Clay Sharkey graduated from YME in 2006. It was there he met his now wife of almost eight years. During their honeymoon, they toured a coffee roasting facility in Glacier National Park. The tour guide equated the roaster to “a glorified popcorn popper.” One of their wedding gifts happened to be a popcorn popper. Sharkey decided to try roasting coffee in it, like he had seen on the tour. This small success plus his love of coffee brewed into an idea to go into business with a friend, Eric Poppler. They formed the Beans Coffee Company in Mankato. At first, the production was very slow. The popcorn popper only holds a quarter of a cup at a time, so filling one bag took about three hours. Later they found someone in Blue Earth that made conversion kits to turn barbecue grills into coffee roasters. The long cylinder rotating drum could hold up to six lbs.

at a time. The downside is that they can’t see the roast as it cooks. But they can “see” it through sound. The various coffee flavors come from variations in the length of roasting, how rapidly it’s heated, and how the coffee beans are processed. (The beans are actually seeds inside berries that grow on trees.) The soil type, elevation the trees grow at, and moisture also affect the flavor. Those factors, along with the degree of roasting, determine the flavor. Coffee beans emit a crack noise, similar to popcorn, during the “1st roast,” which is lighter. If the beans are kept roasting, there is a much more rapid lower cracking for the “2nd roast” which creates a darker blend.

Sharkey and Poppler started roasting in a garage in 2014, and in 2016 moved into an office space. At first they had to sell in person, at farmer’s markets, because Minnesota has a Cottage Food Law, which means that homemade food products, can be sold out of the home, but have to be sold directly to the consumer, and the consumer has to be informed that the goods are homemade. The reason is concern about ‘food safety.’ They are working on expanding to local businesses in Mankato, and also offer “coffee subscriptions” online. Sharkey and Poppler both have other full time jobs and families. Both say they have “very understanding wives” that support them as they continue to grow and expand their dream of bringing quality coffee to people.