From grounds to peak: Local roasters bring specialty coffee to Tahoe
Living in the mountains, there’s nothing like waking up on a backcountry camping trip with a piping hot “cup of Joe.”
As coffee has become a staple in our everyday lives, Lake Tahoe has local coffee roasters that are bringing in all types of gourmet, micro-batch coffee each with their own story and journey. In the basin, we have seen the transcendence of fine wines, craft beer and now coffee.
Not only is coffee about beans, roasting and cupping, but coffee brings the community together which is a huge part of what many of these roasters say gives them their drive.
With so many different styles and hidden flavors, Lake Tahoe truly has some impressive coffee connoisseurs that intertwine their experience, passion and unique personality into each cup of coffee.
BLACK CABIN COFFEE
Black Cabin Coffee is a small batch roastery and coffee shop owned by Nicki and Will Williams in the heart of South Lake Tahoe. Nicki Williams came to Tahoe several years ago to snowboard and like many, never left. She worked at a coffee shop where she discovered her love of coffee.
Through years of workshops, classes, mentoring with coffee masters and training hundreds of baristas, she now has over 17 years of experience.
The small black cabin offers a cozy place to escape the blistering cold with a flavorful cup of coffee with its own backstory. Williams, says that Black Cabin focuses on the story behind each coffee and the importance of its origin. Williams sources the beans from co-op farms that use sustainable farming practices.
One of the farms she sources from is a 14-acre farm in Columbia from a woman’s co-op. By purchasing the beans from the small family estate, it means that it gives back to the community by supporting medical care, education and road infrastructure. She is passionate about teaching the process from bean to cup including the harvesting and selection that goes into it.
“There is so much that goes into a cup of coffee,” said Williams. “It’s not just coffee.”
The beans are sourced and cupped by professionals who scout the best beans based on Williams preferences. She prefers to use single-origin coffee because it clearly defines each of the flavors based on the environment and location the beans were grown.
“It’s a constant learning process,” said Williams. “There is no black and white manual when it comes to coffee.”
While there are plenty of do’s and don’ts with roasting, true roasting is up to the artist. Williams says there is so much more information and education out there now since she started learning nearly two decades ago.
“It is an exciting time in coffee,” she said. “Roasting is always an experiment and you can control all the factors, if we don’t like it we can change it.”
CLYDES COFFEE ROASTING COMPANY
Owned by Marlo and Craig Quillin, Clyde’s Coffee Roasting Company, offers flavorful and unique coffee from around the globe. Coming from a background in real estate, the couple shifted gears to something they both loved, were addicted to and were passionate about: coffee.
They attended coffee roasting school in Tempe, Arizona and were taught by Patrick O’Malley, creator of the International Barista Coffee Academy and who Quillin refers to as a “coffee scientist.” Clyde’s Coffee Roasting Company, named after their son Clyde, has been open for 4 years with loyal customers which Quillin said kept them afloat during the pandemic.
Clyde’s Coffee uses beans sourced by a boutique, family-run coffee firm, Vournas Coffee Trading which specializes in bringing direct-sourced beans.
“We pay top dollar to get the best beans from all over the world,” Quillin said.
Andrew Vournas of Vournas Coffee travels to each of the farms he sources from.
“We can get cheaper coffee beans but we are more into the quality of the relationship,” said Marlo Quillin.
She said they value making sure to take care of the farmer who is growing the beans.
“All coffee beans are not created equal,” said Craig Quillin. “Roasting is an art, kind of like wine-making.”
Quillin said that depending on the bean, he will adjust the roast. He says certain beans like Sumatra will be roasted darker based on the flavor profile. A bean from Papua New Guinea or Costa Rica will be a lighter roast. Quillin is constantly taking notes during roasts to perfect the craft.
“The fun of roasting is dialing in the flavor the best it can be,” he said.
BARE ROOTS COFFEE ROASTING COMPANY
Bare Roots Coffee in South Lake Tahoe is owned by husband and wife Justin and Nakia Foskett. Bare Roots opened March 2020 in the midst of the pandemic. Of course, the pandemic put a damper on their planned grand opening, but they still were able to offer takeaway artisan micro-batch coffee for the community.
“It has been a moment of resilience,” Foskett said. “We adjusted to a new way of life.”
Foskett discovered his love of coffee at a young age when he would use his grandmother’s espresso machine from Italy. Foskett would make coffee for all the guests at his grandmother’s house. While many years went by, he never lost his love for coffee.
A bad injury caused Foskett to lose his job, so he decided to get back involved with something he was passionate about. He attended a boot camp for coffee and found how rewarding it was to create a specialty cup of coffee. Owning a local coffee shop soon became the couple’s dream.
Foskett sources his coffee from small, bird-friendly fair trade farmers. Some of the farmers he sources from only produce about 100 bags of beans. He believes organic and fair trade coffee is essential.
“I drink what I sell,” he said.
By supporting these small farms, Foskett says that money is put back into the next year’s harvest. Not only does Bare Roots love coffee and the community, but they also want to reduce their environmental impact. At the shop, they use all green products and use plastic alternatives for their takeaways cups.
The majority of coffee Bare Roots serves are medium roasts, Foskett’s favorite. Foskett said he used to dread going to work and now he looks forward to it everyday.
“This is my dream. I get to roast coffee in Tahoe,” Foskett said. “I love being the artist behind all the flavors.”
Foskett also plans to partner with local artists, musicians and organizations to make Bare Roots a hub for the community.
REFUGE COFFEE CO.
Jared Marquez never drank coffee growing up. He went to college, received a degree and wanted to become a therapist. Alongside a dream of being a therapist, Marquez always loved the idea of people coming together and wanted to open a cafe or restaurant.
He pursued this dream by learning the ins and outs while living in San Diego. If he opened a cafe, he wanted it to have good coffee.
Marquez said that before this journey, he perceived coffee as a drug and not something to enjoy. He recalls how one coffee shop, Coffee & Tea Collective in San Diego completely changed his perspective. The shop focuses on the community around coffee. Marquez saw how people’s energy changed when they had a cup of coffee, people slowed down and connected.
Marquez said he realized coffee is more than just coffee, it is an experience and adventure. This shift in his perception inspired him to want to bring that idea back to Tahoe and potentially use that same mentality for his future endeavors.
Years ago, Marquez’s friend bought 20 pounds of green coffee beans. With a stove top popcorn popper, they started roasting it. “It was the best coffee I’ve ever had,” he said. With more and more experience, Marquez started noticing how he could bring out different flavors in the roasts. He bought a mini roaster, kept roasting and kept taking notes. “You can almost do anything with coffee,” he said. “Coffee is like music. There is no right or wrong, just express what you want to express.” Marquez upped his game by renting equipment in Carson City and produced balanced, naturally sweet sustainably sourced coffee from all over the world with the name Refuge Coffee Co.
While still wanting the community aspect he originally set out to achieve, Marquez chose to package his coffee to create a dialogue with his customers while offering positive insights and affirmations. “I love sharing our coffee with people in person,” said Marquez. He hopes to open a coffee shop in the future when the right opportunity presents itself.
DRINK COFFEE DO STUFF
Nick Visconti was a pro-snowboarder living the life in the Swiss Alps when he discovered how the mantra ‘drink coffee do stuff ‘ fit his adventurous, outdoorsy lifestyle. Little did he know that later in life, this mantra would become his business.
Visconti’s home away from home was a small glacier town in Switzerland near the Italian border called Saas-Fee. This is not only where Visconti experienced epic snowboarding adventures, but where he was inspired by coffee and coffee culture in one of the highest cafes in the alps. While many athletes are sponsored by energy drinks, Visconti was more fascinated with coffee as a fuel source for his snowboarding career. He started roasting his own coffee as a hobby to recreate his experience in Switzerland. What started as a hobby soon evolved to an apprenticeship and eventually to a business.
Visconti moved to the Northwest where he perfected his craft of roasting coffee on the naturally sweeter side.
He eventually moved to Truckee where he and his wife, Laura Visconti started roasting and selling coffee wholesale naming the business after his life mantra, Drink Coffee Do Stuff. The couple along with Brad Farmer, opened a cafe in Incline Village last year. Visconti continues to use his core sustainability beliefs to source coffee developed by mountain people in mountainous regions of the globe.
Drink Coffee Do Stuff stands true to their origin by sourcing high elevation coffee at 6,000 feet (or above) and roasting at high elevation in the basin.
“Each coffee tastes like its own geography,” he said. “It [roasting] has been a mosaic of amazing people to do life and business with.”
Visconti says that the diversity of people, lifestyles, adventures and stories are just another reason why he loves being in the coffee roasting scene. Visconti’s deep mountain connection comes through each cup of coffee he serves with a style of more sweet, less bitter. Drink Coffee Do Stuff has won five national awards including one from the Good Food Foundation. Their own Kenya Gatuya received 94 points from the Coffee Review. Drink Coffee Do Stuff sells their coffee regionally and nationally.
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