Duluth-area Coffee Roasters in 2015

Brian Barber's Coffee BeansThe coffee industry has undergone significant changes in the past couple of decades, as an increasing number of specialty roasters enter the market. The Duluth area is now experiencing what some call the “third wave” of coffee. The first wave of coffee was about convenience and mass production (think instant coffee, like Folgers). The second wave of coffee involved the rise of chains like Starbucks, where consumers were introduced to fresher and better quality beans and the experience of drinking in coffee shops.

Similar to the craft beer movement, the third wave of coffee is concentrating on the product. In stark contrast to the highly flavored, whipped cream-topped coffee drinks popularized by coffee-shop chains, the third wave is about tasting and appreciating the many nuances of a particular variety of bean. There’s a focus on roasting technique, quality ingredients and batch size. Attention is paid to farming and processing as well as country of origin and trade practices.

Area coffee aficionados are fortunate to have an array of coffee roasters to choose from. Minnesota’s Arrowhead region and neighboring northwest Wisconsin feature seven specialty coffee roasters. Here’s a rundown:

ARCO Coffee SuperiorARCO Coffee Co.
Founded in 1916
2206 Winter St., Superior
President: Donald Andresen
2015 production: not disclosed. Roaster capacity: One 25-pound and one 520-pound roaster.

ARCO was originally founded by G.A. Andresen (current president Donald Andresen’s grandfather) and W.J. Ryan as Andresen Ryan Coffee Company. The founders names were later combined into the acronym ARCO. The family-owned company is now celebrating its 100-year anniversary. First located at 14 E. Michigan St. in Duluth, ARCO was forced to move in the 1980s when the city exercised eminent domain during Lake Avenue’s realignment. The company has since been located in Superior and is best known for its original house blend and Norseman Grog flavored coffees (vanilla, rum and caramel), which are available at Super One Foods and Bridgeman’s. ARCO recently started offering single-serve cups (K-Cups/pods). It also roasts fair-trade, organic, single-origin coffees and specialty coffees such as Kenya AA and Hawaiian Kona.

Alakef Coffee DuluthAlakef Coffee Roasters
Founded in 1990
1330 E. Superior St., Duluth
Owner and CEO: Alyza Bohbot
2015 production: In excess of 4000 pounds a week. Roaster capacity is 60 kilograms (132 lbs).

When Nessim and Deborah (parents of current CEO Alyza Bohbot) founded the company 26 years ago, it was the first specialty roaster in town. The company was named after an Israeli slang term meaning “hits the spot” or “the best.” Alakef is served at a range of popular area eateries, from Amazing Grace Bakery & Café to Duluth Grill. The coffee is also available at local grocery stores and is sold wholesale throughout the Midwest. Alakef recently launched a new brand, City Girl Coffee, which sources coffee from women-owned or women-run coffee farms and gives a portion of sales from each bag sold to organizations that empower women who produce coffee.

Big Water Coffee of BayfieldBig Water Coffee Roasters
Coffee shop was founded in 2007, started roasting in 2009
117 Rittenhouse Ave., Bayfield
Director of wholesale: Jason Reichel
2015 production: 160,000 pounds. Roaster capacity is 22 kilograms (48.5 lbs).

As of March 2015, Big Water Coffee Roasters is a worker-owned cooperative. By the end of 2016, it will have eight worker/owners. The egalitarian organization places a high value on coffee that’s grown organically and cooperatively and all Big Water coffees are fair-trade certified. There are a number of custom blends, including Moon Chaser, a cold-press coffee the cooperative plans to bottle for retail sale. Reichel says he’s also planning a line of baked goods. Big Water Coffee is available at Duluth’s Whole Foods Co-op, Mount Royal Market and the Red Mug Coffeehouse in Superior.

Duluth Coffee CoDuluth Coffee Company
Founded in 2012
105 E. Superior St., Duluth
Owner: Eric Faust; Roaster: Charlie Comnick
2015 production: ~1,500 pounds per week. Roaster capacity is 12 kilograms (26.5 pounds).

Roaster Charlie Comnick says Duluth Coffee Company’s mission is “to roast the best tasting coffee in Duluth.” The company cultivates relationships with exporters, importers and farmers to facilitate access to quality beans. Comnick and owner Eric Faust were recently invited to Colombia to participate in a coffee competition and auction. As a result, area coffee lovers will have access to the ninth and fifth best-ranked coffees from Colombia’s Huila region. Duluth Coffee Company is available for sale at Whole Foods Co-op, Duluth Kitchen Company, Lake Avenue Restaurant & Bar, Amity Coffee, Super One Foods, Beaner’s Central Concert Coffeehouse and Perk Place Coffeehouse & Bakery.

Fika CoffeeFika Coffee
Founded in 2013
230 Old Ski Hill Rd., Grand Marais
Owners: Joshua & Stephanie Lindstrom
2015 production: 10,000 pounds. Roaster capacity is 12 kilograms (26.5 lbs).

Fika is pronounced fee-kah; it’s a Swedish word that means “coffee break.” Fika Coffee mainly roasts single-origin coffees. There is a seasonal blend in the spring/summer inspired by the nearby Boundary Waters Canoe Area called the Million Acre Blend, and a winter seasonal called the Sub Zero Blend. Fika provides wholesale coffee to many locations around Grand Marais and has coffee available for sale at Mount Royal Market in Duluth. In June, they’re opening their first coffee shop, complete with its own roastery, in Lutsen.

Lake Superior BakehouseLake Superior Bakehouse
102 W. Superior St., Duluth
Founded in June of 2015
Founders: Siblings Katina and Pauly Petsoulis. Katina and her partner Logan Kerkhof operate the Bakehouse.
2015 production: close to 4,000 pounds. Roaster capacity: one pound at a time.

Lake Superior Bakehouse (formerly Jitter’s) roasts in small batches, which allows for “the freshest and most quality controlled product possible,” according to co-owner Katina Petsoulis. The Bakehouse’s most popular roasts are Guatemalan, Colombian and Tanzanian Peaberry. A light-roasted espresso was recently introduced. Beans can be purchased directly at the Bakehouse, and Petsoulis says there are plans to have them available in other retail locations within the next year.

Midwest RoastersMidwest Roasters/Backroads Coffee
12050 N. Peters Road., Hayward
Originally established in 1987
Owners: Teresa and Rodney Peters
2015 production: 100,000+ pounds. Roaster capacity: two 25-pound and one 70-pound roaster.

Backroads Coffee shop was established in 1987. Roasting for mail order was originally done in the back of the retail shop. Twelve years ago, the owners started wholesale roasting and the roasting company became known as Midwest Roasters (Backroads Coffee remains the signature brand). Owner Teresa Peters says the French Roast is sought after because it has a distinctive smoky profile but doesn’t have the bitter aftertaste common in such dark roasts. Besides the Backroads Coffee retail shop in Hayward, Midwest Roasters’ coffee is available at Iron Mug Coffee House in Morgan Park and at Mount Royal Market.



about 8 years ago

Correction: Alakef's weekly production *exceeds* 4,000 lbs.

Lissa Maki

about 8 years ago

Thanks for the info! That's an important distinction.

Robert Lillegard

about 8 years ago

This is an awesome list! Second correction though: Starbucks does not franchise. All their stores are corporate owned except where private ownership is absolutely prohibited, in which case they make special percentage arrangements with the controlling authority (like airports or baseball stadiums).

Common mistake!

Lissa Maki

about 8 years ago

Thanks Robert! Interesting.

Paul Lundgren

about 8 years ago

Empress Coffee Duluth Perfect Always

It's a shame we can't taste-test the modern beans against Empress, which was "perfect coffee always!"

Located at 4832 Grand Avenue, later home to Chromaline/Ikonics.

Empress Coffee Building


about 7 years ago

Who is the person who sells her own roasted coffee at the 3rd St Farmers Market during the summer?

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