Try Hard Coffee Roasters out of Austin, Texas did something absolutely courageous—opened up a brand new cafe/bakery/roastery safely in the middle of summer 2020. Now open daily, serving up scratch-made breakfast and lunch tacos, pastries baked in house, and a full espresso menu.
“At first, we were apprehensive about opening amidst a global pandemic; however, we carefully watched as other coffee shops adjusted and adapted their service models,” co-founder and brand designer Raechel Hurd told us. “We decided to push forward with opening, keeping in mind safe and welcoming service practices.”
“As a coffee shop our menu and service model express our values,” says Hurd. “We roast our own coffee, we bake our own pastries, we make our tacos from scratch, we have a lineup of five coffees available for guests to try any way they want to, the list goes on. When we approached the menu and service model, we asked ourselves ‘Can we make this from scratch, and how can we improve upon a traditional service model?'”
Apart from the food and coffee that has been praised by their community and their laudable fundraising efforts, we were taken by the new company's branding—featuring a colorful rainbow, bold typeface, and playful blend names. “Honestly,” Hurd admits, “we’re just a bunch of ‘Try Hards' who want to make coffee and play around with some ideas.” We ordered a bag of Flavor Trip—currently a single-origin coffee from Tirra Tarrazu, Costa Rica—brewed up a cup, and spoke with Hurd digitally to learn more.
Hello! Tell us about your team!
Try Hard Coffee Roasters is a barista owned and operated cafe and roaster in East Austin. Myself (Raechel Hurd), Jon French (formerly MmmHmm Coffee, Seattle WA), and Gabrielle Rose have a longstanding relationship with specialty coffee. Currently, our staff is composed of one barista (Leo Salerno) and ourselves in addition to the bakery staff.
Before we get into design, I wanted to touch on the signature drinks—they all sound delicious. Tell us a bit more about these!
Several members of our team have competed in the US Barista Championship and Coffee In Good Spirits. Participating in competitions has inspired us to keep pushing a creative agenda. We want to have fun and try new ideas while we’re at work; plus, having signature beverages on our menu sparks conversations with our guests and gives them the opportunity to try coffee and tea in new, exciting ways. The “Coffee Cola” is a drink concept that Leo has had in the back of his mind for two years. It is a coffee shrub made by infusing coarsely ground coffee with vinegar and honey for 24 hours. We combine this with sparkling water and top it with a splash of sugar cane coca-cola. It makes for a crisp, sweet, afternoon drink! The “Hi-Rider” and “Chai-Rider” are sparkling tea drinks topped with a lightly sweetened coconut cream. Both of these drinks are layered, and the coconut cream can be consumed from top to bottom or mixed all together. We want our guests to choose their own adventure!
One last question on the menu—please tell me about the pillows and other in-house pastries and taco program!
Austin is a breakfast taco town. If you don’t serve tacos with your coffee in the morning, you’re not a real coffee shop. All three of us have culinary backgrounds and used our previous experiences to create our taco program. All of our tacos are made-to-order and are topped with fresh pico, queso fresco, serrano peppers, and sliced avocado. Our tortillas are scratch-made and cooked to order. Fresh, hot flour tortillas… it doesn’t get any tastier than that!
All of our pastries are baked in house, and we are especially proud of our pillows. A “pillow” is a rough-puff pastry (similar to a hand pie), stuffed with delicious cream filling. We make many varieties of these, but our favorite is the “Cardamom Cream Pillow” which is filled with chai spices, brown sugar, and vanilla pastry cream, and topped with a healthy dose of demerara sugar for crunch. It’s flaky, buttery, and perfectly sweet.
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This past weekend, we soft-launched a mobile cart in front of our space. We saw so many familiar and new faces! We cannot wait to officially open the mobile cart this coming weekend. The inside space will continue to undergo construction throughout the summer, as we are taking safety precautions regarding COVID-19. This coming weekend, expect scratch made breakfast tacos, pastries, coffee, and excited baristas ready to serve the 11th Street community!
Who designed the bags?
I designed them! I have a background in graphic design, so I create all of our merchandise and branded materials.
Tell us about the design itself—describe the look.
We wanted the entire brand to be simple and approachable…with a little retro flair. We used 70’s era vinyl records as our inspiration. We also looked at show posters specifically from Austin’s psych-rock scene. We are a bunch of music-heads, and we will be spinning vinyl in the shop, so we wanted the bags to resemble records. Currently, our bags have a single label, but as we work towards fully wrapping the design, we will lean more heavily on these inspirations.
How did you all come up with the blend names?
Each of our bags are named to describe the coffee’s personality. We source rotating coffees that fit those personalities. For example, “Flavor Trip” will always be the life of the party; it’s vivacious, bright, and fun. Currently, it is a naturally processed single-origin Costa Rican coffee from Tirra Tarrazu. Our “Mainstay” is sweet, mellow, and easy-drinking and gets the ball rolling. “No Hands” (look ma!) is an industry favorite: clean, breezy, and complex like riding a bike with no hands. “Mall Rat” Espresso blend plays nicely with others because it is a blend of all three of the previous coffees and is roasted to taste great in milk. “Mind Control” is a true dark roast that hits bass notes of chocolate and tobacco and is an homage to the cult classic second wave roast profiles. While we greatly respect where our coffees come from, our bag names remove innate biases towards origins and allow for guests to make purchasing decisions without extensive coffee knowledge. For those that want to dive deeper we have all of our coffee information and flavor descriptions online.
You've all been operating a mobile cart for about five weeks—tell us about how it's been going here going into August 2020.
We have been incredibly fortunate thus far. Business is growing steadily and thankfully, with five weeks under our belts, we’ve been able to work out a lot of kinks in our service. Currently, we are working on social distancing methods to keep our guests safe during peak hours. Our next step is to open our back patio for seating as soon as COVID numbers begin to decrease in our area. One of the main challenges we have faced is deciding when is the right time to shift from our take-away model and focus our efforts on the interior build-out in order to provide more cafe seating. So far, our guests are enjoying our limited front patio seating and to-go service and they are excited to see what the finished space will look like.
Where are your coffees currently available?
Our coffees are available for online purchasing at www.tryhardcoffee.com and at our shop.
Who is your ideal customer?
Our cafe menu is designed with service industry professionals and our neighborhood in mind. As baristas we love specialty coffee and have spent many years drinking coffees that we could not afford to purchase on a regular basis. Whether it’s an Ethiopia Yukro for $22 (12oz) or a pour-over of the same coffee for $5 in a shop, we know this price point is unapproachable for many of our desired guests. We source coffees that we are excited about, regardless of price, and sell these coffees to our guests for $15 per 12oz bag and $2.50 per cup in the cafe.
Our decision to reduce our margin in order to build the customer base we want did not come easily. We continue to discuss how coffee quality is perceived and reducing price can take away the perceived value of that coffee. With all the potential negatives in mind we are continuing to navigate this ongoing conversation and hope to play a part in sharing high-quality, interesting coffees with our guests.
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TODAY 10a -2p Bake Sale In just a couple hours we will be hosting a bake sale in support of Black Lives Matter (see previous post for details). We are excited to see you all today! Please wear a mask and look out for social distancing directions. Please help us to make this a safe and fun event for everyone 😍
Tell us about a few folks in coffee right now that you're inspired/encouraged by.
I am personally inspired by Randi Hensley, an owner of the Austin local cafe chain Epoch Coffee. She is my mentor and friend who consistently addresses mental, social, and health practices within her company. I want to lead a team the way she does: with compassion, positivity, and empathy.
Adam JacksonBey was a huge inspiration for many of the ideas in regards to the cafe’s pay structure. I listened to his interview on Umeko Motoyoshi’s podcast “A Better Table” and took notes. I also now purchase domain names the second I get an idea thanks to him. He’s an amazing human who I wish I had known earlier when I was living in the D.C. area as a newbie barista.
Becky Reeves and Oodie Taliaferro have to be mentioned in this section. I am not that much older than these two, but they give me hope for the next generation of coffee shop owners and coffee professionals. These two are smart, driven, and constantly educating others in their field about social, political, and racial issues. I learn so much from these two and I'm lucky enough to live in Austin, TX near them!
When we're in Austin where else should we go when it's safe to travel again?
We always shout out our 11th Street neighbors to guests who are visiting from out of town. Y'all should check out J Leonardi’s Barbeque for their delicious brisket and award-winning smoked sausage! For cocktails and delicious Detroit style burgers we love Nickel City and we hang out there post-shift often. The Rolling Rooster is located in the historic Victory Grill across the street and they have some of the best chicken wings in Austin. Adjacent to them, Kenny Dorham’s Backyard showcases community artists and musicians regularly. Charmschool Vintage is next door to us, and they have an inventory of magical apothecary items as well as insanely rare vintage clothing.