Enterprising farmer converts peanuts from cultivar to cup
In the town dubbed “The Peanut Capital of the World,” farmer James Harrell has created a uniquely Virginia product by making roasted coffee out of peanuts.
Harrell got the idea several years ago as he was driving through Suffolk with a cup of coffee in hand and smelling the aroma of commercial coffee roasters in town.
“I had an aha moment,” said Harrell, a fifth-generation Suffolk peanut farmer. “I was driving by one of the coffee roasting facilities here, and you can smell the coffee for miles. This was right before peanut harvesting season, and it was at that moment when I thought, ‘Why don’t I make coffee out of peanuts?’”
After harboring the idea for a year and taking another six months to perfect the production process, Harrell followed through and started selling Virginia Gold™ peanut coffee in 2017. The name is a nod to the product’s roots in Suffolk and the golden hue of the original batch.
To produce Virginia Gold, Harrell uses split Virginia peanuts grown on Harrell Farms, which is owned by his father, Dennis Harrell. Manufacturing the peanut coffee with roasting and oil extraction equipment Harrell built himself, the entire production process is done in-house.
For Virginia Gold to reach a consistency resembling coffee, the peanuts are roasted and ground, and their oil extracted before they’re finished with a final grind. The product’s caffeine content is added after it is extracted from decaffeinated coffee beans.
Harrell describes the blend as a smoother, less-acidic coffee alternative. The taste, he said, resembles a medium-roast coffee. Caffeinated and naturally decaffeinated varieties are available for purchase at vagold.com.
As the product received media coverage in early 2020, Harrell said he met with an investor to discuss an expansion. However, those plans were temporarily put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Undaunted by the holdup, Harrell is content with the current business size and low overhead. Coming from a long line of peanut farmers, he’s especially happy to use his one-man operation to oblige the wishes of his grandfather, Robert Lee Harrell, to have people consume more peanuts.
“I think it’s really important, as far as local products and peanut products in Virginia, that we’ve created an entirely new category in the peanut industry,” Harrell said.
“Now that we have peanut coffee, it’s just an entirely new way of using the peanut. In a sense, that increases consumption over time.”