There is no straight line between the history of the Soviet Union and making coffee.
But it’s a route that Adam Harm has traveled. He didn’t know when he arrived in Jackson that it would be, but it happened. And it’s not just “making coffee” in the usual sense, but making it in huge amounts.
Harm is the chief roaster for Great Northern Coffee Co., a coffee wholesaler that delivers a lot of the joe that jolts Jacksonites into action every morning. He arrived in town in 2007 with buddy Rob Ottaway after a year or so in Colorado’s Vail-Beaver Creek area. As Harm says now, “I didn’t necessarily have a great plan” — just that he “moved out mostly to ski ... and sort of got stuck.”
Harm had graduated in 2006 from the University of Virginia with a degree in history, and during his studies had a special interest in the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics, the Evil Empire, and was full up with a lot of commie trivia, stuff which by then was already history in every sense.
He and Ottaway began working for Cowboy Coffee. Ottaway is now owner of Cowboy Coffee, but way back then it was owned by Diane Guslander, who has since sold out but now runs Great Northern with her husband, Rob, and a staff of about a half dozen.
Harm wasn’t chasing a dream when he got in the coffee business. It was not the achievement of a long-standing goal.
“I didn’t really drink coffee when I started,” he said last week.
The work in his early days was bagging, delivering — the vendor end of the operation. But when the roaster at the business left, eyes turned to Harm as a possible trainee-replacement. He started learning. Now he has what he thinks is a great job: He works mostly by himself, can adjust his hours for skiing, has a job to do that doesn’t require constantly being directed.
“Diane’s a great boss,” he said. “I used to ski every day, while working hard too.”
The coffee comes from Mexico, Colombia, Sumatra, Ethiopia, arrives in Jackson for the roasting that turns it from nearly unusable to the most popular drink in America.
You could take the raw beans and turn them into something to drink, Harm said, “But it would be bitter and not any good.”
At Great Northern’s headquarters south of Jackson, he roasts coffee in batches that range from 80 to 100 pounds, tumbling them in the drum of a roaster for between 12 and 15 minutes, depending on the result desired. One day last week he roasted 680 pounds, and he can handle up to about 1,500 pounds in a day at full speed.
It’s counterintuitive: The busiest time of the year isn’t winter, when people automatically fight cold morning with hot coffee. Instead it’s like other tourism businesses in Jackson: The busiest time of the year for coffee is the busiest for tourist numbers, the summer.
“In July we’re going pretty much all day,” he said.
A lot of what Harm does is adhere to a set procedure, he said.
“You follow a profile, monitor the air flow and heat.”
At some point the coffee tells you it’s nearing completion with a big “crack” — “it almost sounds like popcorn, but with one crack,” he said.
Beyond the recipe, “a lot of it’s visual and smell,” Harm said. “I was naive when I started, and a lot of it is just monitoring, but then you get into the nuances.” Finally, the last thing, is “cup it and see how it turned out.”
Great Northern supplies Pearl Street Bagels, Signal Mountain Lodge, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Grand Targhee Resort, all the Jackson groceries and also the Broulim’s chain, which takes the product down to Star Valley and all over eastern Idaho. People who try the coffee while visiting often order online.
Harm’s own pick is the blend Kenya AA: “It’s really full bodied, it’s a great cup of coffee, and it’s been my favorite for a couple of years now.”
When he isn’t making coffee for the masses, Harm spends a lot of time with a love even closer to the earth.
“I love to garden,” he said, “I’ve been gardening the whole time I’ve been here.”
That includes vegetables on some raised beds at work, a pollinator garden and also Japanese-style gardening, including bonsai and “a houseful of plants” at home.
Life also includes playing for a rec league softball team, the Smokestacks, and a 2-year-old Samoyed named Marley.
And the skiing that brought him here is still a focus.
“Even now, I think, I skied last year about 65 days,” he said. “It’s hard to imagine not being around a ski hill.”