How Entrepreneur Judy Nelson Created KC’s Own Midnight Espresso Coffee Liqueurs
Respect the fact that back in the ‘70s when good coffee liqueurs were still a gleam in the eye of bean mixologists, Judy Nelson was brewing her small batches on her stovetop and bottling it for loved ones with handmade labels marked, “Refillable, Love Mom.”
Her homemade coffee liqueur included good vodka (instead of the usual rum or tequila); rich espresso that tasted like progress from the future; and a few secret ingredients with names that will remain redacted. What’s more, Nelson refused to include anything artificial, and that’s saying something in the ‘70s.
After years of being told that she needed to bring her recipe to market to spread the love, this Liqueur Entrepreneur agreed to let her family make it happen.
Seven years ago, Nelson’s daughter, Angela Sargent, and her husband, Matthew, helped their mom brand Midnight Espresso Coffee Liqueurs (ME), a fast-growing KC fan-favorite. The globally award-winning artisanal coffee liqueur company uses The Roasterie’s air-roasted, Fair Trade, specialty grade Arabica blended coffee and a prized artisanal vodka. Products are handcrafted in small batches using all-natural ingredients without additives, flavorings or colorings. Now licensed and available throughout Kansas and Missouri, ME is also on the verge of brimming into other states and venues.
“This has become a family affair,” says Matthew Sargent. “Our children help at events such as Stems: A Garden Soirée; Moonshine Soirée on the Farm (Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead); and Brew at the Zoo & Wine Too.”
To recreate the authentic taste of her original brew, Nelson took a taste sample to The Roasterie, resulting in a perfect blend of KC deliciousness.
“We partner with The Roasterie for our highest blend of coffee and then manufacture our product in Olathe utilizing a local vodka company,” Sargent says. “It’s a blessing to say, ‘Made locally with all-natural ingredients, gluten free and made in the USA.’”
Sargent says that their close-knit blended family which includes six children, two grandchildren with one on the way, all live locally and all care about the business.
“Our daughter, Julea, was recently highlighted on Better Kansas City (KCTV), and all our kids are involved because they love to see the smile on their grandmother’s face when they share her creation with others,” Sargent says. “Nowadays, Mom gets to sit back and enjoy being the company’s retired emeritus.”
Sargent says the company went through many “marketing tastings” with family and friends to create recipes. But after Angela’s friends were up all night doing laundry and going to the gym at 3 a.m., the need for a decaf version became apparent.
“We made sure our decaf wasn’t diluted,” Sargent says. “In 2013, we entered the prestigious San Francisco World Spirits Competition. We competed against coffee liqueurs from all over the world and won a Silver (Decaf) and Bronze (Regular). As far as I know, we’re the only coffee liqueur company in the U.S. that makes a regular and decaffeinated coffee liqueur. This provides options for everybody.”
After 25 years in the medical business, Sargent is going full strength in serving his mother-in-law’s recipe to new audiences, whom they describe as the “friendliest, most outstanding people.” Angela handles the finances of the business, and Matt handles operations, including meeting with restaurants about ME’s specialty drinks created with a local mixologist, such as Midnight Espresso Martini, Midnight Manhattan (Angela’s favorite), Black As Midnight (Matt’s favorite) and others listed on the website.
“People love this product,” he says. “The initial reaction is, ‘Wow this is so good and smooth.’ They’re even more surprised how good the decaf is. Whenever we do tastings, inevitably the women want to taste it first, and the men stay behind thinking, I don’t drink liqueurs, then they end up tasting it and telling us what they’d like to mix it with.”
Midnight Espresso Coffee Liqueurs can be enjoyed straight, over ice, mixed with other drinks, poured over ice cream, cakes and brownies or as an ingredient in baked goods such as Bundt cakes, scones or coffee cakes. The use of vodka is unusual because the best-selling coffee liqueur on the planet is rum-based but also contains artificial flavors and sweeteners.
“Its name is not allowed in our house,” Sargent jokes, “Our product costs a little more to manufacture because it’s all natural, but one taste makes all the difference.”
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JABrew, LLC dba Midnight Espresso Coffee Liqueurs
“Our mom was 68 years old when this company started. No matter your age, if you have a dream, don’t let your journey stop.” — Matthew and Angela Sargent