116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
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On a chilly morning, stepping into Euphoria Coffee immediately fills you with warmth.
And not just from the heat of the giant roaster warming up in the corner. The cafe itself welcomes you in, with neighbors greeting one another, kids laughing and staff chatting up customers while working machines behind the counter.
Finding a gourmet coffee shop in the small Fayette County town of West Union, population 2,500, may be surprising to some, but it has become a staple of people’s daily lives. From high school and college students to working professionals, farmers and retirees, Euphoria Coffee offers a rare place to meet up with friends or indulge in drinks usually found only in a bigger city.
Owners Nick and Jacey Yost knew they loved good coffee but weren’t sure how a coffee shop would be received in West Union.
“Most of our locals’ exposure to coffee has either just been Folgers or instant or (at a convenience store) — not what real coffee is. So for us to be able to serve a demographic in a community like this is really special,” said Nick Yost, 28. “Sometimes you don’t know you want something until you try it.”
The Yosts estimate they have about 250 customers a day — in other words, 10 percent of the city’s population.
“People who say there’s no opportunity in small-town Iowa are wrong,” Yost said. “I think it’s scary for a lot of people, but I think it’s the right thing to do. Instead of just moving somewhere where everything is great, why not create it, stay in your small community and then add value?
“I always tell kids, if you want to make an impact and change the world, do it here.”
Being part of the community for the Yosts also means sourcing their ingredients locally. Their milk comes from a friend’s dairy, their meat for lunches from the Spillville meat locker, honey comes from a beekeeper in Elgin, lavender from a farmer in Spillville, lettuce from a local greenhouse. And their baked goods — one specialty being a bagel “bomb” with everything — are homemade by two local women.
‘ALL ABOUT QUALITY’
Yost has lived in West Union since he was 12. He and Jacey — who’s from Saskatchewan, Canada — met while on a mission trip in New Mexico, and she moved to West Union four years ago when they married.
They both were coffee enthusiasts, visiting coffee shops wherever they traveled. Even if a place had bad service or aesthetics, if it had good coffee, they would go back.
“If I can’t enjoy drinking my coffee, there’s no point,” Nick said. “To me, it’s always been about the quality.”
The Yosts were drinking so much coffee, they decided to try their hand at roasting their own beans. They bought a small roaster from Mill City Roasters in Minnesota and started cold-calling coffee importers to try different beans, experimenting with temperatures and air flow in their garage.
While they started out only intending to roast for themselves and family and friends, when a friend who owns Country View Dairy suggested selling their beans at the creamery’s farm store, they jumped at the chance. They sold their first bag in May 2018, then spent the summer selling beans at the downtown farmers market in Cedar Rapids.
“From the beginning, we treated it, I don’t know necessarily like a business, but we were serious about it,” Yost said.” Like, let’s get a real logo, let’s try to be professional and present ourselves like a real business and see where it goes.”
The name Euphoria Coffee came about when Jacey was searching for words that described how drinking coffee made them feel.
SIOUX CITY BOOST
That September, the Yosts entered the Sioux City Roast Off competition and won.
They had enough people interested and asking them about it that they decided to open a small coffee shop in West Union the week before Thanksgiving in an industrial area about six blocks from downtown. Yost was still working as a dispatcher for his dad’s trucking company and thought they’d try just being open on weekends.
Letting just word-of-mouth and a Facebook post do the marketing for them, the Yosts expected to sell about 40 cups of coffee the first day. They wound up selling 240 and were “overwhelmed” the first month.
“That first night, I remember we went home late at night, we were so tired,” Yost said. “And I told Jacey, this thing actually has potential to make our living. I didn’t realize that until that day, seeing the way the community responded.
“From that moment on, we didn’t look back, and we just gave it absolutely every ounce we had.”
STATE GRANT HELPED
A few weeks after opening at their current location on Elm Street in downtown West Union in August 2019, the Yosts won a $25,000 Main Street Iowa grant, which helped them buy a much larger roaster. Instead of taking 25 hours a week to roast, Yost can now roast beans in just eight hours.
“Winning that grant has been a catalyst for everything. It pushed us forward by a year or more,” Yost said.
The final presentation for the state grant before a panel of judges took place on Jacey’s due date. Luckily, their young daughter Eliza wasn't born until a week later.
“It was stressful. I think we handled it well, but it was a wild time,” Yost said.
Jacey Yost, 24, said she and her husband were just starting to take their feet off the gas and relax a little when the pandemic hit. Nick Yost was back working 100-hour weeks, and they adjusted the shop’s hours to close at 3 p.m.
The pandemic also had them adding online ordering, delivery and curbside pickup. They also started selling bulk items, like half-gallon drinks and frozen take-and-bake food items like casseroles. They recently stopped offering the casseroles because “it almost worked too well,” Nick Yost said. The food items were becoming a huge part of the business, but they wanted to keep the focus on making great coffee.
While 97 percent of their sales are through the cafe, the Yosts also sell bagged roasted beans at other locations in northeast Iowa. They are redesigning their bags and hope to set up a distribution network by this summer that covers a regional footprint.
Euphoria Coffee also ships anywhere in the United States. Those who join the coffee subscription service will get to try new beans before they’re released in the cafe, as well as specialty beans that come in smaller quantities.
The Yosts also are helping other coffee shops open in small towns, offering consulting and training services.
“We always want the cafe to be here,” Nick Yost said. “But the way we see our brand is, this is kind of like our flagship location — this is what Euphoria Coffee is — and then to continue building our wholesale distribution. I’ll always work in coffee for sure.”
IF YOU GO
Name: Euphoria Coffee
Address: 124 E. Elm St., West Union
Phone: (563) 422-0045
Hours: 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, closed Sunday and Monday.
•Coffee is not best freshly roasted. This is because during roasting, gases form inside the bean and start slowly seeping out. Nick Yost says a week and a half to two weeks is the best time after roasting to brew coffee.
•Quick cooling is key to a good cup. After reaching the desired temperature, beans are immediately emptied into a cooling bin that spins the beans while air flows up from underneath for even cooling. That takes only take about three minutes until the beans are cool to the touch.
•Roasting is a meticulous, quick process. At Euphoria Coffee, each roast only takes about eight to 10 minutes and produces five kilograms (or 11 pounds) of beans. Records (“roast profiles”) are kept with details like time, temperature and air flow for each roast, and every roast is labeled to ensure quality control. Every 10 roasts, Yost tweaks his formula because after bags are opened, the beans are exposed to the air and humidity, and they start to change over time.
•Computer monitors temperature and air flow. A graph shows the desired path Yost wants the bean to take. He shoots for roast times of eight minutes and 50 seconds, with leeway of 10 seconds and two degrees plus or minus. While the computer helps achieve this end goal, Yost is at the controls throughout the roast, adding air flow or heat as needed to keep the roast on track.
•New beans require a new roast plan. When Euphoria tries a new bean, it takes Yost multiple roasts trying several techniques to unlock the coffee’s potential, such as how quickly to apply heat, at what temperature, for how long, and the best speed for the air drawn through the drum.