Far removed from the U.S. coffee capital of Seattle — home to Starbucks, Seattle’s Best and Tully’s — one might imagine that a coffee enthusiast’s search for the perfect cup of joe in eastern Idaho could prove difficult.
After all, the Snake River Plain isn’t exactly an epicenter for a coffee culture.
But an Idaho Falls couple is working to enhance the public’s knowledge and impression of “good coffee.”
After immigrating to the United States from her native Colombia in the 1990s, Jenny Bueno has had one goal in mind — spread her love, knowledge, and passion for coffee from her native country to the United States.
“I’ve always been passionate and had a love for coffee. Good coffee,” she said. “That, and the fact that when I came to this country back in the ’90s, I realized there wasn’t really good coffee around here. So I always dreamed of doing this business.”
“It’s my culture, my heritage, and my love of coffee.”
Bueno, along with her husband Arthur Baker, are owners of the Chapolera Coffee Roastery in Idaho Falls.
Chapolera is the Colombian name for people who plant, harvest and care for the coffee bean trees in the nation’s coffee-growing region.
Operating out of a small warehouse at the Idaho Innovation Center on North Yellowstone Highway, Baker and Bueno have, within a year and half, turned a passion into a thriving small business.
Chapolera Coffee is available online, direct from the warehouse, and in more than a dozen local and regional stores. It’s a success story sparked by turning a passion into a career.
“We always had an interest in entrepreneurial activities,” Baker said. “So when I took a job (in Idaho Falls), she was working full time. So when we moved up here, we decided that, instead of her working full time we would start the business.”
Baker, who works full time in technology deployment at Idaho National Laboratory, has become an enthusiast of the roasting and brewing process, spending most of his free time focusing on perfecting different styles of specialty coffee. But that was not always the case.
“I always laugh and say that I drank bad coffee,” Baker said. “And when I met her she convinced and taught me to drink good coffee and what good coffee is.”
Today, Baker, who works in the roastery as much as possible, has become a connoisseur.
“Roasting coffee is a lot of fun, and I really enjoy that aspect of it,” he said. “I hope we can provide Idaho Falls with good specialty coffee and educate some people as well.”
Straight from Colombia
Chapolera Coffee specializes in what Bueno calls “true, single-origin coffee.” This means the coffee is “fully traceable to each source,” and provides unique attributes and information Bueno believes separates her company from competitors.
“We don’t do blends or mix coffee from different farms or regions,” she said. “Each coffee is traceable so you know the history, the pedigree of the coffee.
“I always say that there is a story behind each bean. Who owns that farm? How was it harvested? How was it processed? What makes that coffee special?”
On a recent trip to Colombia, Bueno spent 2 1/2 weeks scouring an area referred to as the “Coffee Triangle,” meeting with local farmers and searching for new and innovative beans to bring back to the United States.
“Every time I go back I will talk to the farmers, the roasters, and the people in the area, and I learn so much,” she said. “I feel like I’m a kid in kindergarten learning how to walk. There’s a lot of stuff.”
Bueno said she holds high standards for the beans she will buy from farmers and sell under the Chapolera Coffee name. It is a vetting process that, for some farmers, might take years to pass.
“We met with a couple new farmers, and two others that are not at the level we need them to be in terms of quality and farming practices, but they want to get there,” she said. “When you go there, they are very interested, always asking you questions like ‘what kind of coffee do you need?’ ‘What are your parameters?’ ‘What do you want us to do?’ So you talk to them and let them know what you’re looking for, what you need them to do, and they start working toward that goal.”
On the trip, Bueno visited nine farms, only four of which met her standards.
“We kind of do an audit on the farm, making sure of the things we do,” she said. “We don’t have 35 organic coffees, but because we deal with the farmers, because we go there and do audits, we can tell people they have environmentally friendly practices.”
The idea of specialty coffee might seem like a reach for some simply looking for a morning boost. But, as the old adage goes, you get what you pay for. And Chapolera Coffee wants residents to know that the product they produce and sell is referred to as specialty coffee for a reason.
“If you’re a wine drinker, in wine they have a scale from 1 to 100. In coffee, there is also a scale from 1 to 100,” Baker said. “Specialty coffee is coffee that cups at 85 or 86 and above. Starbucks is probably in the high 70s or low 80s for their best cup, so this is the next step up.”
Along with the single origin nature and trace-ability aspect of specialty coffee, once the beans are in the Chapolera warehouse, it’s the quick processing that separates their coffee from cheaper, store-bought brands.
“We roast the coffee as people want it, so it gives people the best taste and the best flavor,” he said. “Some Folgers coffee might be four or five years old when they roast it. None of ours are.”
At any given time, Chapolera offers four to eight types of coffee with different roasting options. Each coffee is sampled before receiving any shipment or beginning any roasting process.
Chapolera prices each 12-oz. bag of coffee it sells for $12, but Bueno said once people taste the coffee, they recognize what the extra money provides in terms of quality and freshness.
“People will say ‘why do I want to pay $12 for a bag of coffee when I can buy Folgers for $6?’ Well, because Folgers, you cannot trace it,” Bueno said. “You do not even know where that coffee is coming from or how it was processed. You know none of that. So you pay more for that, and to be able to know your source.”
Baker and Bueno want to expand into the world of coffeehouses and educational ventures. The company recently purchased the old Buttercup Bakery location on First Street in Idaho Falls. Renovation of the shop is underway, with hopes of testing the waters soon with a series of soft openings before a grand opening in March.
The grand opening of the Chapolera Coffee Shop will coincide with the groundbreaking on a new roastery, which will be built beside the shop.
Not only will the shop provide a one-stop location for Chapolera, the roastery will also help expand on one key prong of Baker’s and Bueno’s goal for the company — educating the community. Chapolera has hosted several tutorials and tastings at the warehouse, but the added space of the new location will allow it to expand on these ventures.
“When we move the roastery over there in the spring, one thing we want to do is have a classroom area,” Baker said. “People can come in and taste different coffees. They can come in and we will have things where Jenny teaches them some of the roasting techniques. We hope that will build up.”
It is Bueno’s hope that the new coffee shop will help expand the coffee culture in Idaho Falls.
“We do have a good sized (coffee community), but it’s not huge,” she said. “And a lot of people, they still need a little education into what specialty coffee is. What it means to have a good cup of coffee. So that’s one of the things I see us doing a lot of here. Educating people as to why this coffee is special and special to us.”
Ultimately Bueno hopes to help boost the local economy, one job and cup of coffee at a time.
“Hopefully we’ll create some more employment as we grow and need to hire people both at the coffee shop and roastery,” Bueno said.
Reporter Marc Basham can be reached at 208-542-6763.