They come to her from as far as New York, South Carolina, and Texas—some experts, others casual drinkers. One wrote a poem about her. Another proudly tells her he impressed his coffee-snob sister. Another admits coffee is now part of her morning routine and thanks her for that. But Liz Roquet, of Lizzy's Fresh Coffee, isn't the owner of a place to hang out with a cup of coffee and the newspaper, chatting with the neighborhood locals. No, here you buy coffee from a Web site.
Roquet asked me to meet her early in the morning. When I arrive, bed sheet creases still printed on my face, she's been up and about for a while. She welcomes me with an espresso, warming me up from the winter cold. The roaster heats up and fills the room with the spicy roundness reminiscent of the previous day's batches. I slowly adapt to the rhythm of this energetic woman.
As with most people here in the mountain town of Ketchum, Idaho, Roquet is athletic, and she hefts the sacks of beans and climbs the ladder to feed the roaster in no time. I follow her as she flies from the computer to the sacks to the roaster. She stops speaking only when she needs to concentrate to measure the beans or enter roasting profiles into her perfected machine.
Roquet roasts and ships your beans the day after you've placed your order. By the time they arrive, they've had the two or three days necessary after roasting for the aromas and flavors to fully develop—and your beans will keep them for the next two weeks. That's Roquet's philosophy: roasted coffee beans are a fresh product. Growing up with a pastry chef for a dad, she tells you about the difference between straight out-of-the-oven and one-day-old pastries. Coffee beans behave the same way, she says—two weeks after the roasting, bitterness develops. And the coffee's initial complex flavors are lost.
The idea isn't new, and Roquet would never have attracted a following were her coffee not so good. But there had to be something else, something to make her stand out.
Passion, for one. Roquet was convinced of that from the start. A former executive at an outdoor gear company, she decided not to follow when the company consolidated its offices in a different state. She had roasted coffee beans in her garage for the past 10 years, grown up in a pastry shop serving coffee, and married a man who had made a living out of roasting coffee for a while, so what better business to pursue passionately?
Indeed, Roquet is opinionated. She wants her business to be true to her beliefs. When she takes part in a professional cupping in Monserrate, Colombia, she brings back a bag of the third-rated coffee because she prefers it over the first; it is now her current limited edition. I ask her if she considers selling her beans at the local specialty supermarket. She answers that she wouldn't be able to control the shelf life of her beans and would risk having an inferior product sold under her name. She's not ready to take the risk, even for the potential turnover.
Roquet would tell you all of this from behind the counter if she were to sell her coffee in a boutique, but she decided otherwise. Instead, she tells you about coffee, and how she came to make it her job, on her blog. You'll read of her latest limited edition or her new USDA Organic certification on Twitter. On Facebook, you'll find a video teaching you how to craft the perfect latte. Most importantly, Roquet's excitement, strong opinions, and humility bring humanity to these otherwise cold methods of communication. Humor adds a touch of freshness, as do the unusual names she gives to her coffees. And the labels of Bad Dog, Sunriser, and Easy Tiger change every month, each featuring a funny picture selected from those submitted by Lizzy's customers.
Food is always more than the products alone. You go back to a butcher not only for his fabulous meat, but also because you know he'll tell you how he'd cook the roast you're buying. You know he'll tell you about his last visit to the farmer where he sources his meat. One of my favorite vegetable stalls in Paris's Aligre market is the one where you get scolded for asking for tomatoes in the winter—the woman with the low voice and Parisian accent doesn't have any anyway.
Roquet's beliefs are somehow apparent even through the Internet. She provides a story that goes beyond what she makes—a story of people connecting through food, showing us once again the very special place this basic need can take in our lives.
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