Heartbreak Coffee rolled into town this spring, introducing locally roasted specialty coffee, craft cold brew and homemade vegan, gluten-free donuts to the Oxford community.
Kansas City-native Gretchen Williams is behind the brand. She lived in Oxford for four years while earning a degree in exercise science from the University of Mississippi. She left in 2008 for an internship in California. While there, she got what she thought would be a temporary job working as a barista in a coffeehouse. Soon her internship would run out, but she had built a life for herself on the West Coast.
She stayed in California for eight years, making her way back to Oxford just last fall.
Williams’ journey with Heartbreak began in September of 2013. She was living in Long Beach at the time and had been working in the coffee industry for about five years. She had this dream of owning her own coffee shop, roasting her own brew and selling it to the masses.
“I fell in love with being in a coffee shop environment,” Williams said. “It’s amazing how something so simple, like a cup of coffee, and can bring people together and the connections that can be made over that. You can impact somebody’s day and their entire daily routine, just by making them a cup of coffee. I fell in love with serving coffee to people, and it turned into this passion of always asking myself ‘how can I create a better cup of coffee?’”
She bought small roaster capable of cooking a half pound of coffee at a time. It was hard, art first. She had to go through several instances of trial and error until she got it right. She made a lot of bad cup of coffee, but she was able to use every drop of those batches to learn how to make a good one.
At the end of October, Williams and her partner at the time had about a dozen people over to their home to try some of the coffee. They loved it. By the time Christmas rolled around, they had several orders. They created a logo, went under the moniker Heartbreak and set up an Instagram.
Their Instagram got noticed by the popular blog Design Sponge, exposing them to an audience of millions. Orders continued pouring in and Williams continued roasting, perfecting her recipe with every batch. Before she know it, two years had gone by and she was a business owner.
But it wasn’t always easy.
“I got a lot of flack at first within the coffee community,” she said. “Nobody took me seriously. It’s a boys club, making specialty coffee. When I started out in Cali, it was mainly just a bunch of bros in handlebar mustaches. There’s a lot more girls now, but back then, and especially in roasting, there weren’t any.”
Because she broke into the coffee scene are on her own, she was also hassled for taking a nontraditional route into the field.
“People told me I didn’t know what I was doing,” Williams said. “They thought that because I didn’t work under anyone first when I was learning to roast, that I could never be any good at it. But I think my way turned out the best for me. I had to learn very quickly what worked and what didn’t. I wasn’t mimicking anyone else’s style, I was creating my own.”
Williams can tell you where each batch of coffee she roasts was grown, when it was hand-picked and the name of the farmer who grew it. She could even show you their picture. That’s the thing about specialty coffee, she said. It all comes down to transparency, knowing what you’re getting and knowing that everyone was adequately compensated in the process.
Another thing about coffee that a lot of people forget, Williams said, is that fact that it is a produce. Coffee, especially specific strains and variations of the bean, are seasonal. What you drank last April and what you’re drinking this April are probably going to taste different. The rains were different this year. The soil was different this year. The end result, the taste, is going to be different. That’s how organically grown and harvested crops are.
Heartbreak Coffee can be found every Tuesday at the Oxford Community Market, selling bags, cups and cold brew out of Williams’ Volkswagen Bus, which. Williams can and has also shipped domestically and internationally. Orders can be placed and www.heartbreakcoffeeroasters.com