“You don’t need a title to be a leader.” – Ragnar Lothbrok, Vikings, Season 3, Episode 8
Sköl Coffee Company is a Tulsa-based coffee roaster, co-founded by two U.S. military veterans. They’ve been in business for around two months now, and I figure it’s about damned time I got this piece written. That said, this post is not in any way sponsored by them or anyone else, except that they gave me a cup of coffee when I visited their space at Mother Road Market. Let’s get on with the story, shall we?
Mother Road Market, off of Route 66 (surprise, surprise) in Tulsa is hopping. It’s around 7 or 7:30 on a chilly Wednesday night in November, and this newly opened venue seems to be the place to be. There’s a bar, a bunch of restaurants, a couple of shops, and even a small band posted up in what looks like a former warehouse-turned-foodie mall. I’ve made loose arrangements to meet up with Scott Tafolla, of Sköl Coffee Co.
I find him and his son Asher running a pop-up coffee stand out of a little space that’s probably done time as a utility closet. Jon Quillman, the other co-founder, was here earlier, but I missed him. He’s got a job, or something normal like that. Actually, both Scott and Jon have full time jobs, so like lots of us, livin’ the dream means busting ass to build their business on the side. Jon’s also still in the National Guard. Scott was in the Army Reserves and Guard, and put in a cumulative 11.5 years.
“Sköl” (spelled a couple of different ways, depending on the modern Scandinavian language) is a toast, much like salud, pröst, kanpai, sláinte or cheers. I take it to denote good times with friends, and a wish for their good health. It’s generally considered to be a Viking toast. “Why the Viking theme?” I ask Scott. Like most vets, he seems to be a pretty straightforward guy. Infantry types tend to identify with the fearless Viking warriors of legend. When you’re in a battle, or about to be, there’s no point in worrying about whether you’re going to die.“Is that next mortar going to hit me?” Either it won’t, and you’ll keep fighting, or it will, and you won’t be worried about it anymore.
For Viking warriors who died in battle, Valhalla waited, with endless rounds of drinking and feasting, then more fighting, and more feasting. That was the Viking idea of heaven. Drink enough dark roasted coffee (or just be that kind of person), and it almost starts to sound fun. Military types aren’t the only ones who like Vikings, though. Their popularity lends a wider appeal than a purely modern military theme would, for the fledgling coffee company.
Right. Okay. Is the coffee any good?
Scott has Ragnar and Fenrir on offer, and of course I try them both. Both are dark roasts, but served as a drip, out of a coffee dispenser, Fenrir has a hint of sourness to it. Ragnar is a little smoother, with more of the dark berry and nutty hints, as opposed to the more pronounced roast character for Ragnar. For a real comparison, try them in a French press, or as espresso. I also bought a bag of the Vegvisir, their medium roast. It brewed up quite nicely in a French press, and also as an espresso grind. Both Ragnar and Fenrir are blended from El Salvadorian beans, and the coffee is “Seed-To-Cup Certified.” The coffee is roasted locally, and ships out to customers within a few days of roasting.
In the beginning….
Most of the military folk I’ve been acquainted with drink coffee the way you’re supposed to drink water. By the Aladdin thermos full, on a continuous basis. They mainline coffee as a rule, and get into the harder stuff (like Monster) when the occasion calls for it. If my scribbled notes are steering me straight, Scott and Jon got into the coffee business somewhat through their involvement with the local veteran community. I’ve got a note that says they are co-founders of one of the local American Legion posts.
Asking Scott whether Sköl is involved in veteran issues, and not solely focused on being a veteran-owned company, is one of the most awkward interview questions I’ve ever asked. Should have stopped at Prairie first maybe, and brought Scott a beer, rather than going there after. In addition to working with the American Legion, Scott is also the Tulsa ambassador for Mission 22.
For those who aren’t familiar, they’re a non-profit focused on lowering the veteran suicide rate (the most recent Veterans Affairs report puts the daily number of veteran suicides around 20). Scott himself has lost seven friends to suicide, including a relative. That’s how he got to know Mission 22. He also noted that many of the homeless folks in the Tulsa area are military veterans. Jon is involved in another program to help folks detox from chemical exposure from their deployments, but he’s not here for this chat, so I don’t have many details on that. “We want to be more of a community, than just a business,” Scott says.
Where’s the coffee?
Currently, Sköl is a roast-to-order operation. They don’t have a coffee shop to drop into for a cup. In fact, they didn’t have a space at all, but when I contacted Jon to ask about doing this write-up, they got in touch with Mother Road Market. Sköl works with a local roaster, and “…we do everything else ourselves, i.e. packaging, labeling, shipping, etc….”
So, the way to get your hands on Sköl Coffee Co. beans is to order them, or pick some up when they do an event at a local venue (like Mother Road Market). Oh, yeah. They offer a military discount, too. The buzz from my last cup has worn off, so that’s all I’ve got. Sköl!