[dropcap2Some coffee maniacs say that the Chicago coffee scene would be empty without Ipsento Coffee House. Apparently, there aren’t too many coffee places like Ipsento that can live up to the standards of the young, urban and artsy community of Chicago. Please listen up to the Ipsento’s owner Tim Taylor, who is here with us today:
V. What is up Tim! What is your story of initiation to coffee?
T. Hi Max! I was an avid coffee drinker in college about seven years ago. However, as many other college students, I was on a budget; so, I decided to save money by roasting my own coffee. I bought green beans, roasted them on a popcorn popper at home and got great coffee that way. I started researching a bit more trying to figure out how to roast better, and all of it was really interesting to me, so it all quickly became a hobby.
Once I graduated from college, I started working for U.S. Airways in the airport and actually visited some coffee farms in Guatemala and Costa Rica while I was working for the airline in Central America. At some point, I was like “Man! I am gonna start a coffee business.” I actually got a roaster and a cart, so the roaster was on wheels and then, I started bringing the whole thing to a farmers’ market in Chicago to roast on-site. At this point I didn’t have any location; I would just roast on weekends at the market.
About the same time, I visited a couple more farms and tried to import coffee in very small amounts initially. However, I was getting started amidst a coffee crisis in early 2004-05, when farmers weren’t paid really well, so I became familiar with that story. This is how I got into importing and wanted to make sure that farmers were paid fairly. After I started out, I continued with the farmers market and import business for a couple of years on the side, before I opened up a cafe. Then I took over Ipsento.
V. Nice story! What kind of roaster are you using?
T. Diedrich IR-3. We do about 5-pound batches in it, but I did just purchase a larger roaster that is not installed yet. It is a Diedrich IR-12, and we will install it in a couple of weeks at the existing location, but we are still looking for a place to expand for a larger operation later on.
V. How is the business going?
T. Business is going pretty well in spite of the economy here in the U.S. I am directly importing about half of our coffees, and I am working with other importers who have similar ethics and that made my life a lot easier. I am still learning because I didn’t study business and had to learn a lot along the way.
V. What makes you different from your competitors in Chicago?
T. For starters, we are roasting on-site, and there aren’t that many cafes in Chicago roasting in-store, so people respond to that: they like to see us doing our work. We also put a big emphasis on education, and that is a big thing for Chicago – we educate our consumers and not just our baristas, by doing a free cupping every week.
We also offer a couple of unique drinks. The most popular one was created by my sister: our Ipsento latte contains coconut milk and honey, among other ingredients. To my knowledge, there is no other place in the city that offers something like this so far.
And lastly, we have partnered with a local syrup producer, who has crafted a custom syrup just for us, and it has been a big hit in our store.
V. Is there anything you would like to share with the coffee world?
T. I know my baristas are frustrated with me, but I am all the way to the Third Wave – no more mochas, no more milk, just coffee except machiato. I do know a number of shops that failed trying to do this because the consumers aren’t at this point yet. We want to bring the specialty coffee industry to the next level by engaging and inviting consumers to experience the true taste of coffee. However, it is about gradually educating our customers, not just telling them what they need to like, and this is what we have been trying to do here.