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By Jeff Stearns | STAFF
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Gourmet coffee beans
By Diane Schlindwein

If you're a real coffee connoisseur, chances are you want only the best in your morning cup. Lucky for you, there are quite a few places in town that provide some scrumptious beans you can grind yourself.

Some folks visit White Oaks Mall for more than purchasing clothes, jewelry and shoes. They come in search of their favorite java at Gloria Jean's Coffees.

Larry Sturm, who has co-owned the franchise with his wife, Denise Sturm, for the past three years, says some first-time visitors come in to taste-test a sample. Once they find their favorite blend, they return on a regular basis.

Although many people simply like the taste, more are interested in knowing just where their coffee comes from. "All of our beans are called Arabica beans. They are black coffee beans that come from different parts of the world. A lot of our customers grind them at home," Sturm says.

Sturm recommends buying coffee once a week and grinding it just before you brew it. "That way it doesn't dry out. It's just better coffee when you grind it and fix it right away." He sells the popular Keurig single-serve coffee machine that brews one cup in just 30 seconds.

Gloria Jean's offers more than 40 kinds of coffee. Store manager Tamara Frazier says the most popular flavored coffees are Blueberry Morning, Irish Cream, Madagascar Vanilla Caramel and French Vanilla Supreme. Favorite black coffees are Columbian Supreme, Special Blend and French Breakfast Blend.

Fine coffees can be more expensive, but folks who love their morning cup are willing to pay extra. At Gloria Jean's, for example, flavored coffees usually run about $12.99 a pound. Its priciest coffees are 100 percent Hawaiian Kona at $43.99 a pound and Jamaican Blue Mountain, which sells for $51.99 a pound.

"Those coffees come from private estates and plantations," Frazier says. "They are grown at a high altitude, which produces a better-quality bean."

While there are a lot of fine places to purchase coffee, Gina Stickley of The Bean Counter shops in Springfield and Petersburg, says her fast-growing family business is unique. "We're the only place around that roasts our own coffee beans," says Stickley, an accountant by trade - thus the name of the business. She co-owns the operation with her husband, Brian.

The Stickleys buy their coffees from all over the world. "We literally get 150-pound bags from every coffee-producing country you can imagine," Gina Stickley says. "When they arrive, they are tiny - the size of a baby's fingernail - and a dull light green. The roasting process makes them shinier, bigger and black.

"Brian roasts the beans every day, even on Sundays," she says. "Our big thing is fresh-roasted, fresh-ground coffee. If people want it ground, we grind it right before they take it with them."

Coffee drinkers tend to like variety, and Gina Stickley says she aims to please. "We have 18 to 20 regular coffees, 25 flavored coffees and eight decafs," she says. "But if someone wants something special, we have the capability to do it because we flavor our own coffees." Most coffees sell for between $6 and $7.50 per half-pound bag.

The Bean Counter shops - which sell both coffee and made-from-scratch bakery items - are located not only in Petersburg, but in Memorial Medical Center, Springfield Clinic on Seventh Street, Springfield Clinic on First Street and in The Gables. "We'll be opening one more shop in Memorial when the remodeling is finished," she says.

Gina Stickley admits she never imagined that she and Brian would leave their full-time jobs to work for themselves. "My husband always roasted coffee as a hobby," she says. "One day he came to me and said, 'We ought to go into the business.' We never dreamed we'd grow so fast, but people love our coffee."


Coupled by coffee

Coffee shops tend to bring couples together - and that's especially true of the husband-and-wife teams that own them. In fact, both Gloria Jean's Coffees at White Oaks Mall and The Bean Counter stores in Springfield and Petersburg are owned by couples.

"I always remember to say I'm the co-owner - I don't want to get myself in trouble," jokes Larry Sturm, who along with his wife, Denise, has owned the Gloria Jean's in White Oaks Mall for the past three years.

In fact, it was coffee that brought The Bean Counter's Brian and Gina Stickley together about 25 years ago. "I was working at a coffee shop in college in West Virginia - that's where we're from - and Brian came in. I served him a cup of coffee. That's how we met. We dated a few years, and then we got married."

And that first cup of coffee Gina served Brian?  Well, he drank it, Gina says, but it probably didn't taste that great. "I'm sure he wouldn't drink it today, but he did back then. I think it's ironic that our life together began with a cup of coffee, and we still start every day by drinking a cup of coffee together.

"We both work 80 to 100 hours a week on the business. We never in a million years believed this business would grow the way it has," remarks Gina, who says they spend their free time with their three children and live in one of Petersburg's 150-year-old Victorian homes. "We are happy, and our kids work with us. We absolutely love what we do, and that's what is important."  

Story published Friday, May 1, 2009 ( Volume 4, Number 3 )

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