44 North Coffee - Roaster Interview

We were introduced to 44 North Coffee through our interview with with Dispatch Coffee's Chrissy. When I asked Chrissy about her favorite cup of coffee, here's what how she described her cup of 44 North: 

"I had a simple breakfast of eggs and fresh caught mackerel with a french press of this rich coffee, and I can still remember how the funk of the forest and the salt of the ocean affected the cup. The environment was almost like aromatic seasoning, and it was consumed in complete seclusion, you know, with a smattering of seagulls and waves lapping the rocks."

Poetic and thirst inducing. I still have an undying envy of driving down to the coast of Maine to enjoy this cup of joe for myself. Until then, I comforted myself by discovering more on 44 North via its two founders: Megan Wood and Melissa Raftery. 

Hey guys! Can you briefly describe your hometown, Deer Isle, Maine, for us?

Deer Isle is located in mid-coast Maine with a population hovering around 3,500 year-round residents.  The island swells to a population of about 8,500 from May - Oct with second home owners and tourists.

Lobstering is Deer Isle's primary economic engine (with coffee roasting right behind it... just kidding!) Many other entrepreneurs including artists and people involved in ocean industries have settled here. It's a brilliant spot for those who enjoy quiet and natural beauty with over 112 miles of shoreline. 

How has being on a small island affected your business? 

We are lucky to have a bridge that spans 1,088 feet and connects us to the mainland! This make green coffee freight deliveries all the more efficient but typically we can count on 4-5 days transit time once our coffee is picked up in New Jersey. Shipping costs for other raw products are also heightened but we try to source locally whenever possible to overcome that. 

Our remote nature has allowed us to introduce third wave coffee in the exact form that we feel inspired to do so. Prior to the establishment of 44 North, there was minimal cafe culture on the island or around the peninsula so we have been given the great opportunity to set the tone for cup quality and pleasant meeting spaces.

...we have been given the great opportunity to set the tone for cup quality and pleasant meeting spaces.

Why is it important for you to source from organic coffee farms?

Looking at our yearly expenses, the purchase of green coffee is our largest extraction of money and with that extraction comes a choice. We stand by coffee that is grown without synthetic chemicals or fertilizers and believe in the positive health benefits to the environment, those who live and work in coffee producing regions and the health of the end consumer. While 95% of our coffee is certified organic we also buy from smaller producers who cannot afford certification but operate organically.

Two women started 44 North. Who are they and what pushed them to open their own coffee roaster? 

44 North Coffee is co-founded and operated by Megan Wood (Deer Isle, ME) and Melissa Raftery (Cincinnati, Ohio). Megan and I met at a former job (a small freezing cold warehouse doing web shipping and fulfillment for an outdoor camping gear company). We consumed so much coffee together that it became a real conversation piece. We alternated ordering coffee from various roasters across the USA bi-weekly and began to seriously talk about what we were tasting in the cup and how great it would be to start a roasting company on this island that sold at the local farmer's market.

I can remember the exact moment when we found our first used roaster on eBay, a 3 kilo Diedrich machine. We went and fetched it from rural New Jersey and posed with the big square shipping crate just before we drove it back across the Deer Isle bridge. I think at the time both of us might have been saying "what have we done?" but here we are 7 years later!

Melissa, you moved to Maine to become a rafting guide. Do you still have time to get the adrenaline pumping between roasting beans and running two different coffee shops?

Why yes! While I am technically "retired" from professional raft guiding I do make the occasional trip up to the Kennebec or Penobscot river for play runs. I've also become quite a fan of the salt water living on this lovely island.

You guys sell pour-over, french press and AeroPress drinks. What are your personal preferences when brewing your own coffee?

Megan is a Chemex fan while I start my morning with a pour-over. Often in the chilly winter mornings I will warm up local full fat milk to go with my first cup, otherwise, we both drink black coffee.

Where does the name 44 North come from? 

Our shop and roastery in Deer Isle sits at 44.23 degrees latitude. We liked using this geographical reference point and also note the line of latitude on the back of our coffee packaging where the beans come from.

It's a good reminder of the travel and distance between the coffee growers and consumers.

Working in a roaster and coffee shop, do you ever feel like you drink too much coffee?

Megan and I both now keep our coffee consumption at 2-3 cups per day. In the beginning we were consuming at much higher numbers! But for me personally, that first cup of the day equals liquid gold, where cups following the 1st might make me a wee bit less productive and more like a jitter-bug.

Who has inspired you in the past 12 months? 

Megan ordered a book about a month ago titled "In The Company of Women" by Grace Bonney. This book is chock full of profiles on rockin' female entrepreneurs, from writers to textile designers and chefs.

The book has been out in the cafe for everyone to pick up and read and as the daylight hours reduce and holiday orders pick-up, the inspirational stories keep us going.

Apart from 44 North, who is your favorite coffee roaster?

Oh boy... so many great roasters out there, but I'll throw it up to Lamplighter Coffee based in Richmond, VA. We recently heard a couple of their co-founders speak at the MANE Coffee Conference in Providence, RI and we really enjoyed their approach to running a small but expanding business.

You guys learned coffee roasting from scratch. What was the hardest obstacle you had to overcome? 

1) Finding information!  2) Finding necessary time to cup coffee!

There is so much info out there and many different approaches to roasting coffee from start to finish. Experimentation is what makes the coffee industry unique.

Artisanal roasting surely should not be a "set it and forget it" drill. We find that the more our team can cup, the better.

Recently we began closing 2 hours early every Wednesday for a weekly staff cupping and in a short amount of time this has paid off as I can now see our palette vocabulary developing deeper.


Where can people learn more about 44 North?

Website - www.44northcoffee.com

Instagram - @44northcoffee

Facebook - 44 North Coffee

All pictures by Jenny Rebecca Nelson from http://wyldephotography.org/ 

Like this article? Like coffee? Check out our travel mugs! They help reduce waste by eliminating the need for waxed papers cups and we give back 10% of our sales to support the development of poor rural coffee communities of Latin America. 

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