Great Northern Roasting Company Perks Up

Great Northern Roasting Company Perks Up

By Beth Milligan

The next big thing in coffee is brewing right here in northern Michigan.

Jack Davis, owner of Great Northern Roasting Company in Traverse City is determined to elevate the way people think about – and consume – coffee. Since 2001, Davis and his wife, Sarah, have specialized in providing private estate, direct trade and rare coffees from around the globe, working with niche importers to obtain raw beans and roasting them in-house.

On average 50,000 pounds of coffee past through the roaster's doors each year.

"Coffee is a product that’s constantly taken for granted," Davis said. "My job is to help customers distinguish between the good, the bad and the great."

Sixty percent of GNRC’s drum-roasted products are distributed each week to local restaurants and coffee shops, while the remaining 40 percent makes its way onto grocery store shelves (direct retail purchases are available through the company’s website, but the majority of public sales come through outside retail outlets.)

Davis' background as a welder and trade fabricator provides an additional perk for his clients: the ability to service their coffee equipment and train servers and staff on brewing the perfect cup of java. An ardent believer that quality and consistency derive from "creating a culture where everybody cares," Davis makes sure whenever possible that those serving his products are equipped with the knowledge of how best to prepare them.

In fact, Davis cultivates this knowledge firsthand working in his "espresso lab" with head barista and roaster Jeffrey Brown, testing the company’s line of 30 coffee products to determine the exact process that will yield the ideal flavor profile for a particular bean.

A number of diverse factors can impact the taste of coffee – including equipment, temperature and type of water used – but Davis believes the bean itself is the most important element.

"A good product will always show up," he said. "You can have a great cup of coffee in the woods over a campfire if you have the right beans."

Sourcing the right beans is GNRC’s specialty. Davis has built relationships with a complex network of farmers and importers around the world, curating beans from places as far-flung as Ethiopia and Colombia.

"The best coffee comes from the world’s most dangerous places," he said.

Passionate about issues of sustainability and ecology, the entrepreneur insists on working exclusively with organizations that pay farmers fair wages and donates three percent of proceeds from his Birds, Bees and & Trees line of products to environmental protection groups.

In addition to finding the best products, Davis is also obsessed with developing the best brewing processes. At the moment, he is hard at work designing a revolutionary single-cup brewing machine that utilizes vacuum technology and negative air pressure to produce a premium cup of coffee. The machine allows users to control every element of the brewing process and removes physical flaws that can damage flavors.

Davis' machine, which is modeled after the Clover, a $20,000 machine that is now unavailable to consumers after Starbucks bought out the company in 2008, there is little competition and significant unmet demand, Davis said.

"This machine … has the potential to be a real game-changer," he said. "There’s nothing like it out there right now."

An earlier model of the machine Davis designed called the Piston risked infringing on the Clover’s patented technology, but he has since refined the design to attain legal approval and proceed with prototype development. He predicts the company could move into manufacturing as soon as fall 2014.

That’s one of just several potential big developments looming on the horizon for Great Northern Roasting Company. Already nearing roasting capacity at the company’s current production facility on East Silver Lake Road near Grawn, Davis says he’ll likely look at acquiring another building in the next year or two.

Davis' big dream – a move that would allow him to finally control both his products and their final prepared presentation – is also only a year or two away.

"Opening an espresso counter, a retail shop in TC – that’s the Promised Land," he said. "I’m very lucky in that every day, I get to come to work and do what I love. Having a shop of our own, on top of all these other things we’ve got going would finally make the circle complete."