Indiana Family Blends: Justin Earl and Humble Joe’s Coffee Company
Justin Earl roasts for Humble Joe’s Coffee Company on an MCR-2, 2 kilogram roaster on his home property in Seymour, Indiana. Lauren Earl, co-founder, works behind-the-scenes in packaging, social media, and other general support.
The company started as a side project for the Earls, something to focus on in the evenings and weekends when the working day was done. Justin, a teacher, and Lauren, a nurse, are parents to three kids as well; Humble Joe’s started as a way to spend intentional time learning and serving the community together through coffee.
In the period of time between October 2021 and May of 2022, Justin drew up business plans, researched craft coffee, and attended Mill City Roasters Roasting 101 class. In January 2022, he purchased an MCR-2 and dedicated his time to experimenting.
In May of 2022, the company officially launched.
The Way Up
Because Lauren and Justin started the company with no background in coffee, there was a lot to learn at first. “It can be intimidating,” he says. “You don’t know what you’re doing until you jump in and get started.”
From the beginning, the team built learning and growth into their core business model, even naming their company after their commitment to staying humble and gaining insight through doing.
Along with humbleness, the team also built community into their company from the get-go by connecting to their customers right away via social media and website. Doing so ensured that both momentum and interest were already in place when the company launched.
To get more engagement and interest in their social media presence, the company ran campaigns such as Fun Fact Friday, which ran for six months and gave customers tidbits about coffee as an industry. The series also established Humble Joe’s commitment to learning together with their market.
Humble Joe’s Coffee Company debuted at the Seymour farmers market, where Earl served their coffee on drip as well as retail. Their original goal was to sell eighty bags a month.
By fall of 2022, that number was up to 200 or 300, a consistent and surprising number. And not only was Justin surprised by the quick growth, but also by how much he’d learned as a roaster in just a year. “I expected it to be a lot harder,” he says. He credits much of his success to the machine he uses, as well as being able to track, log, and compare roasts on RoastPATH. Justin learned through trial and error as well, finding value in batches that went wrong and making intentional corrections with time and temp.
He’s learned tricks on the business side as well, such as the value of collaboration with other roasters. Humble Joe’s colleague Greg Hayes of G.H. Coffee Company in Versailles, Indiana helped mentor Earl through the roaster buying process, and now the duo order their greens together through Royal Coffee in New York, sharing a pallet and splitting the cost of freight.
Now that Humble Joe’s menu and business model are both established, the biggest challenge the company faces is educating repeat customers on the seasonality of coffee. Buyers have often come back looking for the same coffee, and Justin has to explain why it’s not on the menu anymore. He’s happy to explain, since learning is so integral to the brand. But he and Lauren have also tweaked the menu to include more blends, so that customers loyal to one flavor profile can find it on their menu.
The Humble Joe’s Coffee Company Menu
The lineup of blends supplements the Humble Joe’s single origins. The menu has evolved mostly in response to customer expectations. As of now, Humble Joe’s Coffee Company roasts eight single origins and six blends, including an espresso and a decaf.
Their blends menu includes three flavored coffees as well as classic blends. While the process of making them isn’t Justin’s favorite–on Pumpkin Spice roasting day, ”I smell like a pumpkin all day long,” he says–it’s a pivot that he made to serve his customers’ interests. The blends sell well, and they offer a different avenue for seasonals, such as the Peppermint Mocha blend put out in Winter 2022.
Since the operation has pivoted towards blends recently, Justin foresees a need to cut back on the amount of single origins. “It’s hard to think ahead with supply,” he says. A more concise menu would help Justin roast intentionally, and also streamline the production process.
For example, Justin used the single-origin bestseller, the Sumatra, in the most recent blend, a dark roast Sumatra-Guatemala. The blend was a response to his customers’ requests for more dark roasts. He has high hopes for the blend and its salability: “If there’s a market for it, you can take advantage of that,” he says.
All coffees are available both in-person and online. Their customer base is split into thirds in terms of purchasing platform, each buying from the eshop, farmers market, and direct order respectively. In every market, customers have preferred easy drinkers and dark roasts to more experimental or more acidic coffees, which Justin and Lauren have dutifully responded to.
Humble Joe’s Coffee Company has the unique potential to move their operation into a family-owned commercial building, an ex-bakery, which Justin believes will be built out and open for business by the end of 2024. The first renovation will be the kitchen, allowing the company to add pastries and baked goods to their menu while front-end renovations happen throughout 2023.
In the meantime, Justin will continue to work on the Humble Joe’s menu, refining the mainstay blends and committing to a smaller rotation of single origins. He’s also interested in adding tea to the menu, bringing another interest of the Seymour community into the Humble Joe’s menu.
Otherwise, the next year will see more focus on brand presence, which both Justin and Lauren hope will help the company in its online sales. The next social media campaign will launch on TikTok, a platform Justin believes will open up new doors in terms of customer demographic as well as the kinds of content he gets to create.
Bring Humble Joe’s Coffee Company Home
Find Humble Joe’s Coffee at the following wholesale partners: Darlage Meat Market, Linzy B’s Bakery, Humble Donut Co, and Seymour Healthy Zone in Seymour, as well as Tailfeather Farm Market in North Vernon. You can shop the full lineup of coffees on the Humble Joe’s website, or you can follow them on Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok.