could get in the city, and there weren’t roasteries in the western suburbs at that point,” he recalls. Due to demand from friends, Ptacek’s side hustle snowballed. He and his partners started with a 386-square-foot café and roastery, quickly outgrew that, and can now accommodate 50 at their Plainfield shop, Ten Drops. Instead of roasting just enough to supply friends, they now go through up to 1,500 pounds of beans per month.

Fivecoat and Ptacek are in good company, as the western suburbs are in the midst of a craft coffee boom. For coffee fans, the benefits go beyond tasty beverages: These companies are innovating, educating, and supporting both coffee farmers and the community in the process.

Coffee Conscience
Sourcing is top-of-mind for any roaster, and has piqued consumer interest too. “It’s the same reason you see farm-to-table restaurants,” Fivecoat explains. “People now want to know what kind of coffee they’re drinking, who the farmer is, where it was grown, and how it was roasted,” he adds.
We’ve all heard the buzzwords: direct trade, fair trade, direct sourcing. After realizing “fair trade” isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be when it came to the payment of farmers, Cody Lorance of Endiro Coffee in Aurora decided to walk away from the label.

“We instead focus on creating meaningful relationships with farmers, and that has become the defining mark of our company,” he says of Endiro, which his partner, Gloria Katusiime, started in Uganda as a means to raise money for local children. Now the business—comprising five Ugandan cafés and a location in Lorance’s hometown of Aurora—contracts with 250 growers in Uganda, making them the country’s highest-paid farmers by fivefold. Lorance and his team regularly log time with the farmers, teaching them how to properly fertilize and prune in order to maximize output.

“We want to see every family in the village we work with get out of the extreme poverty scenario, and we’ve already helped a lot of them,” he says.
Here on the home front, Endiro furthers its mission by teaming up with organizations that support kids. The café hosts a monthly event for a nonprofit, allowing representatives to wait tables, wash dishes, tell customers their story, and collect a percentage of the day’s sales. By partnering with World Relief and even hiring employees with refugee backgrounds, Lorance seamlessly combines his background in advocacy and social work with his passion for coffee.

Plainfield’s Ten Drops crafts occasional charity coffee releases, creating a barrel-aged coffee and donating $5 per bag sale to causes both local and global, including food banks, water and animal charities, and a Guatemalan nonprofit that aids women-run businesses.

From an office building in south Naperville, Compass Café carries on the charitable mission of the adjacent Compass Church, but aims to be a gathering place for more than just churchgoers. “Yes, we have the church affiliation and we’re happy to talk about it. But more than that, we want to be welcoming to the community,” says manager Angela Mosshamer, who notes that the café keeps early morning and evening hours to cater to those coming and going from nearby schools and activities. One of four church-affiliated coffee shops in Naperville, Compass looks to differentiate itself by pouring coffee from esteemed Wheaton microroaster I Have a Bean, which, incidentally, has a heavy altruistic component: The prison ministry employs ex-convicts and helps them transition back into the workforce.

A Team Effort
Considering the burgeoning coffee scene, one might think these fledgling business owners are fiercely competitive. But it’s quite the opposite, according to Ten Drops’ Ptacek. “There’s none of that. It’s more, ‘Do you want some help?’ or ‘Do you need some time on our roasters to make extra batches?’ ” he says.

Endiro’s Lorance says west suburban roasters keep in touch via a Facebook page, and are quick to support and encourage one another. “We really feel like we’re in it together. Our competition isn’t each other, but maybe bad coffee drinking habits,” he says. “Maybe Starbucks,” he offers, laughing. Adds Ptacek, “I firmly believe you can’t corner the market in coffee. You can only fit so many into your space, and there are enough people needing coffee to go around.”

Coffee shop owners are also eager to team up with other local businesses. At Five & Hoeck, a breakfast sandwich is made with a bagel from nearby County Farm Bagels and coffee-infused cheese created in collaboration with Lombard’s Modern Artisan Cheese Company. A partnership with Dry City Brew Works produces a milk stout that Fivecoat says has a cult following in Wheaton. Similarly, Ptacek notes that in any given month, Ten Drops’ coffee infuses beers in at least two local breweries, plus a rum at neighboring Tailwinds Distillery. “It’s not a money thing. It’s just an opportunity to be a flavor component in some great products, and it’s a lot of fun,” he says.

They’re making sure customers are having a blast too—and learning a little along the way. “Our mantra is coffee, connection, and community,” says Fivecoat, who trains his staff to welcome and educate customers about the complexities of coffee, meeting them where they’re at and “not being a jerk about it.” Ptacek loves the educational component too. “Just learning that straight-up coffee can have different flavor notes—without dumping in sugary syrups—is really enlightening. Once people realize the depth of coffee, this becomes fascinating to everybody,” he says.

The Cafés

Five & Hoek
114 N Main St, Wheaton
Sourcing from: Catracha Coffee in Honduras and Long Miles Coffee in Burundi

Ten Drops
14903 S Center St, #104
Sourcing from: Duromina in Ethiopia, Las Lajas in Costa Rica, and Mauro Reyes in Columbia

Endiro Coffee
29 W New York St, Aurora
Sourcing from: Endiro Growers Uganda in Bukalasi

Compass Cafe
2244 95th St, Naperville
Sourcing from: I Have a Bean growers in Colombia, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Papua New Guinea, Rwanda, and Sumatra

Photos courtesy Five & Hoek