Monkton couple roasts bird-friendly coffee beans
MONKTON — Diana Hill and Andrew Baker have always enjoyed a good cup of coffee. The Monkton couple has shared many mugs of Joe together, from their first date at a small coffee shop in Rutland to their visits to cafés throughout the country as a married couple.
Their shared love of the beverage is so strong that in 2021 the pair decided to launch their own roastery, Ridge Vermont Craft Roasters, which they now run out of their Monkton home.
The couple said they are committed to having their coffee benefit more than just its consumers, and to that end their roastery is Vermont’s first certified bird-friendly coffee company. The certification means the organic fair-trade coffee they offer is sourced from farms working to protect and provide critical habitat for birds and other wildlife.
“We knew we wanted to create really good coffee, but we also wanted to create coffee with a good impact,” Hill said. “We try to make really good coffee that’s good for you and for the planet.”
STARTING FROM SCRATCH
The decision to create their own roastery came after Baker and Hill returned to their home state in 2016. Both had grown up in Rutland, where they met and began dating, and left Vermont for college.
Hill said the couple lived briefly in West Coast cities, including Los Angeles and Seattle, before moving back to the Green Mountain State.
“We were desperate to come back. Our families are all still here,” she said. “(Andrew) found his job here, and then we found our home and we sort of just pinched ourselves. It’s a good spot, it’s home.”
The pair had always dreamt of running their own coffee company, and once back in Vermont, decided to take the leap.
Hill said she and Baker did a lot of research prior to launching Ridge Roasters, as neither had prior experience in coffee production.
“It was all just figuring everything out, where do you get coffee from and learning about different coffee farms. It was very cool, but it was definitely a lot of learning,” she said.
A fateful visit to the Birds of Vermont Museum in Huntington introduced the couple to an additional area of research, as it was during this visit that Baker and Hill were introduced to the concept of bird-friendly coffee.
The Bird Friendly certification was developed by the Smithsonian National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute’s Migratory Bird Center in the late 1990s in order to support coffee farming practices that conserve wildlife habitat.
According to the Smithsonian, around 75% of the world’s coffee is farmed using practices that actively destroy forest habitat or leave no place for birds and other wildlife. Such habitat loss has contributed to a decline in the North America’s bird population, as coffee is often farmed in parts of Latin America and the Caribbean where migratory songbirds spend a portion of their year.
“We didn’t want to contribute to that, and we also wanted to make a product that inspired people to drink bird-friendly coffee,” Baker said. “After we learned about (bird-friendly options) we couldn’t bring ourselves to buy any other kind of coffee.”
Nor could the couple bring themselves to sell any other kind of coffee, and so they began working to obtain a Bird Friendly certification and source beans from participating farms. The certification is designed to create a market-based incentive for farmers to conserve habitats, particularly by maintaining the forest biodiversity that bird populations thrive in.
Bird Friendly coffee grows within these maintained forests, which has a positive impact on the coffee’s flavor, according to Hill.
“The coffee tastes better, it develops longer and has a complex flavor. It’s really a win-win all around,” she said.
Hill said finding Bird Friendly farms to source coffee beans from was an initial challenge for the couple’s company. Less than 1% of the coffee grown worldwide is Bird Friendly certified.
Baker and Hill now work with importers based in New York and New Jersey that source Bird Friendly coffee from farms in Guatemala and Honduras. Ridge Roasters receives the beans in 152-pound bags, and the couple roasts every week to ensure freshness in the light, medium and dark roasts they sell.
Baker said finding the right roasting approach was something the couple had to learn upon starting the business.
“(Something surprising was) how quickly you can turn a light roast into a dark roast, the roasting process and how little room
for error there is,” Baker said.
There are three main types of coffee roast levels: light, medium and dark. Roast levels are determined by the point at which the coffee roaster is stopped, with more roasting time translating to a darker bean. How coffee beans are roasted greatly influences the coffee’s flavor.
Hill said she’s learned a lot about roasting over the past two years. She is the company’s head roaster, as Baker works full time as an aerospace engineer in Vergennes.
“It’s a whole system to make those roasts that taste the same each time,” Hill said. “We knew what kind of coffee we liked and thought if we could create a cup that we liked, we were going in the right direction.”
‘HAPPY TO ROAST AWAY’
The couple has been slowly and steadily growing Ridge Roasters’ customer base since launching in 2021, Hill said. The pair’s first customer was the nearby Yates Family Orchard. Since then, they’ve expanded to shelves at the Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op, Full Belly Farm in Hinesburg and the Birds of Vermont Museum.
Online ordering is also available on the Ridge Roasters website.
“We keep getting orders from Alaska and California. We’re shipping out all throughout the country, which is really cool,” Hill said. “We’re glad to have a loyal customer base.”
Hill said Ridge Roasters is looking to expand its customer base as well as their offerings. Decaf and espresso options and a roast from Peru are all in the works.
“We’re working right now to see what importers are bringing in and what would work for us,” Hill said. “We’re kind of investigating everywhere.”
Baker said the couple has been pleased with the warm feedback they’ve received from customers and are hoping to sell their roasts to more food co-ops and grocery stores throughout the state.
“So far, it’s been positive, everyone seems to be really excited when they hear about it, and we’ve heard good things from people once they try the coffee,” he said. “We want to get on as many shelves as possible.”
Hill said growth is the couple’s biggest goal for their roastery, especially now that they feel they have more bandwidth to take on that growth.
The pair has for the past 10 months navigated being first-time parents along with running their coffee company. Their son, Roger, was born this past May, and with the newborn stage behind them, Hill said the couple is excited to continue growing their business together.
“Definitely the goal is to continue serving more of Vermont and serving everyone who wants Ridge Roasters coffee,” she said. “We’re just happy to roast away, we love being here and we love Addison County.”
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