NAME: Izi Aspera
YEARS ROASTING: 1 Year roasting
MACHINES: Probat L12, Quest, Poppery II
COMPANY: Wrecking Ball, San Francisco, CA
It’s difficult to write a story about Izi Aspera. Writing a story about someone usually implies that there’s a beginning and an end; writing stories specifically about Matchbook roasters sometimes ends as a summation of all the moments, eccentricities, and happenstance events that got them to this very moment and how all that experience has shaped the way they view coffee. They tell us about how they view coffee, and somewhere in their personality quirks and life experiences, we sort of get an idea of how they roast and perhaps a sneak peek into how they approach each and every coffee.
Izi’s story is still unfolding—as you read this, as you drink their coffee, as you engage with them on social media, you become part of their story. Although Izi has been in coffee for years, they just recently made the jump to roasting, working at Wrecking Ball Coffee in San Francisco for the last year. “I have a hard time thinking of myself as a roaster sometimes,” they shared. “I remember my boss saying, ‘I’m so excited to see what you do with your Matchbook release because I’ll get to see your roasting style,’” they share. “But I remember thinking, ‘I don’t know what my roasting style is yet.’”
We’re positive this is a thought every roaster has had. Developing a voice through coffee isn’t a straightforward process, nor is it linear, and yet it’s something we ask every roaster. It’s like that cousin or friend who, when they hear that you work in coffee, ask what the best coffee bean is. You might have an answer. You might not. Regardless, it’s incredibly nuanced and difficult to explain why or how you do a thing, and it’s different for everybody.
Izi ended up shifting to roasting after noticing they weren’t as engaged with coffee as they wanted to be. “I wasn’t having the conversations I wanted to have as a barista or a manager. I was excited by the conversations at the Bay Area Roaster Friends groups,” they shared, referencing a group of Bay Area-based roasters who’d come together and shoot the shit and talk shop about roasting. “Every roaster I met was really friendly with information, but at the time I didn’t have any context to understand what I was learning.”
This was critical to Izi’s jump into roasting, since they like to know exactly why things happen. Izi is also taking classes on horticulture and agroecology, and focuses on the nuance of each plant. “I need to know everything about everything,” says Izi. “I don’t want to draw a plant without knowing scientifically how to draw the plant correctly.” Even now, Izi wishes they had known more about roasting back when they were still working as a barista. “I wish I had learned roasting before I learned brewing. I keep learning all these new things and I think, ‘Oh, I wish I had known that when I was a barista!’”
When they describe roasting, Izi calls themselves self-deprecating, which might sound like a negative (I certainly thought it was) at first, but Izi describes self-deprecation as a way to never accept anything but the best from oneself. Izi is not ok with just good enough. “There’s this Guatemalan coffee has been giving me a hard time—everyone else says its fine, but it’s not good enough for me,” Izi shares. “Being self-deprecating means I’m going to work harder to figure things out.”
Izi’s past life as a barista informs the way they roast coffee now. “I think it helps to have been a barista to roast coffee well,” but Izi is clear that it’s not for the reasons you think. “You understand how to communicate with people and work with other departments to get stuff done.” Being in a facet of the industry that’s usually secretive and removed from the eye of customers, Izi hopes their experience in customer-facing roles will help them be a better communicator and team player. “I want to be able to communicate to people and resist becoming the archetype roaster that can't or won't talk about roasting.”
Izi speaks in hopes and ideas and wants because they’re still trying to find their voice as a roaster, and we hope that inspires other new roasters. The profession of roasting has no end goal, and being an excellent roaster doesn’t just happen at all once. There is no One Moment that takes you from being a competent roaster to a great one. There’s just you and the collection of experiences you have.
Izi’s story isn’t done. Honestly, we barely told you a story because this is still the beginning. There’s still a hundred different ways this story can go, and this is just a quick moment in the midst of a life of learning, achievement, and maybe some bumps along the way. We’re thrilled to share Izi’s coffee—and we’re equally excited you get to be part of their story.