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Iowa Coffee Tea Liquor Adventure

I’ve not lived long in what I think is called Western Central Iowa. Every once in a while, I try to discover the unique things this region has to offer. My latest forays aren’t strictly part of Western Central Iowa, necessarily, but have tended toward beverages. Let me tell you about three of them from my Iowa coffee, tea, liquor adventure.

Coffee: Little Green Truck

Basically, I live out not far from what might actually be the middle of nowhere. Imagine my surprise in finding a high-quality coffee roaster just a 15-20 minute drive from me. My Iowa coffee, tea, liquor adventure started closer to home than I thought it would.

Little Green Truck in Auburn roasts coffee and bakes. Normally, I find that finding both good coffee and good bakery at the same place is a tricky business. They’ve managed both. They sell a variety of different coffees in various roasts – a little something for everyone. The variety includes beans both of washed and natural process. They have both arabica and peaberry beans. They roast in light, medical, full roasts. You can get your espresso, here.

But here’s where I take a specific moment to mention something truly out of the ordinary. I’ve been to quite a number of coffee roasters in bigger cities with a lot of coffee varieties. Additionally, I’d read that Yemen coffee would eventually be available. Yet, it’s not until just now here out way far away from everything in the little town of Auburn, Iowa, that I can finally buy the stuff. It costs a few dollars more than the others but, if you’re curious to try it, I’d suggest it.

A Little Coffee Snobbery

Do I need to tell you that you can leave it as whole bean so the flavor is preserved but that you also have the option of having them grind it for you? If you don’t have a grinder, I’m fairly certain I saw some for sale at their shop.

Coffee Grinders

Burr Versus Blade Grinder

Burr grinders funnel coffee beans into a grinding area then deposit the grounds outside that area. Blade “grinders” have a blade at the bottom and they’re not actually grinders, at all – they’re chopping the coffee as a food processor might do. Typically, you hold the button on the blade grinder and shake it a bit so that your beans get all ground. The burr grinders grind the coffee as it goes through the grinding area. The big deal, here, is that burr grinders tend to create a more uniform grind. As you start to see the price off freshly-roasted coffee beans, you start to think of ways to do the absolute best that you can by your grind. And, if you check the price of some of the blade grinders versus some of the more modest burr grinders, With all that said, blade “grinders” can be quite inexpensive and, if you decide to graduate to a burr grinder, the blade “grinder” makes a great spice mill.

Coffee Bean Processing

Washed Versus Natural

Coffee Beans can be left to dry, naturally. Or, they can be washed. There’s a bit more to it that this but just think of these as the two options. Most of us are usually drinking beans that were washed. The flavor of each is somewhat different, even if you use exactly the same beans. For people who like to try new things, I’ll just describe the naturally processed beans as tasting more earthy.

Region of Note

Yemen

So, you might wonder what the big deal about Yemen coffee is. Partly, it’s because this is where some of the world’s oldest coffee comes from. At the same time, it’s a war-torn area where the farmers have had a difficult time making a living off their crops. Yemen coffee can be difficult to get and expensive. Yet, these farmers still need to make a living and, by the way, there is some very fine coffee worth spending the money on.

Little Green Truck: Baked Goods

Can food be part of my Iowa coffee, tea, liquor adventure? Well, it’s my adventure and I say that it can. So, now, to talk about the baked goods. Their baker bakes delicious and fluffy scones. I had white chocolate raspberry and found it delicious. In fact, with the white chocolate drizzle and pink sprinkles on top, it gave me the overall impression of a pop tart if pop tarts were hand made and with fresh ingredients, that is. But this thing tasted as good a it was cute.

So far, I find their muffins airy and delicious. I like the little rhubarb breakfast cakes, too. The breakfast flatbread pizza is well-balanced and extremely tasty. I had it with Alfredo sauce and all toppings. The fresh bell pepper is what brings it all together and gives it a little fresh pop against the sauce and the meat.

Overall, this is both a great hangout place for people who love great coffee and delicious bakery. That is, as well as people who want a to-go cup of something to keep them running, for the day. But sitting in there and reading their plaques full of sayings and soaking it all up is the more fun of the two, quite honestly.

Tea: Gung Fu

My Iowa coffee, tea, liquor adventure moves along to a tea purveyor. Here’s where I get into Central Iowa, with Gung Fu in Des Moines.

When you walk in, to the left, you can see the shelves filled with huge tins of tea behind the sales counter. Turn to your right, and you see glass jars of tea. Head for those, first.

This is a great idea to get the looky-loos away from the counter. So, what they’ve done is they have their most popular teas in glass jars across from the counter. You an easily see them and smell them. These are their most popularly sold teas. So, you’ll get at least a broad idea of whether you’re in the right place. And, for me, the answer was, “YES!” If you look through the selection, you’ll find flavored and unflavored teas.

In addition, they have a great handout with all their teas. If you’re a pen and paper kind of person, ask them for something to write with and use their tea guide to keep track of anything on the wall you think you do want to buy. But if you’ve got your phone or tablet and don’t like to waste paper, they have it all listed on their web-site, too.

Coming back to the counter, though, they have yet more to choose from. I was fortunate to get in there before lunchtime. They do have some food around. However, I’ll admit I didn’t look at it since I had plans to meet someone elsewhere for lunch. The counter staff can help you if you talk about your preferences. And, even with teas that weren’t available for viewing and sniffing on the opposite wall, they’ll still bring them down for you to inspect before you decide to buy.

I bought seven teas, but I haven’t tried them all, yet. So, I can’t say much about them, except for the two I opened. However, while they had some truly beautifully-scented teas, I bought all unflavored, both in green and black.

Gong Fu: The Teas I Opened, So Far

I’m enjoying their WuYi Rock tea. This is a black tea from China. “WuYi” is a regional designation for teas from the WuYi mountain area. “Rock” comes from the fact that it’s grown in the mountains. It’s an unsmoked Lapsang Souchong. For those of you who have tried Lapsang Souchong, you might have experienced something that smells and tastes like the bottom of a fire grate and that it perfumes your entire abode with a strong aroma. Those are smoked Lapsang Souchongs. This is one not. This particular tea has a nice toastiness to it with a moderate body and flavor.

The star of the show, though, is their truly unique tea. It’s a Dragon Well that you keep in the fridge. Yes, in the fridge! That’s how delicate it is. Be aware that they have more than one Dragon Well, but this one is the Dragon’s Well “Ming Qiang,” which means “before the rains.” This Chinese tea has a delicate flavor and a slight sweetness. Dragon Well is the English translation of the name of the village the tea comes from, Longjing.

Overall, they were super-helpful, have a great variety and some unusual blends, and I’m truly enjoying the two I’ve opened.

Liquor: Lonely Oaks Distillery

Last but not least, my Iowa coffee, tea, liquor adventure moves along to liquor at Lonely Oaks Distillery, Hmmm…I don’t remember if I saw any oaks around. I didn’t think much about that when I was visiting the place. It’s definitely a lonely-looking place, except for the visiting customers. In any case, this place is in Earling, which is in Western Iowa.

In any case, one of the owners gave a tour and did know a lot about distilling. I know a lot and he was able to answer all my questions and quite easily. And it wasn’t just memorization, either, because I think I asked a few tricky ones. In any case, I didn’t ask so many that I was that jerk on the tour that keeps the tour behind but enough that I did learn some deeper details about their specific products.

This is kind of a cool idea, but they have a farm and thought it would be an great idea to be able to make products from what they grew that they could also sell. They decided those products would be a variety of distilled ones. But they seemed to want to make something and sell it and have a connection with consumers that they don’t get by selling their grains to silos.

Lonely Oaks: Two Brands – Vodka and Bourbon

Thus, they have two brands: North 40 Vodkas and Steeple Ridge Bourbons. I did try their vodkas. I’m not a big vodka fan but I’ll admit their plain vodka had a unique and slightly sweet flavor from the corn they use. In the end, I did buy a bottle of their Vanilla Bean Vodka to use as a mixer. In a way, it was kind of a no-brainer when you realized you’re left with a preserved vanilla bean of prodigious size to use when the vodka is gone (oh, yes, it’s true!).

Unfortunately, they sold out of their bourbon. Unfortunate for me, not them, I mean. Now, I’m on their mailing list and got the notice that their bourbons are now available (until they probably quickly run out, again). Now, I’ve got a bottle with my name on it awaiting at the distillery.

You might think it seems eccentric of me to drive an hour to get to the distillery just to pick it up. That is, but for the fact that, soon to come, is their annual Western Iowa Whiskeyfest. That events has tours, stone-baked pizza, cocktails and music. I’m not certain if they publish the even to people outside their mailing list. So, I’ll just encourage you to contact them, directly, if you have any interest.

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