LINCOLN, Mont. — In coffee aisles at grocery stores across western Montana, there are plenty of choices, but in recent years a local roastery is looking to make its name pop for what they are doing right and how they are doing it.
Valler Coffee sits on the east side of Lincoln, it’s there where Jason Valler and his family are trying to make their beans Montana’s morning routine.
But, why Lincoln?
“We love being in Lincoln. We love being in the woods, we love having our kids here, we love to be able, like – we're outdoor people, we like to fish and hunting, play and just be out in nature, you know, as much as we can,” said Valler.
Though there are positives that Lincoln has for the Vallers, it does make it challenging for their operation.
“Doing any kind of business like this up in Lincoln, the key is the logistics is really hard. Everything from, like you mentioned, bringing beans and equipment up here, to even getting the product out, you know? So we've, we've basically been able to source and become – get really good at getting things here,” said Valler. “Instead of getting beans shipped here direct, we do go to Missoula and pick our beans up at shipping terminals. So everything's got a little more complicated, you know, doing that up here.”
Valler noted there would certainly be benefits to moving his business to a larger area with a more robust shipping network, but with his business sitting at nearly 5,000 feet above sea level, there’s a greater benefit to his product.
“I think that's what's given us our distinct flavor and our profiles, is somewhat to do with the location and the altitude because those – that has to do with you know, just like when you when you bake a cake, you know? There's different instructions for altitudes and things. I think that happens a lot with the beans,” said Valler. “I would hate to relocate and go somewhere else. I don't know what would happen with all of our, all of our product. We might lose that special edge that we have and what we've created for the market.”
While the science behind growing and roasting coffee at higher altitudes still remains to be seen, coffee growers and roasters claim that producing their product at higher altitudes yields a better, smoother cup of coffee.
Though, before Valler became the man behind the beans, Valler Coffee got its start like most small businesses: small and on a budget.
“We had little sandwich and ice cream shop here in Lincoln, right around 2012, 2013 and we did that for a couple of years. And then just with being busy with family and work and things like that, we knew that we were wanting to move into an area where the whole family could, could work together on something and we had been ordering some local Montana coffees and fell in love with them because we hadn't had special coffee before,” said Valler. “We ended up getting a small rotisserie roaster and some beans from some – specialty beans from different places around the country to try out and we ended up kind of smoking ourselves out of that little unit. My wife would get upset with me because we'd be – she'd be baking bread and I'd be filling the room with smoke and to try to learn how to roast coffee.”
Though, it was in that little shop that Valler Coffee began brewing. Though, with limited space and little ventilation, Valler knew he would have to move his roasting somewhere else.
“We ended up getting a small knife maker studio from a gal. We traded for putting a new roof on her garage. That was our payment. She traded us for it and we converted that into a coffee roastery,” said Valler with a chuckle. “It was, it was cramped, but it fit the bill it did really well.”
Now, Valler has two professional-quality roasters, significantly better ventilation, and a large packaging station to produce his coffee. Alongside the roasting room, sits a storefront where previously travelers and customers alike could grab a cup of coffee, and various other items. For now, the storefront is closed so Valler and his family can focus on bringing Valler Coffee to different parts of Montana.
“You have a lot of outfits that do roasteries, that will have a coffee house and will have, you know, a coffee shop of some sort and we did that for a time. Montana, as you probably know, is very tourism-dependent, you know? And so what we want to do is, is create where we're not – we're not on that tourism train. Where you are creating a following of clients and people that love the coffee and get to try the coffee, that will buy it all year and really focusing on our Montana people, and not so much the tourists. I want to get as many people in Montana drinking our coffee, and tourists as well, but we really want to be Montana's coffee,” said Valler.
Whether it be a pop-up at a park or a farmer’s market, Valler says they’re committed to that vision to become Montana’s coffee.
“We're trying to get out where people are at, be at farmer's markets, be at, even at the national parks and things, as much as we can get to places to have them try this coffee and see their experience because it's a lot of fun. We see that all the time. I love serving people coffee, and we just kind of go out to where they're at. So they can experience that,” said Valler.
Though, with Montana being the fourth largest state in the United States, Valler says it’s certainly a challenge to expand without compromising the quality of their product.
“What we've, we've really focused on is roasting, and then having logistics and things in place to get people that cup of coffee within like three days of that roast being complete. And so that's when it's really at its peak. And that's when the beans are off-gassing and just delicious and really good and our, that's our big goal,” said Valler. “That'll be the biggest challenge for us is how far we can outreach to people and still get them that really delicious cup of coffee. And so that's why we're really taking a focus on our own region in western and central Montana and, and we'll kind of see how far out that goes.”
Valler knows his operation is still relatively new, but reactions from the public make him feel like they’re on the right path.
“We've had people leave notes on our cars, because we've you know, we have ‘Valler Coffee’ on the vehicles. You know, ‘Love your coffee.’ My wife had somebody in Missoula follow her into a parking lot. She was a little nervous. She had her kids with her and this guy followed her around, got out of his truck and knocked on her window and she kind of cracked a little bit and he said, ‘So my son and I saw your coffee, and it said smooth, dark, never bitter: Valler Legendary Coffee,’ and he said, ‘We call bologna on that and so we bought it and we made a cup and it was really dark and it wasn't bitter. And then we did it double strength and it still wasn't bitter, unbelievable job well done,’ and then he drove off,” said Valler with a laugh. “We just love little things like that, that we get from people and feedback and that just tells us we're doing this right.”