Notable Edibles

Kickapoo Coffee: Supporting Rural Ways of Life at Home & Abroad

By Vanessa Herald | Photos By Kickapoo Coffee and Jim Klousia 0

Editor’s Note: The following is a sponsored post about Kickapoo Coffee, who generously sponsored Edible Madison’s Dinner Service event on October 19, 2014. We are thrilled to work with them and share more about the unique work they do.


Co-owners Caleb Nicholes and T.J. Semanchin with Kickapoo Coffee's roaster.“Our culture is pretty unique in the coffee world. We are located in a rural community, and that’s a link we highlight,” starts T.J. Semanchin, co-owner at Kickapoo Coffee. When we spoke in October, he was freshly back from a trip to Columbia and Peru, an annual trip to visit Kickapoo Coffee’s farmer-partners and grow relationships that promote and preserve unique coffees and the farming communities that cultivate them.

The rural way of life provides context between this Viroqua-based coffee roasting company and the traditional, often peasant or indigenous, farmers from whom they source coffee beans. “We are committed to our rural communities,” says Semanchin, right here in Wisconsin and abroad. That is a commitment to farmers; conservation of land, water and soil; and to the preservation and revitalization of agrarian cultures and communities. The decline of the rural community in the Midwest is apparent to Semanchin. His goal is to preserve these communities where they still exist throughout the globe.

This “connection to land” is more than just a pledge; it’s the guiding principle behind Kickapoo Coffee’s sourcing model. Theirs is a commitment to buying directly from farmers, specifically small farmers who are members of cooperatives. By operating their own coffee importing business, this local roaster commits to long-term contracts with partner farmers, and is involved in every step of the nuanced import process.

“We have made a strong commitment to those smallest farmers through our sourcing model,” says Semanchin. “They have the fewest resources to reach out to companies like us, but our relationship can be the most valuable to them.” The most impactful advantage to these farmers is a stable market and premium price for their crops. This security buoys these vulnerable populations, helping them stay afloat through the unpredictable challenges of changing climate, volatile civic environments or economic instability. What may otherwise be a “make it or break it” agricultural environment is bolstered by the consistency of Kickapoo Coffee. Small farming communities can maintain their traditional agrarian lifestyles, resisting the pressure to abandon traditional practices in favor of “modern” production methods and coffee varieties.

At its core, this relationship supports coffee imbued with an inherent sense place, culture and taste. Coffee made better by the story and tradition it is grown in. “The indigenous growers we work with are preserving traditional coffee varieties as part of their cultural heritage. I can taste that in the cup,” Semanchin says. These “truly unique and remarkable flavors” are an expression of terroir, the distinctive manifestation of the environment where each coffee was cultivated. The same variety of coffee bean can be influenced by soil type, microclimate, altitude and cultural practices to create completely different flavors depending on where they each are grown. Like all other types of diversity, there is a value to preserving these flavors and the people behind them. Kickapoo Coffee strives to do just this: share, promote and save a genuine appreciation for culturally historical coffee varieties by providing a marketplace to keep them alive. A delicious cup of cultural preservation.


Be sure to try this unique Coffee Vodka & Tonic recipe from Kickapoo Coffee!

Vanessa Herald is head chicken wrangler at Make Time Farm in Southern Wisconsin, where she hosts monthly Make Time creativity retreats. Telling stories about food and farmers feeds her curiosity, providing endless fodder for tasty adventures. Vanessa serves as Farm to School Outreach Specialist at the UW-Madison Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems, but you can also find her handwriting letters, making Icelandic skyr and crafting art with vintage typewriters.

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