Of the five senses, smell is the most memorable. The smell of coffee beans, for example, or the smell of fresh brewed coffee, take me back to the large kitchen in our gingerbread colored house in Colombia where I spent my youth. Back home, we started our mornings with a very simple breakfast of a grilled corn patty (arepa), a slice of papaya, a piece of queso fresco, and a cup of fresh brewed coffee. Like a good Colombian, I enjoy coffee. To us, coffee is more than a beverage, it is part of our identity and a source of pride.
One cold morning, while setting up my tamales and arepas at Bozeman’s Winter Farmers’ Market, I found myself remembering my childhood kitchen. As I plated samples to entice market goers, the smell of corn blended with the rich aroma of coffee that was wafting through the air. I turned to find a beautiful young woman, with large brown eyes and olive skin, brewing coffee the same way we did back in Colombia.
I was immediately taken by this sight and I walked over to introduce myself. That’s how I met Natalie Van Dusen, one of the owners along with her partner Kelly Meredith, of Little Red Wagon Coffee Roasters. She told me they were in the process of opening Bozeman’s first coffee tasting room, in the alley behind Wild Joe’s.
I was fascinated by the concept of a coffee tasting room; I’d never heard of such thing. Yes, I knew about wine, beer and spirits tastings, but sometimes living in this remote paradise I am not always up to date on the goings on of the outside world.
She told me all about it. As she unraveled the tale of how it all started, all I could think was that her story was the “Motorcycle Diaries” of coffee. Driven by adventure and curiosity, Natalie and a friend took a cross-continent motorcycle trip beginning in Peru, then north to Ecuador and lastly to Colombia.
In Colombia’s coffee region, (Eje Cafetero), she met Don Eilas, a coffee farmer who took them into his home and showed them the entire process. Natalie was inspired by the simple and rustic ways of roasting and brewing. She knew that the key to this wondrous brew relied on the beans.
As I handed her an arepa in an exchange for a cup of her brew, she continued with her story. After saying farewell to South America and returning to her home in California, a bug, no a bean, was planted in her head. She knew, though not exactly how, that she would recreate a similar experience in the US. She would find a way to promote this small group of farmers from various parts of the world, buy their beans, roast them, and brew them, while at the same time, educating buyers on the coffee notes and the farmers/growers themselves.
Luckily for us here in Bozeman, Natalie and her husband decided to make it home, where she met co-founder Kelly Meredith, and thus came the creation of Little Red Wagon Coffee Roasters.
Called the “speakeasy” of coffee houses, Little Red Wagon is tucked behind Wild Joe’s. It’s charming rustic decor is warm and enticing and promotes what enjoying a cup of coffee is all about: pleasure, a break from the mundane, and a time to share a conversation or two, with a stranger or a friend.
Visit Little Red Wagon for a tasting and you will find Deejay, a friend of Natalie, who came to visit from California, but never left. Deejay will set you up for a tasting or a cup of freshly brewed coffee, and a story or two.
Little Red Wagon
18 W Main St (Enter through Wild Joe*s or alley)
Open Monday-Saturday, 8:00am-2:00pm
You can also find them at the Bozeman Winter Farmers’ Market.