Viroqua

I began this post back in March, just as we were beginning to see buds on bare tree limbs and new bird songs were coming through the open windows in early morning. Beth and I went on our last little mini adventure before we moved, one inspired by a love and pursuit of great coffee, a day trip into Wisconsin. What follows is the story of that day.

I was hoping to find something interesting about the origin of the name Viroqua but apparently it is unknown.  I expected that it had its roots in some indigenous reference like so many of the names of the States, towns and landmarks in the central Mississippi River valley, country once inhabited by people known as the Ho-Chunk Nation. That part of Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota is also known geologically as  the Driftless Area, a large and distinctly more rugged section of the Midwest left relatively untouched by the last glacial retreat. To drive there from central Iowa the local landscape’s beauty comes as a surprise, looking more like part of rural New Hampshire than the rolling farmlands this region is known for. Steep and winding two land roads cut through and around rock formations that make you want to get out a rock hammer and poke around.

There are a surprising number of high quality coffee roasters in Wisconsin. Some are in cities but I particularly like those that are not. We traveled here on a Saturday morning to participate in a local roaster’s coffee cupping. This is more of an informal cupping for the public to sample the many of the in-season varietals the roaster has to sell. Viroqua is by most standards a small town, fewer than 5000 residents, but it has lots of charming 19th and early 20th century architecture. The roasting facility for Kickapoo Coffee Roasters is in a nondescript metal building on the north side of town where buildings are mostly of contemporary construction, it was hard to find but worth the effort. The last snow of the season was still clinging to the ground in Wisconsin the day we arrived. It would be the last we would see for months.

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Doesn’t look like much you say? Don’t worry, this is where they do the serious work of precisely roasting exceptional beans to bring out the best flavor and nuance. They have a more contemporary “upscale” coffee café in Milwaukee where their delicious coffees are served along with food items.

The tour of the roasting facility alone is worth the trip, they talk at length about the specialty coffee market and how it works, their role and their relationships with coffee growers, what steps go into growing exceptional coffee, processing and roasting. Their coffee roaster, that image at the top that looks a little like a steam engine, an ancient Probat, is a beauty. Even the equipment has a good story.

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After the tour and consuming much more coffee than I’m usually capable of in one day, we headed out to find lunch, following the suggestion of our tour guides to a place called the Driftless Cafe, a farm to table restaurant in downtown Viroqua. We found it in a lovely old building on a side street just off of Main Street.

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The menu was creative and interesting and the food delicious. They obviously care about food. We’re very grateful to the staff at Kickapoo. After our lunch we wandered around downtown, we had seen a bike store driving through and we wanted to investigate it.

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Around the corner we found a beautiful yarn store and the most amazing fly fishing store. Neither of us have fished in decades and honestly, the thing we both like about fishing is taking a nap on the ground by the water, but having access to this store could easily get us excited about learning to fly fish.

As adventures go, it was a pretty good day, one that included exploring new territory, meeting and talking with new people, finding good food and outstanding coffee, learning more about area we live in. That’s a Saturday well spend. I will miss the close proximity to Wisconsin. I know there is so much more to explore there. Next time a long camping trip.

Kickapoo sells beans online too, you don’t have to drive there to get their coffee.

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