Blaine County Beacon
August 14, 2019
Although right out of high school in 1991 Natalie Brekke knew she wanted to own her own business, she did some exploring before finally finding her niche. In the fall of 1991, she enrolled at MSU-Northern as an Elementary Education major, but after two years she realized that teaching just wasn't the right fit for her. So, she moved to Billings and enrolled at May Technical College, earning credentials to work with medical records. For three years, she put that education to work at the Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch while also conducting a transcribing business for extra income.
In 1996, Brekke married Darrel Hannum, whom she had met while attending MSU-Northern. The couple's first child, Marshall was born in October of 1997, and the family moved back to Havre in November of 1998. Their daughter Emily arrived in March of 2001, and in November 2008, Laney joined the family.
For fifteen years while her children were growing, Hannum operated a day care business out of her home in Havre, but when her youngest daughter Laney began kindergarten, something stirred in Hannum, who craved adult interaction and something more stimulating. "I needed to be busy, and with my own children all in school, I was ready to branch out," she said.
Hannum claims that she has always had a passion for coffee, having purchased her first espresso machine just out of high school, so when the Coffee Hound became available, she jumped at the chance to own that business. Although she bought the drive thru coffee shop in 2014, that first step outside the home as a mother was agonizing for Hannum: "How could I leave my children and my home in the early dawn hours when they most needed parental guidance with getting up, eating breakfast, and getting ready for school? I would need to be absent during this crucial time, and that felt impossible," she said.
However, Hannum recalls that decision as one of the best she has made. "I discovered that I was micromanaging my children in those early and chaotic hours, making them irritable, so leaving those duties to my husband was the best decision."
In July of this year, she opened another new but related business, 406 Roasting Company. The 406 Roasting Company is actually two businesses, one that roasts coffee beans and another that is a café and coffee house located at 1415 1st Street, Suite A, adjacent to the Havre Emporium Food and Fuel Casino and RV Park.
Hannum buys three varieties of green, single origin coffee beans from an importer in Minnesota: Kenya, Mexican Chiapas, and Honduras. The beans are delivered on palettes to her roasting facility, which is located at the Havre Holiday Village Mall in the former location of the Elite Tanning Salon. "We not only needed a facility with ventilation but with the door space for a 2200 pound machine and for product deliveries," Hannum said.
According to Hannum, good coffee starts with good beans and pure water. She explained that coffee beans are stored green, a state in which they can be kept without loss of quality or taste. A coffee bean in this stage has none of the characteristics of a roasted bean. The beans are grayish green in color and soft and spongy to the bite, smelling somewhat grassy or piney.
Roasting brings out the aroma and flavor that is locked inside these green coffee beans. The roasting process causes chemical changes to take place as the beans are rapidly brought to very high temperatures. When they reach an internal temperature of about 400 degrees Fahrenheit, they begin to turn brown, and the caffeol, a fragrant oil locked inside the beans, begins to emerge. This process called pyrolysis is at the heart of roasting. When the beans reach the peak of perfection, they are quickly cooled to stop the process. Then, they need to sit for about 24 hours to de-gas. Roasted beans weigh less because the moisture has been roasted out. They are crunchy to the bite, ready to be ground and brewed. Once roasted, however, they should be used as quickly as possible before their flavor begins to diminish.
"Roasting my own beans ensures a fresher product, and the process is actually quite technical," she explained. "It's not just beans in an oven. It's a science with a recipe that depends on timing. Everything from the air flow to the temperature has to be monitored since any small fluctuation will affect the flavor. My husband and I had to attend training so that we could learn how to 'read' the beans and to make decisions with split-second timing. The difference between perfectly roasted coffee and a ruined batch can be a matter of seconds."
Hannum's husband is the main roaster while she serves as the official taster, selecting flavors and blends. To achieve the desired flavor notes, the couple starts with two-pound samples in a small batch roaster. These test roasts are performed to determine the "recipe" that will be used for roasting a larger batch in the roastery. For a light to medium roast, the beans are roasted to "first crack," when the moisture and oxygen escape from the beans. This typically takes about ten minutes. For a darker roast, the beans will roast for approximately another six minutes until "second crack" when carbon dioxide escapes.
Hannum compared the process to popping popcorn kernels as the beans quite literally "pop" when they are heated to a certain temperature, and the roasting beans smell similarly to burnt popcorn kernels, although the beans are kept moving throughout the entire process to keep them from burning.
Once the beans have rested, they are ground and tested for quality and taste in a process referred to as cupping. The ground beans are infused in boiling water with carefully-controlled temperature and quality. Hannum uses filtered, reverse osmosis water to achieve a better brew. Then, the taster - usually called the cupper - smells, or noses, the brew to experience its aroma, an essential step in judging the coffee's quality. After letting the coffee rest for approximately another four minutes, the cupper breaks the crust by pushing aside the grounds at the top of the cup. Again, the coffee is nosed before the tasting begins. To taste the coffee, the cupper slurps with a quick but noisy inhalation. The objective is to open the cupper's taste buds and then to spray the coffee evenly over them. If the coffee passes this scrutiny, the roasted beans are ready for consumption.
These beans get used at both the Coffee Hound and the café east of the Emporium in a variety of coffee beverages, from cold brew and nitro coffee to lattes and other specialty drinks. In addition to coffee, beverages such as teas, Italian sodas, and all-natural energy infusions are served at the 406. Patrons can also select from daily, revolving pastry specials, including huckleberry coffee cake, lemon poppy seed muffins, apple pie bars, monkey bread, English toffee bars, banana nutella muffins, and huckleberry scones. Breakfast and lunch sandwiches, bagels, salads, and wraps are available, as well.
With its indoor seating and picnic tables out front, this business is different from the Coffee Hound, which is more grab and go, according to Hannum. "I like to tell people that our new location is like its own area code. I love it here since we're tucked back from the highway. I'm like my dad, in that I can visit with anyone, and travelers are typically in a good mood and eager to share details of their adventures," she stated. "I spend a lot of time visiting with the people who stop at the shop. It's important to me that I have a nice environment and can give people comfort and a good cup of coffee."
Her knowledge of coffee, her sunny disposition, and her love for people make this current endeavor a good fit for Hannum. Because she is an adaptable, go-with-the-flow type of person, not much in the business surprises her. "I'm not rattled by problems," she said. "I just roll with whatever comes my way. Although owning several businesses is a lot of work, I'm up for it!"
In fact, Hannum shares three tidbits of advice with others engaged in or hoping to start a business of their own: "Be open to anything, don't allow troubles to hold you down, and have fun!"
Despite her positive attitude and resilient personality, Hannum did reflect on the process of getting the business up and running and the challenges presented by the waiting. "I had most of the plans in place by the end of January, but then we had to wait on mall access, wait on construction, and wait for other things beyond our control. The waiting was the greatest challenge," she exclaimed.
The 406 Roasting Company is truly a family business-with Darrel Hannum as the primary roaster, Emily as a waitress at the café, and even ten-year-old Laney taking part as another cupper. The Hannums value bringing something local to the community and hope to branch out with the roasting business, eventually packaging and distributing their own roasted beans. Natalie added that she and her husband hope to one day travel to the bean's place of origin and to visit with the coffee plantation growers. She also hopes to do more training as a cupper so that she has the vocabulary to describe the tasting and the various flavor notes. "Knowing what good coffee is ruins you in a good way," Hannum said. "There's no going back to grocery store grinds after you've roasted your own beans!"