Bell Brothers brewing business

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The Bell Brothers continue to take the pandemic in stride with their foray into providing high-quality coffee to visitors and residents.

Bird Dog Cafe on Short 7th Avenue in Laurel could take a top spot next to Lee’s as one of the premier coffee stops in town once Manuscript Coffee Roasters opens. Its day-to-day sales will continue at Bird Dog Cafe, while next door the roast room will be firing on all cylinders. The white house next to Bird Dog will also serve as a tasting and quality-control area and a store for selling fine equipment and merchandise.

The founders of Manuscript want to make their high-grade coffee accessible, as there’s a need for the kind of farm-to-table brew they want to sell, Laura Zumwalt said. Besides, Elliot Bell said, good quality coffee is addictive.

“It’s hard to go back to giant brands once you had the farm stuff,” he said.

Two of the new brand’s key figures are Zumwalt and Wesley Walton, who is perhaps the only Q grader working in Mississippi. A Q grader is what you might call a coffee sommelier who can price the stuff by taste and smell.

“It’s passion, not just business,” Walton said. “My friends will attest that it’s my biggest hobby. It’s one of those things you want to share with everyone. Coffee is that for myself and for all of us.”

Zumwalt and Walton each have impressive resumes, which is such a rare thing for a startup, Bell said. The former has training as a baker and worked at Blue Bottle Coffee Company on the West Coast before moving back to Mississippi, and the latter was exposed to specialty coffee on the West Coast and during a months-long stint in Nicaragua. He also worked as a barista in South Carolina at Due South Coffee Roasters and then at Keurig as a quality sensory analyst until the pandemic started.

When Zumwalt moved back to Mississippi, she and her husband discussed starting a coffee company in Soso. Then one lucky day, she struck up a conversation with Walton at the café. That’s when he learned Zumwalt had been a manager at Blue Bottle, which has a pedigree in great quality coffee.

Walton let the Bells know immediately.

“This can’t be a one-time customer,’” Walton told them. “‘We’ve got to get her in on this.’”

There’s a long process to growing and distributing coffee that isn’t seen or always regarded by its drinkers. Coffee is often picked by hand and carried manually by farmers, washed, processed, shipped and distributed.

“We want to have the opportunity to shake the hands of those farmers and have that credibility,” Walton said.

“It’s like the farm-to-table trend,” Zumwalt said. “We like to know where the coffee comes from.”

That practice is in keeping with Bird Dog Cafe’s use of whole ingredients from farms, which are sometimes even local farms. The new company’s name, Manuscript, reflects the “story” of going from hand-picked bean to a hot cup in Laurel.

“We want to have a relationship with the importers, the growers, the washing stations so we can know the whole process,” Zumwalt said.

Every coffee is different, Walton said; a Brazilian coffee doesn’t taste the same as an African or Colombian.

“Dude, it’s amazing!” Elliot said. “Coffee is literally a fruit. They produce this stuff in a way to deprive it of oxygen, and the fruit oils don’t oxidize. It’s like, this stuff smells like cotton candy. It is wild. They have this wheel with a hundred-something different tasting notes.”

Coffee has more than 1,000 compounds, Walton said, which is more than wine or tea. Each compound represents a potential flavor or flavor element. Moreover, things like altitude or how it’s roasted will affect taste.

“That’s where the story aspect comes into play,” Walton said. “These farmers put in good work to develop quality, so we want to portray that here. We want to share that with people.”

“If you’ve ever had a watermelon from Smith County, then you understand the terroir,” Elliot said, referring to the high environmental quality of growing soil. “That’s something we can grasp here in Mississippi. When people try a cup of coffee that’s better than Folger’s or Community, it’s going to become part of their daily lives.”

Manuscript Coffee Roasters’ storefront is set to open this week. Its tagline: “Story-written coffee for story-writing people.” The team’s dream is to bring specialty coffee to Mississippi, and it all starts here in Laurel.

“We want everyone to join us at the table,” Zumwalt said.

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