The first smell is the deep, rich smell of coffee, reminiscent of lazy, warm winter mornings.
The second is the sweet smell of cookies, recalling old-world holidays and childhood.
The walls are lined by sporadic bookshelves, which hold classics like “The Iliad,” “Romeo and Juliet,” and “The Scarlet Letter.” Little green plants line the windows and sit on top of the bookshelf next to the door.
Welcome to Ad Astra, a once-a-week market at 105 N. Broad Street in Hillsdale, which hosts vendors selling coffee, pastries, spaghetti, fresh bread, and any other odd assortment of goods, and is run by Patrick and Kristi Whalen every Saturday from 9 a.m. till noon.
While the two constants at the Market are always cookies and coffee, there were as many as six vendors for the last two weeks during their Valentine’s Day market.
Giana Green, who sells cookies and spaghetti at Ad Astra, had always wanted to be a vendor at the farmers market but was never sure what she should sell.
“I made fresh pasta for my husband and he was like, ‘Wow! I can’t believe people haven’t eaten this before,’ and I was like, ‘I’m bringing pasta to Hillsdale.’”
Green started her company, Mangia Italian Bakery, selling spaghetti and cookies at the Farmer’s Market in Hillsdale last summer. When the Farmer’s Market closed for the season, Kristi Whalen invited her to sell her products at Ad Astra.
As a 2017 Hillsdale grad, Green always knew she wanted to stay in Hillsdale and serve the community.
“I just fell in love with Hillsdale and just wanted to serve the people of Hillsdale,” Green said. “Everything about Hillsdale, I truly love.”
After twelve years in the Marine Corp, Kristi and Patrick Whalen came back to Hillsdale, which they said they consider home.
“We’ve spent the last twelve years in fourteen different places, and he got out, and it’s always been our dream to move home,” Kristi said. “When an opportunity came up for him to work at the college, we totally took it.”
When they moved to Hillsdale from Kansas, they brought Ad Astra and their love for coffee with them.
“I developed a taste for a quality of coffee I couldn’t afford to buy,” Patrick said. “I got into really expensive coffee while I was in the military because I could afford it. And then I got out and went to grad school and wasn’t able to afford it anymore, and was like, ‘Well, this isn’t gonna work.’”
A friend introduced them to the roasting process, which they initially began in a popcorn maker. Now they are producing between 30 and 50 pounds of coffee a week — five pounds of coffee roughly every twelve minutes.
The quality and taste of coffee depend on where the bean is from, and on the roast of the coffee.
“It’s a lot like wine, where the grape is from, depending on how much rainfall, the altitude, the soil the plant was actually grown in. Those impart to the bean — to the seed — a unique flavor,” Patrick said. “Which is why a bean from Guatemala tends to taste different than, say, Ethiopia.”
The Whalens primarily focus on producing light roast coffee, which tends to bring out the flavors naturally occurring in the bean.
“My goal is to unlock the flavor potential in the bean then to get out of the way and let the bean do the talking,” Patrick said.
The light roast coffee sold at Ad Astra is different from dark roast coffees typically bought at stores.
“A lot of the coffee that you’re buying in the store is dark roast because they don’t want you to have the flavor of the bean, so they just roast the crap out of it and then sell it for cheap,” said Kristi. “They’re also taking coffees from all different regions, throwing them all together and roasting them all.”
While the consumers have developed a taste for the burnt flavor of dark roast coffees frequently found at large supermarkets, there are ethical problems associated with the market.
“Our coffee is probably pricier than what people are used to buying. Part of that is we’re doing specialty coffee — the top 20% of coffee quality in the world,” Kristi Whalen said, “And we’re making sure people are actually getting paid for it.”
Coffee can be an exploitative business that may use child and slave labor. Coffee workers who are not getting paid enough frequently turn to produce drugs like cocaine on the side to make ends meet, Kristi said.
“What we’re trying to do is part education and part business,” Patrick said. “If what happened to me happens to more people, then more people will discover, wait a minute, there’s so much more to coffee than just McDonalds or Starbucks. I need to find a specialty coffee roaster, especially a local one that engages in ethical sourcing, so we’re not exploiting farmers in the third world. And, here we are.”