UPSTARTS: Laramie Coffee Roasters Aims To Transform Meaning Of "Cowboy Coffee"

Aug 21, 2015

H+S roaster Coulter Sunderman pours coffee for a tasting.
Credit Miles Bryan


H+S Coffee Head Roaster Coulter Sunderman has some advice for how you should consume your morning cup of coffee: remember to slurp.

“You want to slurp,” Sunderman says before a coffee tasting at H+S’s space in downtown Laramie. “It aerates the coffee across your tongue.”

The tasting would be familiar to anyone who's been to a wine tasting: the gathered coffee fans sample six unmarked cups, and toss out tasting notes like “cashew,” “peanut butter,” and “cola.”

Tasting notes are printed on each bag of coffee that H+S sells, along with the coffee bean’s country of origin, and often the individual farm they came from. This level of detail is pretty standard now at coffee roasteries in big cities like New York or Chicago. But it's fairly new to Wyoming, where “cowboy coffee” has traditionally meant emphasizing strength over flavor. That hasn’t phased H+S though.

H+S roaster Coulter Sunderman studies his beans.
Credit Miles Bryan

“Wyoming in general drinks a lot of coffee,” H+S cofounder Joshua Heien told me. “It may not be speciality grade yet, but it's the first step.”

Heien is the distribution and IT guy. That element is important for any business, but it's crucial for H+S: there aren’t that many people to sell to in the state, so the coffee roaster has had to focus on cross country sales through its website. They’re also far from the coffee culture of more urban areas--which is how they like it.

“Because we are kind of isolated, at least in a coffee culture sense, we don’t have any external influences directing what we do,” Sunderman says. “And I think that is really powerful.”

H+S’s roasting process is constant experimentation. Coffee has more flavor compounds than wine, and like a winemaker Sunderman  adjusts his roast to fit each new variety of coffee bean.

“When you roast it really meticulously you can bring out--or rather keep intact--the fingerprint each coffee has.”

Sunderman uses a computer program to monitor a roast.
Credit Miles Bryan

To get this level of precision Sunderman tracks the progress of his roast on a computer program, which monitors and graphs things like how hot the roaster is, and the moisture of the beans. It’s data, not just smell and taste, that helps Sunderman and Heien figure out why a certain coffee is coming out too acidic or burnt tasting. Or how repeat a perfect roast again and again.

Audem Gonzalez is one of H+S’s testers. He’s new to the whole speciality coffee thing,  and he likes it. He says he won’t be going back to his old morning routine of Starbucks on a good day, Folgers or gas station coffee on an average one.

Joshua Heien and Coulter Sunderman are counting on conversions like this for H+S to be a success. And so far, it seems to be working: the roastery is already selling about 700 pounds of coffee each month.