Zen Café — committed to transparency and local flavor
For many months I had been buying Dan locally-roasted Zen Café coffee from the South Bend Farmers Market. I didn’t know the name of the man behind the counter — Shaun Maeyens — nor did I know a thing about coffee. I would say to Shaun, “my husband loves coffee, what should I get him?”
Dan has been a coffee aficionado for some time, but I didn’t start to like coffee until this last year. Up until my first sip of Zen Café, I don’t think I had ever had a good cup of coffee.
You see my parents didn’t drink coffee and all the coffee I had ever tasted had been watery or too dark or just plain burnt from church, Starbucks, work functions. I had tried “coffee” enough times growing up and into college that I was certain I hated this thing and would never try tasting it again. Since Dan loves coffee and he’s a pretty fancy guy, I really wanted to like it, so I finally tasted the coffee he made at home with a French press.
I liked it. Reminded me of dark chocolate, and who doesn’t like dark chocolate? Zen Café is our go-to coffee. We’ve tried other locally roasted brands, but so far nothing quite compares to Zen Café. Its rich, its complex and I could just breathe in its aroma all day.
Not only do we love the complexity of flavor to each single-origin roast, we love Shaun’s mission of transparency and sustainability in his business. This January Shaun went to visit Rudy Cárcamo, a coffee farmer who practices organic growing methods in La Unión, Honduras. Read about Shaun’s first trip to Honduras on pages 32-33 of Edible Michiana. Shaun explains that Rudy makes a whopping 140% more working directly with Shaun than he would if he was operating as a fair trade farmer. During this second trip, Rudy gifted Shaun about 1.25 acres and Shaun had the honor of planting some of the first plants himself!
Shaun partners with an organization called Aldea Development that works to build a healthy community in La Union, Honduras. Hans Westerink of Violet Sky also went on the trip in January and saw cocoa plants for the first time.
I wanted to learn more about Zen Café and the coffee roasting process, so I contacted Shaun and we set up a time to meet at his roasting space at the South Bend business incubator Lang Lab located in a cool old warehouse at 1302 High Street.
Shaun showed us his space and a small, manual coffee roaster that he uses to roast 5-6 pounds at a time at about 13 to 15 minutes a batch, depending on bean density and other factors. He can roast about 20 pounds an hour and 200 pounds a week, which means he’s at capacity, supplying Purple Porch Co-Op, Rein Juicery, The Well, Crooked Ewe, Whole Foods Mishawaka, and his booth at the South Bend Farmers Market.
He recently ordered a much larger, automatic roasting machine that will allow him to quintuple his output so he can keep up with demand and grow his business. Zen Café generally has around 8 types of coffee available at the Farmers Market, and also offers limited bourbon barrel-aged roasts. He explained that the green coffee is aged in bourbon barrels from Journeyman Distillery before roasting to infuse it with notes of bourbon and wood. Some of this bourbon barrel-aged coffee will be served as iced coffee at Crooked Ewe on nitro tap. Wait, what? Did I hear that right? Nitro tap iced coffee. I can’t wait to try this magical concoction. Shaun’s also currently working on an almond cherry bourbon barrel-aged coffee and experimenting with vanilla, star anise and cinnamon.
Shaun is finalizing some renovations on his space and plans to open up a small coffee shop in early May, perhaps May 10, the company’s five-year anniversary! He has about 240 square feet that will fit around 12-18 guests. He will serve pour-over coffee, Great Horse Teas and a limited food menu, including pastries, with his Lang Lab neighbor Violet Sky. He told me in confidence about one very exciting menu item idea they have, and I can’t wait to try it. Hours haven’t yet been decided for the shop.
Shaun also loves beer. In fact, I didn’t really meet Shaun and become acquainted on a first-name basis until I ran into him at Bell’s Brewery All Stout’s Day last year. Shaun works a couple days a week at Bare Hands Brewery in Granger where he’s collaborated on a latte stout. He and Hans Westerink have also collaborated with Bare Hands on an imperial chocolate latte stout.
Shaun is working on his master roasting certificate and attends many coffee conferences and festivals. Meet him and hear him speak about “Transparency and Glocal Products: Knowing Your Grower” at the Unity Garden’s Growing Summit 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. next Sunday, March 22, at Wiekamp Hall IUSB.
NOTES: Meeting with Shaun was our first time at Lang Lab. Seems like quite a snazzy place and we’re hoping to get back over there soon and often. Follow Lang Lab on Facebook to keep up to date on concerts, Latin dance classes and more.
Special thanks to Bluekrishna Photography for use of three beautiful photos from Shaun’s trip to Honduras. Check out the gorgeous work of Bluekrishna Photography on the cover of the spring issue of Edible Michiana and on Facebook.