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Honest Roasting: Charlie Hansen and Dandy Lion Coffee
Charlie didn’t start in coffee. He started by roasting dandelion roots. Before that, he started in videography. And media marketing. And architecture.
In everything, he finds meaningful work with his hands. “There’s craftiness built into me,” he says.
At first, coffee didn’t occur to him as a career choice, or even as a beverage option. In college he was a self-proclaimed rebel, refusing caffeine and powering through late-night homework sessions on the endless batteries of youth instead. While studying architecture at North Dakota State University, he honed his craftsmanship, trained in technology, and fell in love with construction. He loved the art of building; he tolerated the tech.
Studying architecture in college instilled in him a connection to the art of crafting—something he was familiar with, coming from two generations of homebuilders.
After college, he moved away from physical craft and turned instead to digital media. The charm of storytelling brought him to marketing and videography, and kept him there for nearly ten years. The work was similar to what he’d done in architecture, but all the building was virtual. In that decade, he had kids. He got tired, too.
The tiredness came from the work. For every one hour of video shot, there were many more hours of editing waiting. And with the high of crafting visual narratives came the burden of spending long hours with technology rather than people. In media marketing, the art of craft came second. And when he finished building something, he couldn’t touch it. A combination of grueling hours and meager rewards is a common fight for all of us. For Charlie, it was a catalyst.
He knew something had to give—the art had to come back, front and center and in a tangible way. To combat the exhaustion, he started drinking coffee. And then he started roasting it.
But before he started roasting coffee, he roasted dandelion roots. Curiosity drove him to alternative drinks, and he found dandelion as a way into the herbal market. Harvesting the plants himself and using a popcorn popper to roast them, he found a new beginning and a new curiosity about how he, an architect and digital marketer, might bridge the gaps between specialty coffee and herbal drinks. And gaps there were, like the difference in caffeine content, customers, and label design.
His dandelion root coffee created that bridge. For customers who preferred a decaffeinated drink, they could brew a cup and enjoy the notes of hazelnut and chocolate and find a similar boldness to traditional coffee. For customers who were used to a caffeine buzz, they could add the blend to their usual drink and experience their old favorites in a new way.
As far as labelling goes, he called back to insights he’d found in media marketing to pack the blend and design it in a way that would appeal to both herbal and coffee fans.
In creating this first blend, he also created his brand. The name just came along with it: Dandy Lion Coffee.
Now, Dandy Lion Coffee has been in production for over a year. Charlie has moved up from the popcorn popper and through a Behmor one-pound roaster to Mill City Roasters’ 3KG manual roaster in order to keep up with demand.
He’s branched off from dandelion roots, too. Today, you can buy five different roasts from his online store in addition to two dandelion root roasts and a cold brew concentrate.
His business motto is simple and effective: you have to win a coffee drinker over by selling good coffee.
The brand he’s created is based in curiosity and honesty. “Coffee is more than something to wake up to in the morning,” he says. “It’s community.” And to Dandy Lion Coffee, community means much more than just selling and delivering—by hand, locally—a product.
Community means that each blend that Charlie roasts is named after the country it came from. Overmarketing in the industry has led to a lot of frustration on both ends of the supply chain: the farmers as well as the customers. It’s hard to know what you’re getting when the source of the product is in the fine print, so Dandy Lion Coffee keeps its names simple and clear.
Honesty and transparency drive his production and, as a part of that drive, he wants to give credit where credit is due: the farmer. Many times, coffee farmers face the most red tape, and take the least credit, for a beautiful and beloved final product. “Specialty coffee is a miracle,” Charlie says. This product can be bought and shipped from thousands of miles away, crafted in a million different ways, and ultimately bring so much culture, community, and love to coffee drinkers? It’s hard to define it as anything else.
To Charlie, cultivating this relationship and respect within the supply chain is an exercise in microsustainability. Since building Dandy Lion Coffee to be self-sufficient, he’s ensured that everything coming in and going out is too. His people-first attitude is what brought him to Mill City Roasters, and also what drives his mission.
He believes that attributing a coffee success to the roaster alone is a disservice to everyone else who contributed to the growth and harvest of the bean, its preparation, and its ultimate purpose.
In keeping with this microsustainability model, anyone who buys Dandy Lion Coffee will know exactly where it came from and who else was involved in its journey. You can follow the chain back up, from Cafe Imports all the way to the exact farm the beans came from—or the cascara, which he recommends cold-brewed.
To him, cascara is not a byproduct but a valuable and unique ingredient. He wants coffee cherry skins used to minimize waste, but also wants to open people’s minds to the possibilities of what he calls “honest materials.” These are materials that are often overlooked for their simplicity and sincerity. A cherry husk isn’t trying to be anything else; but with a little innovation and care, he’s elevated and honored it. He’s imported it to give farmers an extra profit, made it into a beverage, and ultimately made the coffee supply chain a little bit greener.
Charlie has been through a variety of industries, but to him they have each been an iteration of the creative process. They’ve made him holistic and crafty in nature. And they’ve all built on each other to culminate in the space where he roasts. From his architecture days, there are clean and beautiful blond plywood walls (plywood is another honest material). From his videography days, there are what he calls “big lights.” And in the middle of it all, the roaster, which fits in a way that most large machines don’t usually. “Just because something’s metal doesn’t mean it’s not beautiful,” he says.
He loves the freedom of his life now. Free from long editing hours and a computer-facing job, he can now be intentional about a product that exists to bring people together. That’s the best part about Dandy Lion Coffee: it marries two distinct groups within the coffee and beverage community, and leaves everybody happy.
This intention is what Charlie is planning to bring to the future of Dandy Lion Coffee. He built a new coffee cart—by hand, of course—and has plans to start bringing it to farmers markets in June. On the horizon of summer, another beginning appears.
His life of crafting and making new paths has not always come easily. His mind has a way of keeping things interesting through a combination of dyslexia and ADD. Although he’s had to adapt to his brain’s wiring, he’s come to appreciate that with it comes a “wide lens” view of life. He can zoom out to see the interconnectedness and wonder in every little thing.
He sums it up well: “to truly see is to forget the name of the thing one sees.”
Connect with Charlie Hansen:
Nowadays, you can find Charlie roasting for Mugshots Coffee Company or ready to give you brewing tips at the Chanhassen and Chaska farmers markets.
You can also reach out to him on Facebook, Instagram, or his website, where you can order any of his roasts for delivery. If you’re nearby, he’ll bring them to your door himself.
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