Photos by Nicholas Karlin
Tucked down a little alleyway on Kennedy Street NW is D.C.’s newest coffee roaster, the adorably named Lost Sock Roasters. Founded by American University alumni Jeff Yerxa and Nico Cabrera (once an eagle always an eagle or whatever), the brand new micro roaster has only just started releasing their beans, but we’re already impressed. And by impressed, I mean I almost never drink coffee (you could even say I think most coffee is bad!) and I didn’t hate myself after having a cup, in fact, I actually liked it… Which probably means the end is near.
We stopped by the shop to check out where all the magical bean roasting happens, and chatted with the owners about what inspired them to dive into the coffee industry and why micro roasters are really killing it right now. If you weren’t excited about D.C.’s thriving coffee scene already, you need to order some of their Ardi beans ASAP. If that doesn’t change you mind, I don’t know what will.
Take me back to the beginning. Tell me your origin story!
Jeff: So me and Nico met at American University in 2013. We hit it off right from the beginning and became really good friends. In 2014 we graduated and moved to Columbia Heights, where we live now. At the time we were meeting regularly with a group of five of us. We were brainstorming and planning for a concept that we had that was going to embody the creative community that we were witnessing explode in the D.C. scene. The idea was actually going to be called The Lemonade Stand. It was going to be a multipurpose space that functioned as a small bar, small coffee shop, art space, and music venue. Just really a community space. After a few weeks and almost two months of brainstorming and planning and what not, we kind of came to the conclusion that right now, at this time, this really isn’t economically feasible, or realistic for us to accomplish. So me and Nico kind of went our separate ways, but we’re still friends with everybody. At the time we were working from 9 to 5 and just kind of wanted to break away from from it.
Nico: We were both the ones that were involved on the coffee side. We were the ones that wanted to bring that coffee shop experience. At the time we had started home roasting right in our apartment. We were testing, trying different coffees from all around the world.
Jeff: At this point I think it would be fair to classify ourselves as coffee snobs. In a good way. We knew good coffee and we knew how to brew it, but from a consumption standpoint we didn’t know too much about the industry. As Nico said, we started home roasting shortly thereafter. That kind of gave us an eye opener into how worldly the industry is… and really what role the coffee industry plays in in flavor development and what you’re actually getting presented in a cup of coffee. We started taking commercial classes through the Specialty Coffee Association of America and then we started writing a business plan We signed a lease in January of this year. It’s been crazy. It’s been a whirlwind year for us, but we’re happy that we finally have a space. The build out is near completion and we’re getting our hands dirty with some coffee roasting. It’s all good.
I went to AU too! And it looks like we graduated the same year.
Jeff: No way.
Yeah! Did you guys study business? Did you know you wanted to be your own bosses?
Jeff: I was in the School of International Service.
Nico: I was in Econ with a minor in accounting so I had some business classes.
Jeff: We were both in the service / restaurant industry at a young age. Which I think predisposed us too… I think I always felt like at one point in my life I would have loved to have entered into the industry somehow.
Nico: Yeah. I’m from Ecuador. I moved into the US for high school. My parents owned a restaurant in Ecuador and they opened up another restaurant in the Philly / New Jersey area and that’s kind of what pushed me to try and open a place. I was also, right out of college I started working for Sweetgreen, for their accounting department. It’s a great company, but I didn’t like sitting at a desk refreshing spreadsheets. I wanted to do something more hands on. I also have family in Ecuador who own coffee farms and chocolate farms so when we were starting this I went back to Ecuador to visit the farms and it’s completely eye opening when you go to the farms and you see the coffee from the cherry, before it’s even roasted or anything. You can pick a cherry from the tree and it has this fruity taste that is just incredible.
How old were you guys when you started to care about coffee?
Jeff: Around college was when I really started to get addicted to coffee, but it really wasn’t until my senior year when I really started acknowledging specialty coffee and how much better specialty coffee was compared to Dunkin Donuts. I used to use coffee as a commodity, just as a way to get some caffeine into my body to be able to study for a test. It became more than that my senior year.
Nico: For me, coming from a restaurateur family, there was always an espresso machine in my house. My dad has always been into coffee. Even though the specialty coffee in Ecuador is not as big as in the US, I always had espressos at home. Probably around the same time.. Like junior, senior year was when I got more into it… learning about it and reading about it, but there was always that little coffee bean in the back of my mind.
Why did you guys want to open this in D.C.?
Jeff: What’s happening in D.C. right now is really exciting. Especially in the coffee industry. There’s a huge market that’s growing. With more education more people realize the possibilities of coffee. I think it’s just going to get bigger. There’s a lot of room for growth.
Nico: We wanted to be the local roasters. Specialty coffee comes from the West Coast to the East Coast and a lot of coffee shops in the city have to import… and we wanted to be the guys that are hands on in the city. Once we start creating partnerships with coffee shops we would love to do cuppings with them and be at the shop and be the roasters that are here.
Jeff: Yeah, have an actual presence and relationship with the people that we work with.
What’s your favorite coffee shop in D.C.?
Jeff: I think it’s Colony Club on Georgia Ave.
Nico: Yeah, we were able to meet Max and they’re doing some crazy stuff over there. It’s great. They’re really focused on good coffee and their barista team.
Jeff: There are a lot of different events and pop ups. I feel like we have similar values in that regard.
Have you guys been up to Baltimore to check out Ceremony?
Jeff: As far as local roasters… That’s probably our favorite roaster. They have really good stuff. Nico has actually been to the roastery.
Nico: I’ve been to the roaster and I’ve been to the coffee shop. That place is beautiful. It’s just so clean. It’s very nice.
Yeah, it’s one of the most beautiful coffee shops I’ve ever seen. It’s lovely.
Nico: It kind of shows how the coffee industry is kind of moving this way. On the west coast a lot of coffee shops are just clean and focused on the coffee and that’s what Ceremony is doing there I think.
Would you guys ever want to open your own coffee shop?
Jeff: It’s definitely something we have plans for down the line. We’re going to focus on wholesale primarily right now. Right now we’re open to retail, we have a consumer website. Where we’re at is that we have two single origins right now and then later this week we’ll probably be rolling out our espresso blend and then sometime later we’ll be rolling out our house blend. Once we get those down, that’s when we’ll start trying to get into local grocers, coffee shops, restaurants, but that’s where we’re at right now.
Nico: The idea is trying to hit farmers markets and weekend events where we can just have a tent… offer some cold brew. Hopefully we’ll get to a point where we’ll have a space where we can showcase our coffee the way we want to.
What makes your beans special?
Jeff: The coffee industry right now is seeing this crazy rise of the micro roaster. There’s kind of two different reasons why. 1. Roasting before was kind of magic. You had roasters with a lot of experience that were kind of just learning from repetition. They were using their sense of smell and sight, which you still use today, but there wasn’t too much concrete science behind what they were doing. Within the last few years there’s been a lot of innovation in roasting. We hook our computers up to the roaster and get live feedback of different temperatures. You can play around with the roast profile to get different flavors… or to highlight a coffee’s acidity or sweetness. So that’s one reason why micro roasters are popular, because of these analytics.
2. Prior to a few years ago, big specialty coffee companies were the ones who had the access to really good green coffee. Whether that was direct relationships with farmers or with the one or two specialty coffee importers. With the explosion of the specialty coffee industry in the United States you’re seeing the explosion of roasters and coffee shops and also importers. So there’s now a lot of small, and big, specialty coffee importers, so we can get our hands on some really good coffee. Like I said with the analytics we’re able to get some really good coffee and keep it consistent. The big thing is, how you roast your coffee… we could carry the same coffee as another local coffee roaster, but you develop profiles for different coffees when you roast them and it’s almost subjective. But we think we’re carrying some really great coffee and we tend to roast on the light to medium side to highlight some of the more subtle flavors in the coffees.
Nico: And being a small batch coffee roaster, we’re able to cup every coffee we roast to make sure it fits our standards. Another thing we’re trying to push for, which has been difficult because there’s so many things to take care of right now, but we’re trying to create a program where we give back to the farmers. 5% of our sales are going to go back to the community of the farmers that we’re working with It’s been difficult because we want to figure out the logistics of it. We don’t want to just go with a big charity where we donate our 5% and it just goes wherever it goes. We want to have a system where it’s a little more hands on and we see the impact that our coffee is creating in the community.