Best in Show

Marsh Mud cold-brewed coffee is Virginia’s best new product.

Photo by John H. Sheally II

Marsh Mud

     “I’m rarely speechless,” confesses Kristin Willis, co-owner with her husband Jamie of the Eastern Shore Coastal Roasting Company in Willis Wharf. But when their Marsh Mud cold-brewed coffee won Best New Product overall at the Virginia Food and Beverage Expo last year, Willis says she was shocked: “I was like, what? Best overall?”

     Marsh Mud bested food and beverage entries from more than 50 other contestants. The Willises came up with the idea for Marsh Mud after their customers kept asking them how to make the cold-brewed coffee they served at their booth when they traveled to food shows and markets. Kristin says the couple, who started their wholesale coffee roasting business in 2006, asked themselves how they could package the coarsely ground coffee blend to make it “Eastern Shore easy.”

     That’s when they thought of measuring the roasted coffee into a 100 percent cotton muslin bag that could then be thrown into a pitcher of cool water and left to steep for about 12 hours. The result is a brew that is less acidic than heat-brewed coffee, and more concentrated too—watch out for the caffeine kick, it’s swift. Marsh Mud can be kept in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

     The win led the micro-roaster to being picked up by the recently opened Glen’s Garden Market on S Street in D.C. as one of only four coffee roasters in the state whose blends will be carried in the store, which sells products exclusively from the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The roaster’s many blends, including Fog Cutter, Hog Island Surprise and Chincoteague Sunset are sold at dozens of bed and breakfast inns, boutiques, drugstores and even a meat market on the Eastern Shore.

     Though their company is definitely growing, “We’re not out to conquer the world,” explains 40-year-old Kristin, a former marine biologist. “After all this, the coffee has become the vessel for our message, which is small businesses staying local.

     “It’s a really tight community here. I credit the Shore for our success,” says Kristin. “We’ve had longevity because local customers and businesses have sustained us.”

     The Willises roast about 15,000 pounds of coffee a year and have a patent pending for Marsh Mud. This means, laughs the go-local Kristin (with more than a hint of schadenfreude), “If Starbuck’s wanted to grind coffee and put it in a bag for iced coffee, they couldn’t.”

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