FLORENCE, Ala. (AP) – Kenny Lyons is quick to say he isn’t a coffee snob. He just likes good coffee.
When Lyons and his wife, Scarlett, moved to Florence, his hometown, two years ago after living 10 years in Los Angeles, he couldn’t find the good coffee he had become accustomed to brewing back in California.
So the Lyons decided to solve the problem for themselves.
They invested in a small coffee roaster and started experimenting.
“If you like coffee, you will love it fresh,” Kenny said. “I think that’s true with most food. No one wants something that isn’t fresh. Unfortunately, there just hasn’t been fresh coffee here so people haven’t been exposed to it.”
The Lyons are the first to roast coffee in the Shoals since the Alabama Coffee Company was roasting and distributing coffee from their Sheffield facility. The Alabama Coffee Company opened in the early 1930s and produced several varieties of coffee, including Old Gold, Muscle Shoals, Drinkers Delight and Alabama Yellow Hammer.
“They had a fleet of old Ford delivery trucks,” said Kenny, who noted the building where Alabama Coffee Company roasted its beans is still standing.
The company delivered coffee to homes and corner markets throughout the Shoals until 1938.
The Lyons currently stock their whole-bean coffee at Jack-O-Lantern Farm in Muscle Shoals.
Fresh roasted coffee has a more complex flavor profile. The flavors are impacted by the altitude, soil and temperature, giving each bag of beans a flavor profile all their own.
The Lyons are committed to using only fair-trade and sustainably grown beans for their roasts. Now, their most popular varieties are Nicaraguan light roast and a Sumatran medium/dark roast.
“Every origin is different,” Scarlett said. “When we get it, we experiment. There are so many things that impact the flavor, from where you source the bean to the altitude where it is grown and what it is grown around.
“I’ve had cups that tasted like blueberry or honeysuckle on their own without adding anything to it.”
Kenny said customers often comment on the chocolate flavor in their popular Nicaraguan light roast.
It’s all natural, he tells them.
“If you don’t like coffee or put a lot of cream or sugar in it to kind of cover up the bitterness, when you have it fresh, you’ll say ‘This tastes really good. I don’t even need that,’ ” Kenny said.
Scarlett is the primary roaster, while Kenny is a willing taste-tester.
The Lyons said they are continually trying new beans to see what else they might bring to the Shoals.
That’s one of the benefits of being small, Kenny said.
“We can change pretty easily,” he said. “If we find out there is an amazing crop of coffee from a plantation in Costa Rica that we read about, we can order in some beans from there, try it out and if we say ‘This is special,’ we can order in some more.
“We don’t have a large stock of beans from last year’s crop, so we are able to be a little bit nimble right now.”
It wasn’t in their plans to market their roasts, but as the word got out, the Lyons thought “Why not? Let’s give it a shot.”
“We were interested in finding out how we could roast coffee ourselves and enjoy our own fresh coffee,” Scarlett said. “We were having fun doing that and sharing it with our friends who also loved coffee, seeing what they liked and didn’t like.
“We thought ‘Why don’t we try putting it over at Jack-O-Lantern Farm?’ We love to shop over there and noticed sometimes they’d have other coffee, but it wasn’t local.”
Turns out, people were interested. Even without a large coming-out party, the Lyons struggle to keep up with demand at Jack-O-Lantern Farm.
“Commercial roasters don’t even put the roast date on the packaging,” Kenny said. “That package could have been on the shelf for months or even a year. You just don’t know. When you see a package of coffee and the roast date was yesterday or sometimes even that day, it makes a difference.”
Only the roasts that pass their taste tests make it to the shelves.
“We only sell what we like,” Kenny said. “You’ll hear that a lot from brewmasters and coffee shops. Quality control is important. If it isn’t good to us, why would we expect someone else to pay for it?”
Information from: TimesDaily, http://www.timesdaily.com/
(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)