Small-town Coffee Roaster with International Connections

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    I am a coffee snob. That means I head for independent cafés when I’m scouting out a morning cup of the good stuff. When I walked into Lyons Coffee Roasters in Florence, Alabama, my nose told me I was in the right place.

    Roaster

    I wish you could smell this! You’ll just have to visit the shop firsthand and take a big whiff.

    Humble Beginnings

    Scarlett and Kenny Lyons had no intention of starting a roasting business when they relocated to Florence from Los Angeles in 2012. The couple was expecting their third child when Kenny was offered the opportunity to return to his hometown of Florence, Alabama. They were thrilled to be raising their family in such a close-knit community. But the fresh coffee options in their new town left a little to be desired. While they were in L.A., they’d become accustomed to buying freshly roasted beans to grind and brew at home. (True aficionados know that freshly roasted beans always produce the best flavor!)

    Scarlett decided to buy a quality roaster with a half-pound capacity for personal use. They wondered if perhaps other local java lovers may be interested in buying some freshly roasted beans. Scarlett and Kenny began to visit the Jack-o-Lantern Farm Market on Saturdays to sell the product in small batches. Interest grew quickly, and the half-pound roaster couldn’t keep up with demand. The couple began to dream up a plan to invest in a commercial roaster and open a small roasting business. They located a manufacturer in Oklahoma City with a proven track record and serviceable parts made in the USA. And in July of 2015, Lyons Coffee Roasters opened for business in the downtown Court Street location. With an 11-lb roasting capacity, the commercial roaster is more than twenty times larger than the starter model. It’s the perfect size to meet the needs of their Shoals-area customers.

    Whole Beans

    You’ve likely come across Lyons Roasters coffee in various places if you’ve traveled through Florence recently. Lyons provides brewed coffee to Bookmarks Coffee Shop, located inside the Florence-Lauderdale Public Library. Blank Coffee, Comics & Records on North Wood Avenue also serves coffee courtesy of Lyons Roasters. You’ll also find their brew at Studio 220 on West Tennessee and The Rock 310 bookstore in Sheffield. Local businesses that carry Lyons Roasters retail products include Jack-o-Lantern Farms and Perennial Supply Co.

    The International Connection

    Recently Scarlett and Kenny had the opportunity to visit a working coffee farm in Honduras. When asked why they chose Honduras instead of a larger coffee-growing country, Scarlett stated that Honduras actually found them. Kenny and Scarlett had been hoping to visit a coffee farm firsthand to gain a better understanding of the process. In October of 2016, Kenny got a Facebook message out of the blue from his old college roommate Jason. Jason had been supporting a small coffee farm called the San Lazarus Mission since 2010. The founders of the mission, Jarrod and Allison Brown, were looking to expand their business relationships. They all agreed that a meeting would be mutually beneficial. So in January of 2017, Scarlett and Kenny traveled to Honduras during the coffee harvest season.

    Scarlett in Honduras

    Scarlett admitted that the trip was much more than she ever expected. She said, “It was so fulfilling to see the other side of this. People’s lives revolve around this whole process that happens before it comes into the states, or to Florence, Alabama. They have no idea what our life is like, and what I do as a roaster, and how I market their coffee. And I had no idea what their life was like, and what their daily routine was like.”

    One of the highlights of Scarlett’s trip was tasting a cup of coffee that the farm manager Norma had prepared using her standard cowboy coffee method. Norma used a wood-burning stove in the on-site farm kitchen. She also ground the beans in a hand-cranked grinder. Through an interpreter, Scarlett showed Norma how to tweak the grind and the temperature to create a cup of coffee similar in results to a French Press. Norma was astounded at the flavor difference.

    Jarrod, Jason, Norma, Scarlett – Honduras, January 2017

    Norma is just twenty-eight years old. She took over the farm management position from her father. Other women in the community and on the farm respect and look up to Norma. She sets a remarkable example with her hard work and dedication. It was an exceptional experience for Scarlett and Norma to meet and talk about their craft from opposite sides of the cup.

    With this newly established relationship, Scarlett and Kenny can buy beans directly from the San Lazarus Mission. To obtain other varieties of beans, Lyons Coffee Roasters works with several different coffee importers. Scarlett wants to keep their regular customers satisfied, but she also offers variety. The majority of customers in Florence stick to what they’re familiar with, such as Colombian, Sumatran, or Ethiopian beans. But Scarlett has an adventurous spirit, and she strives to find unique beans to roast each week. She also dreams of visiting other coffee-producing countries in the future, including Ethiopia, coffee’s undisputed birthplace.

    Scarlett feels that the most rewarding aspect of this entire venture is the personal relationships she has made. These relationships include those she has with customers, with other business owners in Florence, and now with a working Honduran coffee farm. She also sees how her business impacts her three children, who see firsthand the results of being industrious.

    What is Scarlett’s preferred method of brewing coffee at home? She and Kenny have tried them all: a French Press, a Kalita Wave, an Aeropress, a V60 Coffee Dripper, and a Clever. For Scarlett, the Chemex beats them all. Used with freshly roasted, freshly ground beans, the Chemex simply creates a smooth, clean cup of coffee. (I think I’ll go add one to my Amazon wish list now!)

    A Taste Test

    Ethiopian Hambela

    I asked Scarlett about her favorite bean varietal. She said, “It’s got to be the Ethiopian Hambela natural. It’s trickier to roast, so a lot of roasters stay away from it. But I worked and worked on it, and dialed in this fruity roast to it.”

     

    Fruity? I had never heard that word used to describe coffee. But as soon as I opened the bag to smell the beans, I understood what she meant. Of course I had to buy some and take them home to brew myself.

    I’d ask you to put your nose in the bag and smell this, but internet technology hasn’t caught up with us yet. This smells heavenly, as if someone had buried an orange peel and a couple of cherries in the bottom of the bag. I was really surprised how different the finished brew tasted when compared to the Peruvian roast I currently had in my pantry. It was fresh, bright, and fruity. Delicious!

    Hambela Coffee

    Check out Lyons Coffee Roasters in person next time you’re in downtown Florence. Pick up a pound or two of freshly roasted beans to make a stellar cup at home. (And I also heard a rumor that a Downtown Florence Coffee Crawl may be in the works. Stay tuned!)

    As always, thanks for reading!

    -Allison

     

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