I was in downtown Saint Paul the morning of New Years Eve and stopped by the Dunn Bros. in the Lawson Building to pick up whole bean coffee. I won’t make that mistake again.

With the exception of the the few years when I worked as a roaster, I have bought most of my coffee at a Dunn Bros. I have done so at least since the early nineties when I lived in Uptown a couple blocks away from their Lake Street store. Half the reason I started working at the Roastery was because I got to work with Marge McCabe, who roasted for Dunns and whose work I much admired.

Because each store roasts its own coffee, they give a strong impression that they value freshness. For coffee, this is essential: you don’t have long after it’s roasted before its flavor diminishes dramatically, which is why I recommend buying only what you can drink in a week, from a local roaster if possible. (If this is not possible, roast your own!) One of the factors leading to Dunn Bros. success is their stressing the value of fresh coffee, and of devising a process for ensuring that the coffee they roasted was for sale only for a few days: after that, it’s brewed.

You can imagine my surprise, then, when the coffee that I bought on Dec. 31 at the downtown store had been roasted ten days earlier. Stale! Unacceptable. I should have refused it at that point, but it was New Years Eve and I didn’t think I’d find anything else open for long. And it didn’t matter much, since I just resolved not to buy any more whole bean there again.

This is not typical of other stores that I frequent, but I fear that franchising has reduced quality. I’ll stick to the stores I know have some real turnover on the beans. Their Grand and Snelling store is good for that, and it’s not far from home.