Flavors: Caffeine and Community at Black Dog Coffee
Black Dog Coffee brings together coffee and community.
Owners Mariah and Rob Carpenter have infused into the neighborhoods in the West End of Billings next to the Sanctuary Salon and Spa, on Poly Drive at Roots Garden Center, and in the hospital corridor at Harper and Madison.
Mariah married into a family of entrepreneurs, with her mother-in-law, Chris, the creator of the salon and spa in 1998, when a business like this did not exist in Montana’s Trailhead. These days Mariah takes on the responsibilities of Chief Operating Officer at the salon and spa business as well as the Joy of Living, a retail gift store next to their coffee shop.
The original shop in the Sanctuary complex came about, according to Mariah, because her husband wanted to "fill the space that we were in.
"We had had multiple renters come in and had turned over quickly so we were trying to figure out a way to bring that neighborhood connectivity to the space," she said, "and we knew that it needed to do with drinks and food.”
Mariah and Chris decided to attend barista school in Portland, at Stumptown Coffee roasters.
“We drank so much coffee we were literally sick,” Mariah jokes, but they found at the school instruction on how to brew a good coffee along with the historical evolution of coffee. They also learned about the differences of flavors manifested from beans from different parts of the world as well as how roasting also influences the tastes in the final cup. Different brewing methods showcased different characteristics of the beans.
In 2017 Black Dog Coffee jolted into town offering not only espresso drinks, but coffee brewed with the pour-over method and the AeroPress. A pour over requires a brew unit of a funnel on top of a coffee pot along with a scale and a gooseneck kettle that has a thermometer to boil water to 205 degrees Fahrenheit. A filter is initially wet by pouring water through. The water is then discarded and coffee grinds are introduced into the filter. Upon first pour from the kettle, the coffee blooms, causing CO2 to rush through the grinds. More water is swirled on top of the grinds.
The AeroPress sits on top of a cup with the filter cap and paper filter in place. Ground coffee is poured in through the top, followed by hot water. By inserting the plunger, the hot water presses through the grinds and through the filter into the cup below.
In general, the more careful the coffee grinds are brewed, the more nuances are extracted from the coffee beans. The pour over is more of a meditative way to obtain a cup of coffee, while the AeroPress creates a cup of coffee faster with less characteristics. Savory, fruity and acidic notes are extracted first, followed with sweetness, finished with bitterness.
In 2021, the Billings Nursery became available after the business moved farther west.
“We were approached by Jon Switzer, who had a landscaping business," Mariah said. "He wanted a place where people could come and see all of the products before their landscaping projects.”
The nursery business, being seasonal, is busiest during the spring, summer and into the fall. With a coffee shop, a floral business and retail space, the nursery could operate year-round, with more consistent foot traffic.
Although Mariah admits this was perhaps not the most sensible business decision, branching to a new place so close to the shop in the Sanctuary complex made sense.
“Everything over there is walkable," she said. "It’s a neighborhood, which is who we are so it filled all of our different values."
Roots nursery and Black Dog Coffee are "in the community, a local favorite, walkable, a friendly place that people can come with strollers and their dogs.”
At this spot, Mariah credits Marie Taylor as the curator of the floral items along with the art and retail items.
“We do an artist reception on Wednesday evenings," Mariah said. "It’s really fun. It’s really intimate."
Then at the end of 2021, Joanie Swords made the decision to sell Harper and Madison, the bakery and coffee shop in the hospital corridor.
“Joanie had a lot of offers on the table, multiple offers," Mariah said of how they ended up with the business. "She had all of us write a letter" explaining why they wanted to buy the business.
“We wanted to carry on the tradition of being a neighborhood, a place for people to gather.”
Mariah and her team are still learning how to recreate the many treats Swords offered at Harper and Madison. Swords is called back often to teach the Black Dog Coffee baking staff how to make her treats, such as the popular caramel rolls and high pastry collar quiche.
By bringing coffee to nostalgic spaces in town, Black Dog Coffee preserves not only a bit of history but continues to bring community together with caffeine and food.