LIGONIER — No, a rocket ship didn’t just land in the middle of Turning Point alternative school.
And Maurice from “Beauty and the Beast” didn’t set up shop in the middle of Ligonier either, no matter how much it looks the part.
No, the shiny chrome machine with light-up buttons, levers and knobs is for roasting coffee for the newly-founded Turning Point Coffee Company.
Set up in an old storage room at the West Noble alternative school, the Turning Point Coffee Company operates solely with employee Sam Erwin and students’ help.
Since being established in 2019, the company has got production off the ground this year and is just now ready to sell to the masses.
Their product isn’t a cup of coffee, though. Instead, it’s specialty roasted beans and grounds, sourced and roasted to the buyer’s taste.
And the bags of coffee are “competitively priced,” Erwin said, to be sold in rural Ligonier, while still ensuring the company can buy higher-quality beans than can be found at the grocery store.
It might seem odd to roast specialty coffee in the middle of Turning Point. But, when it comes down to business experience, the coffee company seems to be a good fit for Turning Point students.
Erwin and Turning Point are taking a two-pronged approach to the coffee company: one, to put money from sales back into student services, and two, to provide hands-on work for the students.
“This gives them their first touch with real life after high school,” Erwin said.
Not only do the students get to roast the coffee, they get experience in bagging and brewing it up, tasting it and developing flavor profiles. Some, Erwin said, have been interested in the money and marketing sides of the business, too.
Once the company is more established, money from sales are anticipated to go into paying for counselors and life coaches for students, supplementing existing fundraisers like Night of Hope.
Erwin said getting students involved is a confidence booster, especially for those whose life circumstances have led them to have little hope.
“We want them to see that they have something to contribute to it,” Erwin said.
Erwin himself is no stranger to coffee, and as a graduate of Grace College, he’s especially familiar with specialty roasts from frequenting Winona Lake’s Light Rail Cafe and Roaster.
An interest led to a hobby of roasting beans himself in a skillet in his own kitchen.
“I’ve set my fire alarm off a couple of times roasting coffee in there,” Erwin said.
Bagging up his roasts and giving them to friends, some of which were involved with Turning Point, got him sent on a three-day training to learn how to roast coffee for Turning Point Coffee Company.
Now, bringing the practice back to Ligonier, he teaches roasting with metaphors, like driving a car and baking cookies.
Of course, roasting coffee is a bit more complicated than both of those.
To start roasting, Erwin lets the machine heat up for about half an hour, then scoops green coffee beans from burlap sacks labeled with their countries of origin.
Dumping them into a funnel at the top of the machine results in a clink-clink of beans falling, then rotating in the hot metal drum, which begins the roasting process.
The beans can be seen changing from light green to dark brown through a tiny window on the machine. That’s not the only way to monitor their progress though.
While roasting, Erwin hooks up his laptop to the machine, which gives him a graphical readout of the roaster’s temperature and bean temperature at the same time.
And, to be sure of the roasting process, Erwin can use a knob on the side of the drum to slide out a few beans and smell them, just to check how the smoky-sweet aroma is coming along.
Then, the beans are cooled and bagged, some whole and some ground.
Those interested in buying a bag from Turning Point Coffee Company can visit its website, turningpointcoffeecompany.com.