Walter Reynolds is known in the local coffee roasting world as Roaster Walt or Wally. But he also goes by Sergeant Reynolds, a training NCO for Minnesota’s Search and Extraction team in the Minnesota Army National Guard. It is his military service that’s helped inspire his passion for good coffee. Reynolds started “getting into” coffee around 2013 when his world travels as an army engineer introduced him to different coffees. He began to ponder what he liked about certain coffees and even began creating cold brew coffee for fellow service members whenever electricity wasn’t available for traditionally brewed blends. Once Reynolds hit the halfway mark in his military career, he decided his passion for creating good coffee would be the next step toward civilian life. So, in 2019, Reynolds launched Bridge City Roasting named in honor of the city he loves, Stillwater, Minn.
Originally from Galveston, Tex., Reynolds moved to the St. Croix Valley at a young age and attended Stonebridge Elementary School. “As a kid, I fell in love with Stillwater and I knew I would come back and make this my home,” he says. Reynolds’ wife and her family are all from Stillwater and Reynolds has been part of the community for several years, helping out with local community events. For over five years, Reynolds says he received thoughtful care packages from local residents when he was deployed. And it party for Reynolds at the Tilted Tiki in Stillwater. That’s when he first disclosed his dream of starting a coffee roasting business and people encouraged Reynoldswith an outpouring of support before he was even up and going.
While on deployment, Reynolds approached coffee making like that of a mixologist, combining whatever was on hand to create a cold brew. “When we didn’t have electricity for coffee pots, cold brew was a good alternative,” says Reynolds who would walk around for 4-6 days with jugs of steeping cold brew batches that he would then filter and serve. “We had a lot of Minnesota National Guard guys who would drink coffee all day,” says Reynolds. “I realized I’m kind of good at developing these flavor profiles and I’m drawn to an industry where everyone is trying to improve everyday life for everyone involved in the process.” He notes that everything about Bridge City Roasting’s process is local, ethical and sustainable.
Bridge City Roasting obtains its beans through a Minneapolis based importer. Reynolds says, “when I first started, I thought I’d be a direct coffee roaster, but the more I dove into the education aspect, I realized that by going through an importer, if I’m out of something I can talk to the importer about what might be similar to create the profile I need. Also, with direct trade, if a farm goes down, I would have no ability to help those farmers and that weighed on me. The importers I’ve chosen to have relationships with, if something happens to a family farm where it cannot produce, [the importer] will not just cut ties but give some financial backing until the farmer is back up and running, which I think is just awesome. This helps environmentally and economically in places where labor laws are not the same.”
As a rule of thumb, Reynolds prefers to work with local companies. He works up and down the river valley in search of collaborations. Grain Studio in Hugo did Bridge City Roasting’s logo design work and Bayport Printing creates the company’s packaging and labels.
“I gave out free samples for almost a year to get critiques and feedback,” says Reynolds. “I’d take all of the information to get better until Bridge City Roasting launched its coffee for sale to the public in February, 2020.” Then covid hit. “I was scared,” says Reynolds. “I didn’t know what was going to happen. But sure enough, a few people saw me online and started ordering coffee and it’s grown. I had to give up my cottage license for a food license and commercial kitchen space. It’s been amazing.”
Currently, Bridge City Roasting shares space with Sara’s Tipsy Pies in Stillwater. “People have suggested other towns for shared space, but that’s not my home,” says Reynolds. This arrangement works out great because “I’m full-time military and gone during the day. I need a space at night when I can go there to roast and fill orders online,” says Reynolds. Bridge City Roasting has experienced unanticipated growth in 2020 because fewer people were visiting coffee shops and searching for good coffee to brew at home. This meant Reynolds needed to upgrade equipment and purchase a roaster that can keep up with the volume of orders.
Reynolds’ roasting process involves going through his flavor profiles before he begins. “Before you go somewhere, you need to know where you’re going,” Reynolds says. So, he thinks about the type of brewer he’s trying to tap into with each batch; drip, pour over or cold press, because each requires a different type of roasting.
Then he begins with cupping, a process where a small amount of ground coffee is steeped in water to give the brewer a taste without having to brew an entire pot. “You evaluate the aroma and taste from hot and as it cools, to ensure throughout the process that you have a smooth, good tasting coffee,” says Reynolds. He might then mix one coffee with another origin of bean to create a blend. “That’s how it all happens,” he says, “with a small cup and a spoon.”
The most popular Bridge City Roasting flavor is called Simon Select. “[The name] has to do with my dog Simon,” says Reynolds. Simon is a Bichon, Havanese mix, a small dog that often travels in the car with Reynolds making coffee deliveries. “Customers enjoy meeting Simon,” says Reynolds. Simon also knows what he likes. Reynolds says, “When I was roasting [Simon Select], my dog, who doesn’t drink coffee, would go crazy and I wondered what was going on. Then, when I opened the hopper to pour the beans out, one went flying and [Simon] grabbed it and took off like he’d gotten a treat. He smelled it, played with it and eventually ate it, and I thought, ‘I guess this is Simon’s!’” Thus, the name. Reynolds describes Simon Select as a Colombian grown coffee with hints of toffee and sugar cane. “It’s juicy and smooth,” says Reynolds.
Bridge City Roasting also has a Sumatra dark roast that is popular. “It tastes like honey and candied walnut,” says Reynolds, “it’s a chocolatey, smooth tasting coffee.” Reynolds notes that he tries to aim for smoothness when roasting coffee. In the military he’s seen how people typically make coffee. They don’t often measure. “That’s what the normal person does,” says Reynolds, “they throw a couple of tablespoons in and call it good.” So, with that in mind, Bridge City Roasting coffees do have brewing recommendations on the labels, but Reynolds tries to stay away from anything too fancy that might require scales, etc. A similar thought process goes into the company’s cold brew kit, “I try to make sure it’s travel friendly,” says Reynolds, “So you can take the whole thing with you boating, hiking or camping. It’s for people living the river life. The whole point is to make it convenient for people on the go.”
In fact, the outdoors and activities like hiking and camping are part of what Reynolds loves about the St. Croix Valley. He says, “I love the outdoors and the fact that you can only get to the [Arcola high bridge, pictured in the Bridge City Roasting logo], by hiking.” Reynolds wanted to choose a logo for Bridge City Roasting that symbolizes something important to his city but that is also an image people from other areas, where there are bridges, can recognize, unique yet universal, kind of like the appreciation of good coffee.