Local author and artist documents best brews

Lafayette Journal & Courier, November 11, 2007

After spending years driving around the Midwest in search of the best hamburger and fish fry, Lafayette artist and author Jeff Hagen has switched his focus to what has fueled many a traveler -- coffee.

Hagen's small books of his art and out of the way places have examined hamburger stands (Searching for the Holy Grill) and the fish fry (Fry Me to the Moon and Codfather 2). These colorful books have ink and color pencil drawings by Hagen in his whimsical style. He adds anecdotes and quirky stories to go with each location.

Brewed Awakenings is the newest book and is available now at Borders Books and Barnes & Noble Booksellers. For the past four years, Hagen has added thousands of miles to his odometer by camping out at coffeehouses. He visited 200 in all.

"I wanted to give tribute to small business people who try to get people back on Main Street," Hagen said.

Hagen's art is often loose and lyrical. The colors are blended and the drawings have a watercolor effect to them. Hagen said he does sketches or takes pictures before completing them in his Lafayette studio.

Like millions of other coffee fans, it didn't take long for Hagen to become enamored with small, mom and pop coffee shops.

"They're communal watering holes," Hagen explained. "They're healthier than bars.

"People have a fierce loyalty to their coffee. I interviewed one woman who said, 'This is not a coffeehouse. This is a coffee home.' "

Due to Brewed Awakeningsbeing published by a Wisconsin company, most of the book's coffeehouses are found in the Dairy State. Others were discovered in Minnesota and Iowa.

In Brewed Awakenings and his past books, Hagen went from local folks' suggestions on interesting places to draw and write about. He started by asking Wisconsin National Public Radio listeners for suggestions. The switchboard lit up like a Christmas tree and Hagen jotted all of the callers' choices down.

"I learned a long time ago that food critics are not the best guides," said Hagen, who lived in Wisconsin for 30 years. "Their suggestions are slanted and tainted. They don't give what the average person would."

Some his favorite stops include The Twisted Chicken in McGregor, Iowa, and Stir Crazy, a beloved coffee shop in the Rochester, Wis., population 1,100. Hagen said a business woman from Milwaukee opened Stir Crazy after she became fed up with the big city life. Milwaukee's Alterra Coffee is in an old pumping station along Lake Michigan. The coffee roasted there is farmed out to smaller shops around the Midwest.

"The independent spirit of these guys is the definition of American entrepreneurism," Hagen said. "The owners of these shops work long hours but are proud of their product."

At Barnes & Noble, Hagen's books have sold well. Alicia LaPrelle, community relations manager for the Lafayette book chain location, said many local authors are represented on her shelves.

"We want people to be successful," Hagen said. "We sell a lot of local stuff. People here are very interested in buying local. It's a good market, especially during the holidays."