Coffee and Country in Door County

By Travel Writers

April 15, 2018 8 min read

By Lesley Sauls

It was sunrise on a brilliant, cool Wisconsin morning in Door County. I had just pulled up to a local coffee-roasting company and was greeted by the cheery owner who was repositioning pots of bright flowers to better showcase her homey shop and eatery.

At the advice of a friend with local ties, I had arranged to take part in a Coffee College mini-lesson to learn more about the origins, production and consumption of my favorite morning brew. My classmates and I carried steaming mugs of various coffee blends along with us to a comfortable conference room where we began our short lesson. My coffee had an essence of cherry in it - a nod to the cherries that put Door County on the map in the late 1800s.

As we would learn from Vicki Wilson, the owner of Door County Coffee and Tea Co. and our instructor, where a bean is grown and its specific quality are essential to the flavor of any coffee. On a mural of the world, she pointed to the countries from which her beans are procured and showed us a life-size example of a coffee tree where she demonstrated how beans are picked by hand. Wilson passed around beans of different qualities and a plate of coffee grounds that exhibited different kinds of coarseness for various brewing methods — coarse grinds for a coffee press, finer grinds for coffeemakers.

Along with her hands-on samples, Wilson had an information-packed PowerPoint presentation and answers to all of our questions. Who knew there was so much to learn about this historic and global morning potion? At the end of our lesson, she pointed a remote control at the back wall of the room, and curtains rose to reveal coffee roasters at work in her small factory. We watched a worker add flavor to beans that tumbled inside plastic drums along one wall like miniature cement mixers.

Wilson clearly has a passion for her profession, and she delights in having her whole family involved in various parts of the company she began more than two decades ago.

Eyes twinkling with pride - and maybe a touch of caffeine - Wilson said of her initial decision to start the company, "I didn't know a thing about coffee-roasting, but I took a leap of faith, and 24 years later here we are."

After a creative and hearty breakfast called the "Kitchen Sink" that included eggs, potatoes and French toast in a sinful and delicious mix, I grabbed a steaming cherry decaf to go and headed north on the peninsula to the Ridges Sanctuary. This, too, was at the recommendation of a friend who knew I was taking a weekend to relax in Door County, and it was a spot-on suggestion.

A modern interpretive center welcomed me with information about why the area is called the Ridges. Historical documents, satellite images and old photos adorn the walls, and an interactive video explains the area's topography.

Lake Michigan laps up against Door County's peninsula at Baileys Harbor, but centuries ago the lake level was much higher. Each time the lake receded from shore, it left a ridge of sand along the bank that grew trees and bushes and became its own small ecosystem. An aerial view of the sanctuary shows nearly 10 such ridges have resulted from the ebb and flow of Lake Michigan. Between each is a swale of marshlands, a low-lying area that was once beachfront property before the next ridge was formed.

The video helped visualize how these ridges and swales were formed, but it was a guided walk through the sanctuary with a naturalist that brought it to life. We left the interpretive center on a wooden boardwalk through a lush forest and learned about orchid restoration projects and the difference between deciduous and evergreen conifers. The deeper we pushed into the forest, the more rustic the boardwalk became. We navigated bridges over marshes and padded on mossy paths through forests that varied based on each ridge's age.

One boardwalk was strikingly different from the rest. It was poker-straight and set in a wide-open swath of clear-cut forest. At either end was a restored structure that I learned was a pair of range lights from the mid-1800s. Inside the larger building was a docent who explained that we were in a home as well as a navigational beacon. In its cupola was a bright white light that, when aligned with the bright-red light from the smaller building, would guide shipping vessels into the rocky harbor.

The range lights were in service from 1869 to1969, when the house evolved into being a minister's home and then a private residence. Fortunately it is being restored by donations and has already been reapproved by the U.S. Coast Guard as an operational range light.

I was able to walk the range lights' boardwalk down to a sandy beach along Lake Michigan and dip my toes in its cool water. Tucking into my jacket as the breezes tossed my curls, I savored what had turned out to be a delightful day of relaxing education.

WHEN YOU GO

Door County Coffee and Tea Co., Sturgeon Bay: 920-743-8930 or www.doorcountycoffee.com

The Ridges Sanctuary, Baileys Harbor: 920-839-2802 or www.ridgessanctuary.org

 Door County Coffee and Tea Co. welcomes the day with its locally roasted coffees, creative gift shop and delicious "Kitchen Sink" breakfast. Photo courtesy of Lesley Sauls.
Door County Coffee and Tea Co. welcomes the day with its locally roasted coffees, creative gift shop and delicious "Kitchen Sink" breakfast. Photo courtesy of Lesley Sauls.
 Knowledgeable guides take visitors around the Ridges Sanctuary in Door County, Wisconsin, where Lake Michigan's movement has created ridges and swales that are home to wild orchids and a variety of plant and animal species. Photo courtesy of Lesley Sauls.
Knowledgeable guides take visitors around the Ridges Sanctuary in Door County, Wisconsin, where Lake Michigan's movement has created ridges and swales that are home to wild orchids and a variety of plant and animal species. Photo courtesy of Lesley Sauls.
 A white range light in the top of this building aligned with a red range light in a smaller one guided boats into Bailey's Harbor, Wisconsin, from 1870 until 1969. Photo courtesy of Lesley Sauls.
A white range light in the top of this building aligned with a red range light in a smaller one guided boats into Bailey's Harbor, Wisconsin, from 1870 until 1969. Photo courtesy of Lesley Sauls.

Lesley Sauls is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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