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Ground Floor: Marion friends spice up coffee

The two roast coffee beans, dried peppers in a rotary popcorn maker

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By Deborah Neyens, correspondent

Bruce Lange and Joshua Mandle love a good cup of joe.

The Army veterans and longtime friends started a coffee roasting business, Down Range Coffee, to share their passion for the caffeinated beverage and to support the troops. For every 10 pounds of coffee sold, they send one pound of coffee overseas through Cigars for Warriors, a not-for-profit organization that provides care packages to U.S. troops serving in combat zones.

“It feels pretty good to get those care packages,” said Lange, who served in Afghanistan from 2010 to 2011.

Down Range Coffee got its start earlier this year after a coffee break mishap. One night, while working third shift on a security job, Mandle accidentally poured Sriracha into his coffee.

“I’m a heat fanatic and always keep a bottle of hot sauce on me,” he explained. “I grabbed it by mistake instead of the creamer.”

Liking the extra kick of heat the Sriracha provided, Mandle kept on drinking the spicy coffee. He even texted Lange to tell him how good it was.

Lange was intrigued.

“I started researching spicy coffee, but no one makes it,” he said. “Some people put pepper in their coffee at home but that’s about it. I got to thinking we can do this.”

The men started experimenting and landed on a process of roasting green coffee beans in a rotary popcorn popper. The beans are roasted in small batches with husks on, which Mandle said results in a more balanced coffee.

“There’s no need for creamer or sugar because there’s no bitterness,” he said.

Once they perfected their roasting technique, Lange and Mandle found a way to add heat by mixing in dried peppers when grinding the beans. They eventually created four blends of spice-infused coffee using four successively hotter pepper varieties.

The hottest blend, which they call “End of Days,” is infused with Carolina Reaper, the world’s hottest pepper. Customers must sign a liability waiver before purchasing the blend.

“I’m a heat fanatic, and I can barely drink it,” Mandle said.

In addition to their spicy specialty blends, Lange and Mandle offer several more traditional coffees, from a light roast Colombian to a dark roast Costa Rican. They even have a decaf version, made using a CO2 process to extract caffeine from the beans.

All of the coffees have military terms for names, including “Warrior Roast,” a special-edition blend made exclusively for the troops overseas.

Lange and Mandle sell Down Range Coffee at the Marion Farmers Market, where they show off their popcorn popper roasting technique each weekend. The pair is working on a website to continue sales during the winter months and plan to expand to the Hiawatha Farmers Market next year.

“We’re not in it to make a fortune, just a decent product,” Mandle said.

“We’re mostly having fun,” Lange added.

At a Glance:

Owners: Bruce Lange and Joshua Mandle

Business: Down Range Coffee

Email: downrangecoffee@gmail.com

Phone: (319) 310-7357

Facebook: www.facebook.com/DownRangeCoffee

l Know a company that’s been in business for less than a year — but at least six months — that would be ideal for “The Ground Floor”? Contact Michael Chevy Castranova at michaelchevy.castranova@thegazette.com

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