AN INTERVIEW WITH NADAV MER OF MORNING BELL COFFEE ROASTERS
Morning Bell is sourcing and roasting fair trade espresso beans exclusively for the Co-op’s new coffee bar.
Why did you decide to open a coffee shop on Main Street?
We’ve been in the roasting business since 2011. When my wife and I moved to Ames in 2015, we were ready to try our first cafe build out. It was really a toss-up between campustown and downtown. It’s interesting in Ames that there are two distinct areas with lots of foot traffic. Downtown became the clear choice when we started shopping for a building, and we lucked out on our building at 111 Main Street. We’ve been very happy with this location. We love the vibe downtown, it really is so different from anywhere else in Ames, and fairly unique in Iowa. We have Design on Main nearby, we have loads of artists and just a very vibrant downtown community as neighbors. It’s been a pleasure to be involved with downtown.
What peaked your interest and what do you enjoy about roasting coffee and running a coffee shop?
The wholesale side of the business is completely different from the cafe side. The cafe has really become an extension of our living room; its so fun to have everyone over for coffee. I’m a lifer in coffee, I chose this business because I love it and I can’t imagine doing anything else professionally with the years I have in front of me.
What is your roasting process?
Currently we have a 2 kilo capacity drum roaster which is quite small. We’ll probably need to upgrade within 12-24 months. The roasting process really is palate-led, green bean selection, coffee sourcing, sample roasting and sample evaluation are some of the key skills we work on for delicious coffee. I’m now entering my sixth year in the business, and it’s a balance between feeling like we possess all these skills and have it together, and then sometimes feeling like we don’t know much because there is some aspect of the business we haven’t learned well enough. Roasting coffee is very humbling, which suits me well.
Where do you source your beans?
We have several different suppliers we work with. Our first roasting business was in Gainesville, FL, which we sold in 2013, where we developed several great East Coast suppliers. When we moved to Phoenix and started Morning Bell Coffee Roasters, we developed many suppliers on the West Coast. Here in Iowa we can economically pull from both coasts. We work hard to select better and better coffees, its a never-ending goal. We have a beautiful direct-trade relationship with Selva Negra Estate in Nicaragua. We’ve been buying from them since I started roasting, and we visited the farm in 2012. They are organic, Smithsonian Bird Friendly and Rain Forest Alliance certifed. They are a model of sustainable farming.
In addition to your beans Wheatsfield also carries your cold brew coffee. Staff and customers love it! What makes it so unique?
Cold brew is really part of our brand’s DNA. Our cold brew adventures started in Phoenix, where we began hand-bottling in 2014. There are several things we do to make our cold brew as clean and sweet and possible. First we have roast profiles just for cold brew, second we created full control of the process from green bean to bottle. Every step along the way is critical! Nitro cold brew (available in our shop) looks like Guiness but is a clean tasting black coffee, nitrogenated rather than carbonated. It’s magical! We also provide nitro cold brew on a wholesale basis. It’s on tap in town at Cafe Beaudelaire and The Mucky Duck and in Des Moines at the Iowa Taproom, El Bait Shop and University Library Cafe. We’re hoping Wheatsfield will setup a tap for us sometime in the future, I think it would do great!
Nitro Tea, we’ve heard that it’s full of flavor and on tap at Morning Bell. Tell us about it.
We’ve been putting several teas through our nitro system and it’s been really fun to experiment with them. It’s iced tea that has the mouthfeel of Guiness. The mint herbal tea has been a big hit, and we also blend it on the fly with our chocolatey classic cold brew for a peppermint-patty chocolate/mint cold brew which is delicious. The other super popular flavor has been cinnamon rooibos, which is reminiscent of an atomic fireball candy or red hots.
Goals for the future of your business?
My wife Dara Wald has a tenure-track position at ISU so we moved here for her job. We are both excited to have landed in Ames. We are extremely happy here and look forward to staying. We’re hoping to grow the business organically – slowly and in a manageable way. The embrace from the community here has been amazing, I feel absolutely blessed to be doing something I love, in a place I love. We’ll see where the future takes us! We are extremely grateful and thankful for everyone who has supported us so far.