Vicki Wilson of Door County Coffee & TeaWhen Vicki Wilson went to Door County to celebrate a friend’s 40th birthday, she didn’t realize she’d soon caffeinate this Wisconsin peninsula. But 21 years later the business she founded has introduced the region to coffee culture and delighted countless thirsty tourists.

Wilson still delights in her product. During a tour of Door County Coffee & Tea, she pointed out that coffee is the world’s number two traded commodity after oil. “Think of the strife in the world caused by oil,” she said, holding up a tray of her premium coffee beans. “Then think of the pleasure caused by coffee.”

Door County Coffee & Tea is located in the small community of Carlsville on the southern part of the 75-mile Door County peninsula. The area is extremely popular with summer tourists, especially those from Wisconsin and Illinois. But winter brings a fair share of visitors who

come for snowshoeing, snowmobiling, cross country skiing and quiet views of a semi-frozen Lake Michigan. And many of them stop at Door County Coffee & Tea for coffee, pastries, a full breakfast and lunch menu and gift shopping in the retail space.

On my recent visit, I breakfasted on baked oatmeal flavored with apples and dried cherries, Door County’s most famous food product. I drank their Sumatran coffee, one of more than 100 blends the company makes. Afterwards, Wilson and production manager Louann Deprez gave my small group a tour.

beans getting flavored at Door County Coffee & TeaThe coffee roaster and production facility is right behind the restaurant. In a back hall, Wilson and Deprez explained a little about coffee growing and the grading system of coffee beans. Varieties of coffee grown more than 2500 feet above sea level are called Arabica. Below, it’s the lower elevation and lower quality Robusta. Arabica has several different quality classes. Door County Coffee & Tea uses only the top beans, class 1 specialty grade, which means 0 to 5 defective beans per 300 grams. Machines use infrared readers to detect defects. This commitment to quality is very rare among coffee companies, Wilson said, adding that these beans are expensive.

Door County Coffee & Tea favors medium roasts. “The darker you roast, the more properties you burn out,” Wilson said. Their lightest roast is heated to 450 degrees; the darkest, 475. Even a 6 degree difference in roasting temperature makes a huge difference, Wilson said.

We donned hairnets to enter the factory floor. Inside, machinery clattered. We got a close-up look at huge roaster, a clever machine that fashions bags for small quantities of ground beans, and the big rotating tubs used for flavoring coffees. The flavorings are surprisingly expensive, ranging from $600 to $700 for a 25-pound container.

“We offer anything and everything on the internet,” Deprez said, adding that they make special flavored decaf blends by request.

Their roaster was designed by Michael Sivetz, whom Wilson and Deprez call “the pope of coffee.” They still remember the excitement of when, as a very old man, he visited Door County Coffee & Tea. Sivetz lived in Corvallis, Oregon, till dying in 2012 at the age of 90. His biggest contribution to coffee technology was inventing a “fluidized bed” air roaster. Hot air made the beans rise and circulate in a fluid motion rather than knocking around in a drum.

Door County Coffee & TeaInterested groups can call ahead to arrange a tour of Door County Coffee & Tea. Future plans include converting a storage room into what Wilson called a “coffee college.” She plans a big glass window through which visitors can watch the goings-on inside the factory, and PowerPoint presentations about coffee production.

The local coffee landscape has come a long way since Wilson first opened in 1993. Back then, Wisconsin only had about three coffee roasters, she said. Now Door County Coffee & Tea supplies much of the local hospitality industry, and ships coffee all over. Wilson’s enthusiasm for coffee is contagious. “If you drink it in moderation, coffee is so good for you.”