Meet Nick and Audrey Schultz of Brown County Coffee

Coffee has been present in many of Audrey Schultz’s favorite memories. As a child, Audrey, who now owns Brown County Coffee and Bloomington Coffee Roasters, with her husband Nick, would help her father prepare his morning brew, first with a percolator and later with a French press. “It instilled a love of coffee for me early on,” she said.

When she and Nick were dating, the two decided to try roasting their own coffee for fun. “We had a Gene roaster, a little popcorn popper type thing, and we definitely ruined quite a few batches through experimenting,” she said.

On a trip out west, Audrey and Nick saw something new: bags of coffee that were stamped with the date they were roasted.

“If you’re in Seattle or Portland, you’re not going to be very successful unless you’re putting a date on your bag of coffee, keeping small shelf quantities, making small batches, and doing frequent deliveries. We knew Bloomington and Nashville would respond favorably to that business concept,” Nick said.

Nick, who had spent his career as a commercial electrician, saw coffee roasting as a way to supplement his family’s income. “We have some kids who had some pretty serious medical bills, and I was looking to get a night job roasting coffee at my house to cover the expenses,” he said.

So the couple bought a professional-grade coffee roaster and began to educate themselves about the many factors that go into roasting good coffee on a commercial scale. The company was launched in 2007.

The process begins when the bags of organic, fair-trade coffee they order from small scale farms arrive. “We buy it in 150-pound sacks and it is peanut-looking, lima bean-colored, and hard as a rock,” Nick said.

A great number of variables go into producing the flavors of their different blends, as exhibited by the process that goes into roasting their bestselling Sumatra blend. Those beans are left to sit with the smoke they generated during the roasting process, giving the a lot of complexity and a smoky center, Nick said.

As the business has taken off, Nick and Audrey have been able to make it their full-time occupation, hiring Nick’s aunt Erin Schultz to help with packaging and other tasks.  In addition to selling coffee, the company helps new coffee shops get off the ground by selling them espresso equipment at wholesale prices, installing it, and offering barista training.

Being business owners has proven richly rewarding and also unrelenting. “It takes so much more time to do every single tasks associated with running a business from beginning to end than you could ever imagine. If you’re wanting to go into business for yourself, I wouldn’t suggest it unless you don’t like sleep,” Nick said.

“Being your own boss is a blessing and a curse, because ultimately you are responsible and nobody’s going to do it for you— which is both good and bad, “ Audrey added.

Small business owners have to trust their own instincts when it comes to making decisions. “There’s not a set answer, you just have to kind of go for it and hope you made the right choice,” Audrey said.

Fortunately, since they interact with their customers frequently, they learn firsthand what’s working and what’s not. “I love the farmers’ market customer interactions the most, because they give me feedback on how we’re doing,” Nick said.

“Everybody brings a little different perspective about coffee, and I really enjoy that,” Audrey said.

Quality, not quantity, has always been and continues to be the focus. “We don’t want to become one of those coffee giants, I think that’s kind of a turn-off. I think we’d like to have a premium line of the more high-end things that are kind of hard to speculatively buy at this point. I hope to continue to improve what we do and to keep the coffee on a level where it’s accessible for everyone,” Audrey said.

“Our philosophy is that we try to improve the coffee landscape in our small area; we don’t really ship coffee. We’re trying to improve the coffee palate in our community, and share our love of coffee with our friends and acquaintances by buying the best coffee we can and roasting it the best we can,” Nick said.

“I think what keeps us going is that we really enjoy sharing good coffee, we’re sort of fanatical about it. It’s been a really fun thing—it’s a dream come true,” Audrey said.

Photo by Eoban Binder/WFIU

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