Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

March 18, 2013

Greasy Creek couple owns coffee-roasting company

Tim Preston
The Independent

Boons Camp — The middle fork of Greasy Creek would likely be among the last places on earth you’d expect to find an artisan coffee-roasting company. For Rick and Jaretta Walters, however, it is the ideal location for their after-work-hours enterprise.

“Jaretta and I have always been fascinated with coffee shops, so we’ve visited a lot of them. And, when we opened our own store we wanted artisan-roast coffee,” he said, explaining they included coffee and other gourmet items when they operated B&E Home Goods in Paintsville. When they decided to close that shop, demand for good coffee remained strong, he said, explaining his wife was initially determined to open a “little coffee shop” somewhere in the small city.

“I said a coffee shop in Paintsville won’t survive without selling hot dogs. I did the math. I actually had the building set aside when I said, ‘We can’t do this,’” he said, explaining they struck a husband-and-wife agreement to buy a quality coffee roaster and start operations from their home. “The first time we turned this thing on I thought it was going to blow up,” she recalled with a laugh.

When they began their search for a good roasting machine, Walters said it was almost frightening when they found many were readily available. “There’s all kinds of them for sale where other people tried to do this same thing.”

With their six-pound roaster housed in a dedicated building near the end of their driveway, the couple then pursued as much coffee knowledge as possible, making numerous trips to Boone, N.C. to work with “the bald guy” at Bald Guy’s Coffee to learn about the art and science of roasting raw, green coffee beans. They set their sights on the first weekend of October and the Kentucky Apple Festival to debut their “Coal Miner’s Brew.” By Christmas, the couple was spending nearly as many hours in the roasting shed as they were at their regular jobs, although the orders have since slowed to a slightly less hectic pace.

“We roast on demand from our Internet sales. When we get an order we’ll roast it that night and ship it the next morning. It is the freshest coffee you’ll find between here and Lexington,” Jaretta said.

While the Walters now enjoy the finest coffees, each makes a point of saying they grew up drinking the same commercial brands as everyone else. He said coffee actually holds history for his family, explaining he began drinking it with his grandmother when he was only five years old.

“I was the only kid in high school walking down the hallway with a coffee in his hand,” he said with a chuckle before explaining his grandmother had no electricity, but was able to keep sweetened condensed milk cool in a nearby stream, allowing her to offer guests something sociable to drink when they visited.

As you listen to Walters speak about coffee beans, where they come from and the conditions which give each their signature characteristics, it becomes quickly apparent he has studied his subject closely. Much like wines, he explains coffee has a complex flavor and aroma profile including tastes such as chocolate, apricot, blueberry, nuts, cherry and pepper, along with “earthy” tones ranging from leather to soil and subtle sweetness.

“For example, beans from Costa Rica are sweet. Cost Rican coffee should always be a light roast. If you take it to a dark roast it ruins it,” he explained, later adding they have to inspect every bulk bag of beans for foreign objects before roasting.

“You find rocks. You find sticks ... all kinds of stuff like that. Especially from countries that process coffee on the ground. I’ve got lots of Ethiopian rocks and sticks around here.”

Mrs. Walters is responsible for Kentucky Mountain Coffee’s flavored coffees, experimenting with each batch to formulate recipe blends which will pass her husband’s “Does it stand alone?” taste test. With considerable success at the formulation process, the coffee company now offers more than a dozen different tastes ranging from French Apple Crumb Cake and Mamaw’s Oatmeal Cookie to Bluegrass Delight and Bananas Foster. They also offer customers a choice of green and black teas from the Perryville, Ky.-born Elmwood Inn Tea company.

Graduates of Johnson Central High School in 1980 and 1981, the Walters have been married for 33 years, with two children, three grandchildren and a collection of dogs and cats now competing for their time. Each grins as they recall meeting for the first time during Apple Day 1978, when they walked to the Dairy Queen together and fell in love. She explains they plan for her to be the first to go full-time with the coffee roasting company once their numbers confirm it is a realistic move.

“I’d love to be closer to town and let people watch us roast and buy coffee. Most people don’t know what a green bean is. It would be lovely to roast and flavor coffee in front of people and let them see how it’s done,” she said, before both agreed they would love to someday step up to a 25-pound roaster.

“I think the best thing about their coffee is you know it is fresh,” said Marla Carter at Black Barn Produce, the leading retail market for Kentucky Mountain Coffee.

Carter said selling the freshly roasted coffee requires practically no salesmanship.

“People come in and get that first cup and it’s automatic. Everybody who gets it has to have it. It’s so much different than what a lot of people expect. We’re just about out of some of their coffees because we sell so much. I’m a coffee drinker. My husband, Steve, is a social drinker. When it comes to coffee I drink it all day long and I love it,” she said, adding she has even incorporated Kentucky Mountain Coffee’s espresso roast into the recipe for the mocha latte version of her famous Aunt Emme’s Bake Shop Cupee Cakes.

Based on outstanding sales for coffees including the house blend and Kentucky Bourbon Pecan, Carter said they have added each of the local company’s coffees, including the single origin beans, to their regular inventory.

For more information about Kentucky Mountain Coffee Co., or to place an order, visit kymtncoffee.com on the Internet.

TIM PRESTON can be reached at tpreston@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2651.