BROOKFIELD – For Marcus Contaldo, it all began with a freshly roasted cup of coffee at the Brookfield Farmers Market. From there, curiosity turned into a hobby. Then, the hobby turned into an obsession. Finally, when there seemed to be nowhere else to go, it turned into a business.
The result is Modest Coffee and their website www.modest-coffee.com.
Run by Marcus and his wife, Jennifer, the Brookfield couple became hooked on fresh roasted coffee over a summer at the Brookfield Farmer's Market.
"Our guy at the farmer's market got us into it," Marcus recalled. "After that, the store bought stuff just didn't taste the same. But then we couldn't get it."
The seasons had changed and the farmers market had closed down for winter. Marcus tried to find the roaster's website to see if he could order more from him directly online, but finding none, he found himself out of luck.
So, Marcus said he decided to do it himself.
"I started with an air popper," he said.
According to Marcus, an air popper popcorn maker can be used to make your own fresh roasted coffee at home. He began experimenting with different types of coffee from different areas of the world. He experimented with different roasts, light and dark, which determine the taste and balance of the final brew. Soon enough, that wasn't enough either. Jennifer eventually bought him a small coffee roaster as a gift, and three years after first roasting, Marcus started thinking about a business idea.
Recalling his difficulty finding his favorite farmers market vendor online, he thought he could turn his loss into a business opportunity. By offering fresh roasted coffee online, Marcus decided he'd be able to sell to anyone, attract a base of loyal fans who need their coffee fix on a regular basis and keep the business out of his home.
"After he laid it all out for me, I said, 'just do it," Jennifer said. "It seemed like a great idea."
In November, the couple rented out a small warehouse space in West Chicago near the school Jennifer teaches at. In December, Modest Coffee went live online.
Marcus had been talking with other coffee fanatics online in a coffee section of the online message board reddit. When he first unveiled the site and the idea, he said the response was mostly negative. Taking their suggestions in mind, he re-tooled his site and posted it again. This time, they sold 100 orders in the first 24 hours.
"That's when strangers first bought our coffee," Marcus said. "We knew we had something."
Modest Coffee works like a subscription service. Customers can go to the website and select one of three tiers of coffee: The Modest, the Enthusiast and the Collector. The Modest level costs $12, the Enthusiast for $15 and the Collector for $18 for 12-ounce bags.
The coffee is fresh roasted and then shipped out 1 to 2 business days later. This is ideal, Marcus said, as roasted coffee needs about three days to "sit" before it reaches perfection.
"You ship it out and by the time it arrives at your door it's ready to drink," Marcus said.
The coffee brand has found a following among customers who want their coffee fresh, fair trade and environmentally friendly. Marcus and Jennifer source all of their coffee directly from the farmer, which allows them to make sure the farmer in Ethiopia or Columbia are fairly compensated for their work and are using environmentall friendly methods to harvest the beans, which look a bit like red cranberries in their fruit form.
"Making sure we know who we're getting the coffee from is very important to us," Jennifer said. "It's one of our standards and it lets the customers know they can feel good about [drinking it]."
By the time Marcus gets it in West Chicago in huge burlap bags, just the bean remains, which looks like little yellow peanuts, or are sometimes a green hue, like pistachios. Marcus then fires up his coffee roaster – purchased from a roaster in Chicago who grew out of it – and dumps in just enough coffee to fill the orders. The fresh beans are good indefinitely, he said. By roasting for each order, the customer knows their product hasn't sat out on the shelf.
Customers can purchase coffee from the modest website by the single package, or they can sign up for a subscription, which will send the requested amount to the customer on a regular basis at a rate of their choosing. All the packaging is American made, the couple said, and environmentally friendly – even the coffee bags are compostable.
"We want to cater to people who care where [their coffee] comes from and how it tastes," Marcus said. "We care."
What: Modest Coffee
Where: Based in Brookfield, roasted in West Chicago
More info: www.modest-coffee.com
Look out for: Keep an eye out for Marcus and Jennifer Contaldo at area farmers market this summer. You might just get hooked on your first fresh roasted cup, too.