The Seamark Building in Deer Isle — known to older residents of the island as the old high school — has had a number of interesting occupants since the school closed more than 30 years ago. But none, perhaps, has smelled as good as 44 North Coffee.
Housed in the former principal’s office, 44 North Coffee has been making the building smell like roasty, toasty, caffeinated goodness since last year. Co-owners Melissa Raftery and Megan Dewey-Wood spend their mornings pouring fair-trade, organic beans into their Dietrich roaster, turning the raw, green beans glossy and deep-brown and ready to be sold. From there, they pour their small batches into hand-silk screened brown paper sacks to sell, or into any number of coffee-making contraptions the pair have in the space. It’s enough to make you long to be sent to the principal’s office.
“What can I say? We both really, really love coffee,” said Raftery, 30. “It just made sense for us to try to do it full time.”
Raftery, an Ohio native, moved to Maine four years ago, and has lived on Deer Isle for most of that time, which is where she met Dewey-Wood, a native of Deer Isle. The pair realized they shared many interests — especially coffee.
“Megan and I figured out that was the big thing we both loved,” said Raftery. “We would order beans from a bunch of roasteries from all over the country. It was a winter hobby. Eventually, though, you have to find a way that you can stay on the island and make a living. And that’s when we decided to give coffee a shot.”
Though 44 North Coffee — named for the latitude on which Deer Isle is located — has only been in full-time production since December of 2010, their reputation within the island community has spread. Raftery and Dewey-Wood decided before they began that they wanted to only roast fair-trade, organic beans from responsible coffee farms, and that they wanted to keep their product on a small-batch level.
This past winter, Megan traveled to Nicaragua to visit several farms that grow some of the beans they roast at 44 North. It was an eye-opening experience for her.
“We knew before we even started that having it be fair-trade was something we had to do, because we know what a difficult process raising and harvesting coffee is,” said Dewey-Wood. “We’ve seen the process. It’s an amazing amount of work. And going to farms and establishing a direct-buyer relationship with them is a great thing to do during January in Maine. It’s nice to have a reason to go someplace warm.”
44 North sources its coffee from Nicaragua, Sumatra, Ethiopia, Columbia and Uganda, as well as from other countries, depending on what the pair purchase. Raftery and Dewey-Wood are happy to explain the subtle differences between each variety — Ethiopian Yirgacheffe is smooth and light, while Columbian is rich, sweet and spicy. Their first blend, Spring Rejuvenation, offers notes of honey, smoke and roses. Like wine or beer, coffee has its own unique set of flavors, scents and textures.
In their space at the Seamark Building, the pair offers whole beans by the pound of all seven of their current roasts. You can grab a simple cup of coffee on the first floor from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday, or you can go upstairs and have either Raftery or Dewey-Wood make you an espresso — or something slightly more exotic.
The pair made a custom-built “slow-drip” coffee bar, using Melitta coffee brewers, which is a small porcelain filter that fits on top of a cup. You put a paper filter inside it, fill that with the desired amount of ground beans, and slowly pour boiling water through it, until you have a coffee that’s quite strong, and so smooth that even most resolute cream-and-sugar fans could drink it black. They also have a Toddy Coffee Maker in house, which makes superstrong, low-acid coffee concentrate. Add one part Toddy coffee to three parts water and ice, and voila — top-shelf iced coffee.
So far, island coffee fans have supported their business, from fishermen to summer residents. A small but devoted contingent of young people visit 44 North several times a week for a slow-drip coffee and a biscotti from Tinder Hearth Bakery, which sells baked goods in the building.
“For a lot of young people, coffee is a special, weekly event, and I think our place has spread through word of mouth,” said Raftery. “We have people who have canceled their subscription to big national coffee roasters like Peet’s, and switched to us. It’s nice to feel like the community has supported us.”
44 North Coffee sells their beans from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday at the Seamark Building, located at 11 Church St. in Deer Isle village. They also sell it at The Kave in Brooklin and at the Blue Hill Co-op, on Fridays at the Stonington Farmer’s Market and Saturdays at the Blue Hill Farmer’s Market. Lily’s Cafe and the Seasons of Stonington, both in Stonington, also serve 44 North coffee. For information, visit 44northcoffee.com, or look them up on Facebook.