I first heard about Dancing Ox Coffee Roasters in Belmont, North Carolina, from an email sent to me by co-founder Lauren Schelfhaudt.
“My partner Jean Paul and I are former World and United States Professional Ballroom Champions who changed career paths after a life changing trip to Costa Rica,” she wrote. “After years of competition, film, and television, we are so happy to combine our passions in the perfect blend of coffee and dance.”
World champion ballroom dancers roasting coffee in North Carolina? Of course, I needed to learn more.
“It’s exciting to be a student again,” says Jean Paul, Schelfhaudt’s partner, who emigrated to the United States from Belarus in 2001. He and Schelfhaudt danced professionally for almost two decades before starting Dancing Ox in Philadelphia in 2018. In September 2019, the roastery moved to Belmont, North Carolina, to escape the cold weather. “We’re excited to get new coffees and figure out how to get the best out of them,” Paul says.
As of now, Dancing Ox is only selling to wholesale accounts, as well as direct-to-consumer online. Compared to many specialty roasters, I found their $13 to $14 bags (as well as free shipping!) to be extremely reasonable.
For my tasting, Dancing Ox sent me two offerings in four-ounce sample bags. Off the bat, this was extremely refreshing — I get to try a lot of coffee, and the four-ounce bags allowed me to taste before fully committing to a larger format.
The two roasts Schelfhaudt and Paul sent included Puravida, a medium roast single origin from Costa Rica, and Eskista, a blend of beans from Ethiopia and Brazil.
I tried Dancing Ox’s Puravida first.
The History of Dancing Ox Coffee
Before I get into the tasting notes, you need more details on this origin story. Because it really, truly rocks.
For two decades, Lauren Schelfhaudt and Jean Paul danced professionally.
“We met at a competition in Boston,” Schelfhaudt says. “JP was living in Philly and I was living in New York. But when you’re a ballroom dancer, your closest friends can be on the other side of the country and you still might see them every weekend.”
For those unfamiliar, a career in dance has a truncated shelf life. The sport puts tremendous strain on the body, which forces many dancers to retire young.
“In the ballroom world, you’re always thinking about what’s next,” Schelfhaudt says. “You can open a studio, or you can teach for as long as your body will let you. But neither JP nor I were particularly interested in teaching.”
Ironically, both Schelfhaudt and Paul had an interest in coffee. After Schelfhaudt retired in 2015, and Paul retired a year later, they took a trip to Costa Rica. There, they tried the best coffee of their lives.
“We said, ‘Let’s do this,’” says Schelfhaudt. “We knew coffee was our future. It’s something you can learn about, drink, and share for the rest of your life.”
The Dancing Ox name started as OX, which stands for “our crossing” — a reference to how Schelfhaudt and Paul met. However, there was already an Ox Coffee in Philadelphia, so the couple added “Dancing” to the name as a nod to their shared background.
The roastery’s logo takes inspiration from Gene Kelly, one of America’s great dancers.
“We found a picture of him doing a photoshoot,” says Paul. “We took his body and I gave him an ox head. Then we had our logo!”
The Specifics on Dancing Ox Coffee Puravida
Roaster: Dancing Ox Coffee Roasters, Belmont, North Carolina
Coffee: Costa Rica West Valley Ateneo
Origin: Atenas in Alajuela Region, Costa Rica
Process: Fully Washed
Elevation: 1200 – 1400 Meters
Roasting Date: 5/13/20
Consumption Date: 5/19/20
Preparation Method: French Press
Puravida On The Nose
In a note that came with my samples, Dancing Ox co-founder Schelfhaudt called this her “favorite single origin Costa Rica.” The moment I opened the bag, I knew why. Even before I ground the beans, I got a full-blown peach bomb.
At least, that’s what I thought I smelled. But in talking to Paul about the beans, he said, “When I drink Costa Rica, I always get peach or a little nectarine.” And once he said “nectarine,” I knew that was much more accurate.
As I inhaled the scent of the bloom, I caught more peach notes (nectarine, I know now), as well as a hint of lime, and maybe even raspberry.
For those who enjoy the scent of a coffee as much as the taste, Puravida provides excellent nuance and subtlety. And for those who love the scent of peaches or nectarines, I’ve never smelled a better expression.
Tasting Notes For Puravida
The taste of the coffee surprised me. From the nose, I expected more stone fruit. And while peach and nectarine definitely played a prominent role in Puravida’s flavor makeup, I actually got more structured flavors like brown sugar and honey.
“For me, the lime and the brown sugar stand out,” says Schelfhaudt.
In this way, Puravida pulled a neat little trick, presenting itself as one thing on the nose and another in the mouth.
According to Paul, this is intentional.
“Roasting is kind of like dance,” he says. “You perfect a certain technique which exists to give you a nice shape and form. And once you study this, you can break free and create your own structure.”
While Paul loves nuance as much as the next person, “Sometimes you just want a cup of coffee.” By combining a complex nose with a more grounded flavor, drinkers get the best of both worlds.
The Bottom Line On Puravida From Dancing Ox
Because I tend to prefer less structured notes, I enjoyed the nose more than the taste. However, that’s just me. At the end of the day, both the nose and the flavor provided an excellent experience.
If you love endless nuance in the scent of your coffee, but more structured flavors in the mouth, check out Puravida. The coffee showcases the amazing product coming out of Costa Rica and the skills of two ballroom-dancers-turned-roasters.
The folks at Dancing Ox are friendly, generous, and interesting, and we can’t wait to try more from this up-and-coming roaster. Kudos, Dancing Ox!