As owner of Deep Blue Coffee Company and host of multiple guide fishing services in the region, Ben Wolfe of Traverse City’s Deep Blue Coffee starts almost every day enjoying both.
A French chef by training, Wolfe began his career by wowing restaurant goers at New York’s famed La Caravelle but returned to northern Michigan to follow his passion for freshwater fishing. As the art of the catch starts before the bait is set — with the perfect cup of coffee — Wolfe set out to provide this for his customers by roasting his own beans into blends that would be as memorable as the “one that got away.”
How did you first get into the coffee business?
Deep Blue Coffee Company was born as an extension of my guide fishing businesses. Many of my customers are out-of-town guests, and I wanted to offer a fantastic cup of coffee to begin each day. As a chef, I didn’t want to serve just run-of-the mill stuff, so I sought out a local roaster. Together, we worked for six weeks to formulate my first proprietary blend, which is 100-percent Fair Trade and Certified Organic.
Where do you get your inspiration for new blends?
It all begins with the bean. Everything that we have is considered a blend, pulling the best characteristics from each origin and pairing it with others to create a unique taste profile. Small-batch roasting is a mix of highly technical skills and artisan creativity. We use all our abilities: sight, smell and sound to know when the beans are at their peak of flavor.
What is your most unconventional way to use coffee in cooking?
I’m mostly traditional when it comes to coffee in my cooking, but I do commonly use coffee in a dry rub for barbecues and steaks. It adds a smoky, deeply roasted flavor that’s hard to match.
What is your favorite food and coffee pairing (besides a fresh donut!)?
I don’t tend to pair a lot of food with my coffee, but I do try to pair characteristics within my coffee blends. For instance, the Summer Campfire Blend pairs a milk chocolate note with a hint of dark smokiness. Add a touch of milk for a wonderful toasted marshmallow creaminess that is so much like a s’more it’s ridiculous.
Where do you like to go for a day trip?
I don’t have a lot of spare time for day trips, but when my wife Mary Lane, who owns Live For Art Gallery in Beulah, and I have a couple of hours, we’ll spend it on the beach with our dog. It’s a great reminder of why we live here, and what we enjoy about being in northern Michigan. And of course, we go fishing!
What do you most enjoy about the coffee business?
One of the other deeply rewarding aspects of Deep Blue Coffee is supporting various charities to affect positive change. Our Traverse City Bass Blend (Wake the Bite) benefits clean water in the Grand Traverse area, with 100 percent of the proceeds donated to the Watershed Center. The Lighthouse Blend benefits the Point Betsie Lighthouse in Frankfort. We are committed to the earth.
What is your most satisfying achievement?
The most rewarding thing is to hear a customer tell me that they love what I’m doing. For somebody to say that they truly love my coffee or when a fishing business customer tells me that they had the best fishing trip experience of their life, it’s tough to top that. It means that somebody has recognized our hard work, dedication and commitment.
Freelance writer Caroline J. Beck lives in California’s wine country and Lexington, Mich.