Cafe Rica co-founder Thad Moore didn’t create a coffee shop on wheels to get rich. He did it because he wanted to share a life-changing experience he had nearly three years ago when he traveled to Costa Rica with his partner Alejandro Quiros.
They make frequent trips to the tropical Central American coffee haven, but on this particular trip, a car breakdown proved serendipitous.
A kind mechanic rolled by and worked out a friendly deal with them.
“That’s where the story really starts,” Moore said. “While we waited, we ended up walking into this coffee shop. I like coffee but I wasn’t really thinking about coffee at the time. But this guy makes us some coffee and it was really good. I mean, it was amazing.”
“He said ‘we just roasted it yesterday.’ I said ‘wow, you roast your own coffee here?’ and he says ‘Yeah, this is Tres Rios.'”
Moore said the man opened the back door of the diminutive coffee shop to reveal vast fields of a coffee plants — miles of them.
The Tres Rios region is highly regarded as a premier coffee growing region and Moore said the flavor lives up to the reputation.
“I had never had a fresh-roasted cup of coffee that tasted like that,” he said.
Moore said the beans certainly had something to do with it, but perhaps the most vital element was that they were roasted so recently.
Three years later, that experience led to the creation of Cafe Rica — a coffee truck that hangs its hat on its fresh-roasted Costa Rican coffee beans.
The truck “resides” at the southeast corner of Main Street and Berry Road from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Satruday, but it makes the rounds, appearing at festivals and events throughout the city. Moore said he’s open to requests for visits and is always looking for a new flavor audience. Whenever they’re not at their favorite corner, Moore and company post their whereabouts on the Cafe Rica Facebook page.
He said he’s probably not going to go the ice cream truck route and start blasting “Pop Goes the Weasel,” but he wants to reach as many people as possible so they might try it for themselves.
He said unlike Starbucks, which operates with heavily pre-roasted beans, his coffee is roasted in small batches right here in Norman. The coffee beans he gets from Costa Rica aren’t brown on arrival, they’re green.
“You really can taste the difference,” he said. “I just wanted to bring that back to Norman. And really, we have so many great coffee shops here, like Gray Owl and Michelangelo’s, and that’s something that Norman can take pride in.”
He said there’s nothing “wrong” with Starbucks, but what Cafe Rica offers is a cut above. What’s more, he said it’s a labor of love and something he wanted to do differently.
Cafe Rica offers a range of flavors, as well as hot and cold options, but all the coffee is made using the pour-over method with recently home-roasted beans.
It’s not just the coffee that Moore wanted to do differently. The truck runs on natural gas and it doesn’t have a gas generator. Instead, he and Quiros, who Moore described as a more than handy man, engineered a daisy chain of car batteries to cut down on air and noise pollution.
In the end, Moore said everything adds up to a better, bolder cup of coffee and a truly fresh-roasted experience. There was a lot of trial and error along the way, taste tests and tweaks, but he knew when they had hit their mark.
“Over a period of about two years, my partner would bring back about 15 to 20 pounds of Costa Rican coffee and we’d roast it and taste it and have our friends over to test it,” he said. “I didn’t really know that much about it, but we were reading about it and learning so much. Our goal was just to make a really good cup of coffee.”
He said his hope for the future is that more people will stop by and share in the experience.
“There’s an option other than Starbucks,” he said. “For the benefit of everyone, I would hope that more people check it out and shop truly local. We’re just trying to have a good time and make some good coffee for Norman.
“It’s been a real process. Once we knew how we wanted the beans to be, building the truck took about a year.”
By Mack Burke, The Norman Transcript, Okla.
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