By Chelsea Royer
In the Northwest, coffee is a culture unlike anywhere else in the US. I love the fact that even in a place as remote as Grays Harbor, I have access to the warmth of a hand-crafted espresso. Thanks to Nick and Tara Greeley, you can find a cozy nook and a cup of coffee as close to the ocean as Westport.
Though both in the medical field, the Greeley’s have had a twenty-year-long coffee journey that began with a stovetop espresso maker and continues as an obsession. For years they jotted down ideas, sampled espresso from different shops, and thought about what they would do if they ever had the opportunity to open a coffee house of their own. It was in the most unexpected fashion that their dreams were finally realized.
“I was working in the ER and ran into a mental health professional named, Ben. He had just come off a 24-hour shift and was looking pretty ragged, so I asked him, ‘Are you ready for your second career yet? Maybe you should try opening a coffee shop.’ Ben looked at me really weird and replied, ‘I actually did that, do you want to buy it,’” reflected Nick.
What wasn’t the right fit for Ben turned into the perfect opportunity for Nick and Tara. In April of 2012, they were proud to open up the Tinderbox Coffee Roasters in Westport. Less than two years later, the Greeley’s expanded by opening their first drive-thru stand in Hoquiam where they have a little more space for roasting and increased business stability. Surprisingly, the couple isn’t so interested in continuing to expand. For Nick and Tara, the main focus is the science of coffee and the people who surround them.
“We are interested in investing in people…in sharing the journey and the story and being an inspiration in coffee and beyond. We tell our employees that this is just a step in your journey and we hope you learn a lot from being here and caring about people,” Tara shares. Caring about their staff and customers is a large part of their vision for the Tinderbox, whether in Westport or at the Hoquiam drive-thru. “We’ve all learned some great things from each other,” says Nick. “We’ve grown in our understanding of coffee…understanding of money, of relationships…and having grace for other people.”
Extending grace, for the Greeley’s, goes beyond coffee culture. They recently took a two-month trip to the Philippines where they engaged in disaster relief. Tara is in the process of getting her midwifery certification and the couple has hopes of continuing their travels and ministry overseas. Ironically, Nick’s first experience with coffee roasting began on a missions trip to El Salvador in 1993.
Nick purchased coffee beans from a local woman he saw drying them on the side of the road. “I brought them home and tried to roast them in the oven. I destroyed them…beyond destroyed them,” Nick says woefully. “I decided I would only give some to my mom because, no matter what, she’d say they were delicious,” he laughs.
Since then, Nick and Tara have tried multiple methods of roasting, including using a popcorn maker. “I’ve spent a lot of time reading up and learning the chemistry… and also burning a lot of coffee. It’s really exciting when the light starts to go on and you think, ‘wow, that’s really good coffee. What did I do this time?’” A science in itself, Nick would take notes about the weather, humidity, time of day, and how he roasted the beans.
“With roasting coffee, we don’t just hit a button and walk away. We know when its getting close to the roast and at that point you’ll hear one of us say, ‘don’t talk to me!’. We’re listening, we’re smelling, we’re looking. Its very connected…its a craft. You can push a button and walk away and it’ll be decent coffee but if you really fuss over it, pay attention and understand what’s going on you can roast good coffee – really good coffee. Same with pulling a shot. We don’t just push a button, we stay and watch,” explains Nick.
Nick and Tara’s hopes are not to just make a good beverage, but to help the customer experience new ways of drinking it. “We try to bring to the coffee experience some other ways of enjoying the coffee. We’ve got about ten different ways to make it out there (in Westport). I love talking about extraction and the nerdiness of coffee and having a space where its safe to talk about it. A lot of people are intimidated by coffee culture because, in some circles, it’s synonymous with snobbery…I love giving people a chance to experiment when I have the time.”
A lot of people have asked the couple, “Why Westport?” The Greeley’s explain it was a timing and opportunity they would have kicked themselves over if they hadn’t taken advantage of it. “Whether you’ll find us here running this ten years from now or not we don’t know. We have so much we want to do with our lives along with medical missions stuff. If we can figure out how to do both, then that would be great. Maybe someday we won’t be a part of it (the Tinderbox), but we hope we’ve built something on a good foundation that someone from our team or someone passionate about coffee can take over and that in twenty years, whether we are here or not, you can come to Grays Harbor and get Tinderbox Coffee.”
Twenty years is a long ways away, but for now, you can find Nick and Tara at either their Hoquiam or Westport location where you can discover great roasts, a friendly face, and perhaps a new way of drinking the Northwest’s favorite beverage.
101 North Montesano Street
Westport, WA 98595