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Coffee convert starts small-batch Lake City Coffee

Russell Volz, of Lake City Coffee, contracts with Anvil Coffee in the old Washington Cracker Co. building in Spokane, Wash., to roast some of his beans. (Photos by DAN PELLE

Russell Volz hated coffee. Hated it.

He hated it for all of the usual reasons people say they don’t like coffee. He found the flavor too bitter, too burnt. “It was vile,” he said.

When Volz was invited over for coffee, he would brace himself, preparing his palate for the worst. Then, he tried a cup at the home of a friend who had roasted his own beans in a popcorn popper. Volz couldn’t believe his taste buds. “It was amazing,” he said.

This beverage was smooth, sweet and rich, not harsh or acrid at all.

He loved it. Loved it.

Within two weeks, he was roasting his own beans.

Now, the coffee convert is also selling and shipping them all over the country. Volz is the proprietor of the small-batch, one-man Lake City Coffee, an online coffee business.

There’s no storefront or coffee shop. “It’s a pretty small operation,” said Volz, whose target customers brew their own coffee at home.

His aim: bringing home coffee brewing “to a whole new level.”

Volz didn’t start drinking and roasting coffee until four years ago. And he still thinks most coffee is, in a word, “horrible.”

Don’t get him started on Starbucks.

Do discuss Tom Sawyer Country Coffee and Anvil Coffee Roasting. Volz is a fan of both Spokane roasters.

He said he discovered Anvil when he was “checking out the competition” at a coffee shop on the South Hill. “I took one sip, and I thought, ‘This is as good as mine.’ ”

He called the roaster, and “we’ve been friends ever since,” he said.

Mark Camp, owner of Anvil and part of the local coffee roasting scene since 2000, has shared some pointers and info with Volz, who recently began contracting with Anvil for roasting. Volz has been on hand for the roasts.

His roaster can handle about 10 or 15 pounds at a time. But Camp’s machine does 25 and is much faster.

“I’ve done a handful of roasts for him,” Camp said. “I’ve been trying to help.”

Volz, 61, roasts smaller batches at home on his machine. Larger batches are done at Anvil, located in the old Washington Cracker Building in downtown Spokane. Camp roasts the beans to his specifications.

Volz began roasting his own beans at home in Newman Lake in 2012. He did it for himself, as a hobby, so he would have coffee he actually enjoyed. His first customers came to him through word of mouth. They were friends and fellow members of Trinity Church in Coeur d’Alene.

“Those first two years it was more of a hobby,” said Volz, who by then had named his coffee-fueled venture Capulus Roasters. “I thought it was so cool. But nobody remembered it.”

So last summer, Volz, who runs his own internet marketing company, rebranded the business, changing the name to something that’s easier to remember. Lake City Coffee is named for Coeur d’Alene, where Volz now lives.

He buys from wholesale coffee distributors in Seattle and San Francisco – seeking out, he said, “always organic, most of the time fair trade” beans. About 70 percent come from Nicaragua because they’re “real chocolaty, not bitter in the least.”

Central American coffees are his personal favorite. “They have a tendency to be sweeter than most of the others.”

Today, Volz offers five varieties for $15 for 14 ounces, plus shipping. They include white, medium brown and dark – “You’ll notice it’s not black,” he said – as well as decaf dark. He also sells espresso beans, which are the same beans and roast as what he dubs his Delectable Dark. So, really, he offers four varieties, one of which goes by two names.

But, he said, “I do not do blends.

“I’m a coffee snob,” Volz said. “I’m just obsessed with good coffee.”

He aims to bag and ship beans within 48 hours of roasting, which usually takes place Monday mornings.

“All coffee starts going bitter in four weeks from the point it’s roasted,” said Volz, who takes his coffee with a tablespoon of cream and no sugar. “I personally won’t drink coffee that’s roasted more than a week (prior).”

But, “I tell everybody, ‘Drink what you like.’ ”