Small, independent coffee roasters are percolating in Reno-Tahoe.
WRITTEN BY CLAIRE CUDAHY
ILLUSTRATION BY RICK SEALOCK
PHOTOS BY CANDICE VIVIEN
Inside Bibo Coffee Co.’s Center Street shop in Reno, I sip on a cappuccino and observe the patrons around me. A 20-something with trendy glasses talks animatedly to her beanie-wearing friend while drinking a latte. At another table, a man dressed in a suit reads the paper, pausing only to pick up his drip coffee. A woman, presumably post-yoga, walks up to order a cold brew.
Coffee is the great unifier. The diverse patronage found inside this one local shop might serve as a representative sample of a Reno-Tahoe coffee industry that has become more robust and varied over the last decade. Once dominated by cookie-cutter chains, the region has welcomed several waves of small, independent coffee retailers that roast their own beans, all connected by their love for great java.
Visconti analyzes his roasted coffee beans.
Newcomers are drawing loyal customers with their storytelling and brands, while established favorites are experiencing growth through community commitment and innovation. Roasted beans are now among the top exports of Nevada, and the regional roasters agree: Specialty coffee and the community it builds are on the rise.
A call to action
In a café perched atop a glacier 12,000 feet above sea level in Saas-Fee, Switzerland, professional snowboarder Nick Visconti fell in love with good coffee.
“We’d snowboard then go to the café and get an espresso, then we’d snowboard and get an afternoon cappuccino,” Visconti recalls.
The Truckee resident traveled frequently to Switzerland because of his sponsors, and over the course of his trips he became fascinated with the coffee culture.
“This idea of drinking coffee and doing stuff was so embedded into their lifestyle, so much so that it was used as a fuel source for adventure,” Visconti says. “Inspired by those events and wanting to recreate that experience for people back home, I devoted myself to learning the coffee trade.”
In 2017, Visconti and co-founder Brad Farmer launched their own high-altitude coffee roastery in Truckee, DRINK COFFEE DO STUFF. At 6,000 feet, the pair roast specialty coffees sourced from other mountainous regions around the world.
Nick Visconti, Owner, of DRINK COFFEE DO STUFF roasts coffee at his shop in Truckee.
“Roasting at high altitude, when done correctly, we can preserve about 15 percent more natural sweetness in the coffees due to less atmospheric pressure up here, so we start caramelizing sugars earlier in the process,” Visconti says.
With the help of his wife, Laura, co-founder and creative manager, DRINK COFFEE DO STUFF has cultivated a brand story that draws in the large population of active, outdoorsy people living in the Reno-Tahoe region. Drink a cup of good coffee, go shred at Northstar. Drink another cup of good coffee, take a road trip to the hot springs.
“I know people have been responding very much to the lifestyle and that call to action from the brand,” Visconti says. “It has a lot to do with people interacting with the brand at first, then our coffee itself is what keeps people revisiting and being loyal to the company.”
Climbing to success
On the south side of Lake Tahoe, Jared Marquez has just realized his dream. After several years of roasting coffee as a side hustle while juggling multiple jobs, he finally has his own roastery/café.
Though a terrible climbing accident almost derailed his whole plan — he fell 15 feet and broke multiple bones — Refuge Coffee now, ironically, has a home in a climbing gym.
“I came really close to quitting,” Marquez says. “But I had friends who would drive me down to Carson City, where I rented a roaster, and I kept roasting with one arm.”
Thanks to a post-accident fundraiser put on by members of the community, Marquez was able to secure a roasting location and his own roaster in South Lake Tahoe.
Soon after, he was approached by the owners of Blue Granite Climbing Gym, which opened in September, with the opportunity to start a café in the gym.
“(At Refuge,) there are dads climbing with their kids for the first time because of this setting that makes it possible. There are friends bouldering together and cheering each other on,” Marquez says. “There are a lot of smiling people in this community space. It’s rad to see that, and we get to be a part of that and bring a light there.”
Ever since the idea of Refuge Coffee came to him, it always has been about providing a safe space where people could enjoy a good cup of coffee and feel at home.
“Coffee used to be something I was not interested in. It seemed very average, monotone. People drank it for the caffeine and got on with their lives and stayed busy and didn’t sleep enough,” Marquez says. “But when I started rediscovering coffee as something colorful and adventurous and had these new experiences of flavor, I started seeing it as something that helps people slow down and connect more. It’s something you drink for pleasure, and it makes life interesting.”
Like DRINK COFFEE DO STUFF, Refuge is part of a growing number of roasteries in the Reno-Tahoe region whose owners see themselves as more than just coffee suppliers — this is a lifestyle, a community, a call to action.
“As a product, it’s something special and inspiring,” Marquez says. “I think it’s a privilege to be able to be a mediator — to take raw coffee and do something special with it so people can have those experiences.”
Though the industry is experiencing a serious growth spurt in the region, coffee always has been a popular commodity, especially in Northern Nevada.
In fact, roasted coffee is the 14th largest export in Nevada, having an estimated value of $84 million in 2017. That’s up from $43 million in 2014.
And back in 2003, Starbucks opened its Carson Valley Roasting Plant and Distribution Center in Minden. In 2018, the facility expanded by 700,000 square feet.
Other well-known and locally owned operations have taken root in the area as well, including Blind Dog Coffee in Gardnerville and Alpen Sierra Coffee Co., which started out of a small café in South Lake Tahoe but eventually expanded to a larger roasting facility in Minden.
The region is also home to long-standing small coffee companies that have found striking a balance between consistency and innovation to be the key to longevity.
Mark Trujillo opened Hub Coffee Co. in Midtown in 2009 when the coffee landscape in the region was far less crowded. Fast forward nine years and the company has expanded to four locations and roasts hundreds of pounds of coffee every week.
“We’ve hardly changed in 10 years. We created a culture that appreciates coffee for (coffee’s sake),” Trujillo says. “The success to the Hub overall has been consistency with the product, being involved with the community and giving back always, and cultivating a connection with people.”
It’s easy to see that connection as customer after customer flag down Trujillo for a few minutes of chitchat as he walks through his Riverside Drive location.
“Our mission statement is ‘we exist to bring people together’ — and roasting is just one part of that,” he adds.
Bibo Coffee Co. is another longtime local favorite. It opened in Reno 15 years ago and has since expanded to a total of four coffee shops in The Biggest Little City.
“There are probably 20 times as many small coffee shops that are doing a fantastic job of making good cups of coffee and lattes than when we first opened,” says Paul Martin, who owns Bibo with his wife, Debbie. “That’s a good thing, but it means you just can’t stop working and evolving.”
About two years ago, Bibo started producing its own gelato, Bibo Freddo, at an employee’s suggestion. And not long after, the owners added a 10-pound roaster at their Center Street location on the recommendation of their employee, Justin Craperi.
“Our knowledge and care of the product has doubled since we started roasting ourselves,” Martin says.
Not far away, on Wells Avenue in Reno, Magpie Coffee Roasters’ owner Mark Hirose has noticed the uptick in small, independent roasters popping up around town.
Mark Hirose, Owner of Magpie Coffee Roasters in Reno, roasts a Nicaraguan coffee at his shop in Reno.
Hirose started roasting coffee in a garage back in 2011, with a one-pound roaster. Eight years later, the roasting operation has expanded substantially inside the hip café in Midtown.
Hirose stays relevant amid the market growth through collaboration. He’s recently started bottling his cold-brew coffee, which he hopes to get in more stores around the city. He’s also formed partnerships with Pigeon Head Brewery, Great Basin Brewing Co., and Brasserie Saint James to get his coffee into their beers.
“I think the area has the potential to be a great coffee town,” Hirose says, “but there is still room for growth and improvement.”
Potential for more
The owners of Glory Cloud Coffee Roasters see that potential — and they plan to do something about it.
Started in 2017 by friends and fellow church members Scott Coleman and Hayden Moore, Glory Cloud Coffee is focused on roasting good coffee in its Sparks’ facility while paying it forward to future generations of coffee industry hopefuls.
Moore worked for a wholesale coffee company in Reno for five years, roasting and delivering beans, before moving to Portland, Ore., or as he calls it, “the mecca of coffee.”
“I wanted to expand my knowledge of coffee, but I found I had been pigeonholed,” Moore says. “I didn’t have the right certifications to be taken seriously, and I didn’t make enough money to get those certifications.”
So when Coleman visited Moore in Portland and the two got talking about starting their own coffee company in Reno, they knew that employee development had to be at the center of it.
“When you get into coffee, you don’t ever know if you’re going to get a raise or be trained to be a manager. You don’t know if there is ever going to be any future in it,” Moore says. “We didn’t want that to be the case.”
Once they went into business, Moore was able to go through the certification process to become a tea sommelier and licensed Q Grader through the Quality Coffee Institute.
Only 4,000 people in the world are certified as Licensed Q Graders with the Specialty Coffee Association of America, and even though the exam sees an 80 percent failure rate on the first try, Moore passed it while he had a sinus infection.
Currently, Moore and Coleman are taking steps to get Glory Cloud certified as a training facility with the SCAA.
“We really want to be one of the premier training facilities in the area and provide people who love coffee with an education to expand their knowledge and potentially grow into new roles,” Moore says. “This would bring people in from all over the country.”
The business partners have big dreams for the future of Glory Cloud — and the region’s potential for growing into even more of a coffee hub.
“We want to be a place that changes society by how we treat the employees and how we interact with the community,” Coleman says. “It’s not just about making a product — we want to have a massive impact.”
Claire Cudahy is a Zephyr Cove writer who would like to formally thank coffee for its contribution to the penning of this article. Without its caffeine — and the inspiring folks who roast it — she very well might not have gotten it done.
DRINK COFFEE DO STUFF
1259 Emerald Bay Road, South Lake Tahoe
530-539-4807 • Refugecoffee.com
Hub Coffee Roasters
727 Riverside Drive, Reno • 775-453-1911
941 N. Virginia St., Ste. B, Reno • 775-499-5268
4001 S. Virginia St., Reno • 775-453-1911
316 Vassar St., Reno (Roastery) • 775-323-1038
Bibo Coffee Co.
717 S. Center St., Reno • 775-683-9840
460 S. Sierra St., Reno • 775-329-2114
75 Foothill Road, Reno • 775-384-1809
945 Record St., Reno • 775-348-8087
Magpie Coffee Roasters
1715 S. Wells Ave., Reno
775-391-0102 • Magpieroasters.com
Glory Cloud Coffee Roasters
10 Greg St., Ste. 122, Sparks
844-745-6792 • Glorycloudcoffee.com