The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

On The Table

July 31, 2013

Custom blend: Restauranteur develops signature style for coffee

JOPLIN, Mo. — It's reminiscent of the Tin Man from the "Wizard of Oz." Or perhaps a candy-making device from "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory."

It brings to mind something concocted for the movie world, but it's actually very much a part of this world.

The coffee roaster near the entrance of Granny's Shaffer's on North Range Line Road gets your attention. Order coffee and you will be treated to owner Mike Wiggins' signature blend, freshly roasted and ground on the premises.

It's never put into a regular coffee pot or on a coffee pot burner. It's served in a glass-lined carafe, which has been proved to hold heat for up to eight hours.

A signature blend? Glass-lined carafes? How did coffee at Granny Shaffer's come to this?

Mike set out over two years ago in search of the best coffee to go with the breakfasts he serves. His friend Jamie Carlisle, of Kansas City, taught Mike about beans and roasting. Traveling to Ecuador without many plans, Mike managed to maneuver the terrain, speaking only English to a Spanish-speaking man who drove a truck, visiting the rain forest and seeing the coffee beans growing firsthand.

In its natural setting, the coffee bean is a cherry-red pod. The outside is soaked off, and the inside nut is what bean buyers are after. Cutting out the middleman, Mike teamed up Jamie and started working directly with a coffee farmer from El Salvador.

He must have a nose for coffee. When given several coffees to taste, Mike selected his blend from the offerings, similar to a winemaker tasting wines.

Purchasing coffee from El Salvador can be challenging. After communicating via phone, fax and mail, the 10,000 pounds of what Mike thinks is the best coffee in the world was on its way to Granny Shaffer's Restaurant. The beans were put in a container in El Salvador and shipped to Houston. A little paperwork snafu in Houston caused the shipment to sit there for about three weeks, but that was eventually fixed and the beans made their way to climate-controlled storage in Kansas City, where they are blended with other beans from around the world to create Granny Shaffer's signature blend.

Finding the right bean is only the start of the story. Jamie found the perfect coffee roaster for Mike Ñ it's one of a kind and would be hard to find anywhere else in this part of the Midwest. They took it to Jamie's house, which was already wired for his personal coffee roaster, hooked it up and air-roasted some beans. Achieving light, medium or dark roast is all a matter of setting the machine correctly. Sensors detect the proper heat of the air-roasted beans, and when that temperature is achieved the heat stops, and a fine mist begins spraying the beans to stop the roasting immediately. They never go above the desired temperature, ensuring the perfect roast every time.

What's the strongest roast? Like most people, I would answer dark, but Mike tells me that's not true. There's more caffeine and stronger coffee taste in light roast. Some coffee shops actually give their light roast a different name Ñ the belief is that labeling the coffee "light roast" could cause customers to think they were missing out on a more robust product.

Winning the Cup of Excellence, as named by the jury of the International Alliance for Coffee Excellence, cements Mike's conviction that his signature blend can't be beat. While Mike's batch is perfect for his liking, he must always test the beans Ñ their taste changes from year to year, even when they're from the same location, because of weather and other contributors. One side of the mountain may get more sun than the other, which could make a big difference in the end product. The same location that provided the perfect bean this year may offer a less desirable been next year. It's a never-ending quest to provide great coffee.

At Granny Shaffer's, you can buy the coffee beans of your choice and take them home to grind yourself. Or just tell them what kind of coffee maker you have and they will grind it to best suit your machine. My mother, Wilma Evans, has a Keurig machine, so I bought her some signature blend specifically for her coffee maker. It's high praise when she says it may well be the best coffee she has ever tasted.

Choose beans from Ethiopia, Brazil, Indonesia, Columbia or Guatemala, or choose the signature blend, which is also available in decaffeinated. Eight ounces is $4.98 and 16 ounces is $8.98. In an effort to keep customers from feeling cheated, Mike fills the bags of beans with 19 ounces. About three ounces are lost during roasting, so the extra beans assure you of a full pound of finished product.

If you are looking for a great cup of coffee while out to eat or if you want to fix your own perfect cup at home, Granny Shaffer's may just be the Emerald City at the end of the yellow brick road.

What goes good with a great cup of coffee? Try the oven-baked Western omelet from "Taste of Home." Kraft gives us the next two recipes. The linguine dinner is quick and filling, while the frozen cheesecake squares are pretty with their contrasting Oreo crust. The dessert recipe says a 9-inch square pan yields 25 servings, but I beg to differ. I would make two cuts down the middle and serve four. Have a wonderful week and happy eating.


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