Little Red Wagon and Local Roasting Revolution

What does World War II (WWII) have to do with local coffee roasters? I always find it fascinating to discover the ways our world is interconnected. Events from the past can ripple through time and cause even the most remote effects on our present lives.

Before WWII, America was still somewhat of a fledgling country. The industrial revolution greatly advanced our economy and allowed us to properly utilize the vast amount of resources in our land, thus leading to the roaring twenties. However, this prosperity was unstable and the economic recession in Europe after WWI collapsed this bubble — resulting in the Great Depression. American involvement in WWII greatly built our capacity for production and focused our economy towards a shared goal. So when WWII ended, America’s economy was a powerhouse. This was the so-called “Golden Age of Capitalism.” Small companies grew into huge brand-names that dominated the marketplace. This period gave rise to many multi-billion dollar corporations which still exist today. Until recently the American consumer has believed in and loved these brand-name products, yet with the recent recession and anger against Wall Street “fat cats,” interest increases in small, locally owned businesses. People are just less comfortable giving money to faceless corporations. Thus, Americans have come back to local coffee roasters.

We in Bozeman are a bit spoiled. We are used to fresh local produce and meat, locally brewed beer and now an increasing number of local coffee roasters. One can already find locally roasted beans at the Bozeman Community Food Co-op and some of the chain grocery stores, but a new ambitious roaster recently joined their ranks. Little Red Wagon Coffee has just set up shop in the back of Wild Joe’s on Main Street downtown. I recently sat down to talk to one of the co-founders of the new roasting company.

Natalie Van Dusen explained that the idea for Little Red Wagon began when she was travelling through Colombia in 2008. She was visiting a local coffee farm and was “inspired by the process.” The Colombian farmer helped her roast her first beans over an open flame on his stove top. She said the experience “opened my eyes to more about coffee … I thought I knew so much but I really knew nothing.”

Roasting became a hobby of hers for a number of years until she arrived in Bozeman and decided to make a business out of it with co-founder Kelly Meredith. Van Dusen hopes that the roasting room will be a place of “open education and [will] open the door of conversation around coffee.”

Red Wagon itself is housed in a small but cozy spaceaccessible through Wild Joe’s Coffee House. The room acts as both a tasting area and a roasting facility. A small bar equipped with french press and pour-over coffee brewers serves as a base for tastings, held Tuesday through Saturday mornings from 8 – 12 a.m.

In another corner stands an unassuming roasting machine which at any point could be roasting beans from all over the world. A plank of wood with a world map drawn on it hangs on the wall opposite to the machine. Colorful pictures attached to the map illustrate the places where the beans are sourced. Red Wagon imports beans from Colombia, Rwanda, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Brazil, Guatemala, Mexico, Bolivia and even India. Van Dusen proudly said that Red Wagon’s beans are “sourced seasonally, so they are always changing.” As the year continues, a wide variety of roasts from all over the world to sample. When asked what her favorite bean in particular was, Van Dusen replied that she didn’t have a favorite. “I love that they’re all so different … I tend to like the more interesting and dynamic coffees … but they’re all so unique and different and I love them all,” Van Dusen said.

I myself sampled a Colombian Excelso which was excellent — it had a smooth, semisweet taste with an overtone of caramel and a hint of fruit. If you wish to experience Little Red Wagon’s roasts for yourself you can find them online, in-store Tuesday – Saturday, 8 a.m. – 1 p.m., or buy them in Town and Country Foods. Twelve ounces of coffee will cost you around $13 but includes a mason jar for freshness. We truly are lucky to live in a town where fresh produce is so readily available, and I implore you to take advantage of it. Don’t take my word for it — go and taste for yourself. If you love coffee you must experience a local, fresh roast.

Little Red Wagon is located at 18 W Main St, Bozeman, Mt 59715. They can be contacted at (406) 219-7891 or online through their website natalie-vandusen.squarespace.com.