Hansa Coffee Roasters opens in Libertyville
BY KATLYN SMITH email@example.com | @Katlyn_eSmith October 30, 2013 7:58PM
Alexandra Campbell brews a single cup of joe from Ethiopian beans. “We wanted to be very welcoming and cozy, but sophisticated,” the Libertyville woman said of her fiancé's shop. | Katlyn Smith/Sun-Times Media
Hansa Coffee Roasters
Where: 755 N. Milwaukee Ave., Libertyville
Social media: Facebook.com/Hansacoffee
Updated: December 30, 2013 12:03PM
If you ever want to see Tom Maegdlin wince, just reheat your coffee in the microwave.
It’s a cardinal sin in the growing world of gourmet coffee — and Maegdlin is one of its most devout worshippers.
The Libertyville transplant and his business partner, Kevin Kane, opened Hansa Coffee Roasters this month, a hip coffeehouse that buys beans from remote regions, roasts them onsite and uses high-end machines to brew java, cup by cup.
When the 27-year-old begins to explain the pour-over, it sounds like he’s admiring a masterpiece.
Dubbed the bloom, a sweet, fruity scent blossoms when hot water cascades over grounds.
“This is a really special coffee,” he says of an Ethiopian variety brewed by the delicate method.
It’s an impressive craftsmanship he’s honed since 15.
As a teenager, he started at the bottom, washing dishes and working the register in an Arizona coffeehouse. He soon graduated to roasting, a process closely guarded by insiders who each have their own style.
Maegdlin learned from the owner of a Tempe, Ariz., shop.
“It’s just one of those things where no one is really willing to teach you,” Maegdlin said. “The magician’s not going to show you the tricks, so to speak.”
But he took a “detour” with a job in the financial industry after college.
“I felt a lot of pressure having a degree to go and get what people call a ‘real job,’” Maegdlin said. “I did that, and I disliked it immensely.”
He brushed off roasting coffee as a hobby to keep his “head clear” from a stressful job in a bank.
When Caribou Coffee closed downtown earlier this year, he moved to turn his online business selling small batches of roasted beans into a brick-and-mortar near the Metra station.
In Lake County, Hansa is one of only a handful of shops joining the movement known as the “third wave” of coffee.
The first involved brands like Folger’s that brought grounds into homes. California-based Peet’s, and then Starbucks, ushered in the second wave by making specialty drinks mainstream.
The third wave is reserved for independent businesses that spurn dark roasting and pay careful attention to region and equipment (there’s also a newish fourth wave).
“It’s like everything else,” Maegdlin said. “The butcher, the baker and the candle stick maker — they don’t exist anymore because we’ve all gone to commercial foods.”
Hansa works with an importer to bring exotic finds to Libertyville. One recent arrival: beans from a Rwandan farm near a guerilla sanctuary where 80 percent of the workers are women.
It’s no gimmick.
Like wine, where the beans grow affects flavor. Maegdlin knows farmers who market beans right down to individual plots.
“Even the microclimate on the farm will change how the coffee tastes,” he said.
He brings that level of attention to Hansa, where he sets up the espresso machine each morning and adjusts for humidity.
Manual brewing may test the patience of someone looking for a quick caffeine fix. But as Hansa baristas and third-wave aficionados will tell you, techniques like the pour-over yield a better cup.
Hansa feels industrial, but warm in a white storefront that used to house a hot-tub repair business.
“I like to think I have a pretty good imagination, but when he showed it to me at first, I was like, ‘I don’t know honey,” his fiancé Alexandra Campbell said. “It was a pretty grimy garage when we first looked at it, and Tom was insistent, and I’m so glad that we trusted him because it’s turned out so beautifully.”
Campbell is Hansa’s “chief storyteller.” The Libertyville woman, who previously worked as a spokeswoman for Lake Forest Academy, sprinkled the remodeled interior with a few finds, such as a chalkboard reclaimed from the campus. Above the entrance, bold red letters simply spell “coffee.” Step inside, and a mosaic of wood paneling greets visitors. And of course, there’s free Wi-Fi.
“We wanted to be very welcoming and cozy, but sophisticated,” Campbell, 28, said.
Maegdlin decided to name the business after a medieval community of Baltic merchants, a not-so-obvious, but personal choice.
When his dad died in 2010, he began tracing his roots to Rostock, Germany, once a member of the storied Hanseatic League, a network of coffee and tea traders that also doubled as a defensive alliance.
“When I did more research and found out more about my family, it was like ‘Oh, this is a no-brainer’ what to call my coffee shop,” he said.
The most popular menu item is a honey latte made from a local beekeeper. Maegdlin combines soda, espresso and vanilla for the iced Dr. Hansa, a mature version of the root beer float. A kid-friendly menu offers hot chocolate and pastries.
He says it’s a far cry from his days at a bank.
“This is a fun job,” he said. “This makes people happy.”