Are You Ready (for Love?)
Able to express their passion for great coffee through artful roasting, owners of Etes-Vous Prets (pronounced: “et-voo-pray”) Tracy Danner and Anno O’Connor recently celebrated their tenth year of sharing that vision. Much of their success rests on Tracy’s signature roasting techniques along with a business philosophy based on fearlessness and love, which has garnered her a healthy following among Madison’s most discriminating coffee connoisseurs.
Sitting down with Tracy in her newest shop on Madison’s near west-side, she talked about their thriving coffee company and how it got its start. Before coming to coffee, she had an established career in the field of substance abuse counseling in her hometown. The contemplation of her fate led to the decision to seek another path. “What I really loved about that job,” Tracy recalled, “and I really loved it, was that I just knew I really loved people. And I loved serving people, but then I looked at what why I was burned out and I felt like [going to work] everyday was like trauma. It was so intense and weighty and I was accountable to the DEA, FDA, state, city, all these people, and it felt very weighty to me, not to mention the clients who were struggling. So I thought, I can give my best to a job but not my soul.” She said of her high regard of coffee, “I happen to be addicted. It’s just that my juice happens to be legal.”
Tracy modestly credits her early coffee training with the Kaladi Brothers’ Barista Academy in her home state of Alaska. There she learned important lessons in roasting beans and the finer points of brewing the best cup of coffee possible. “One interesting thing I thought was pretty cool at one of their trainings—they said, ‘We want to set the standard in the industry. We want to be the measure.’ I remember sitting there and thinking, ‘Yeah right, we’re in frickin’ Alaska!’ but when I started doing my research in Washington, Oregon, California, Wisconsin, I realized I was using their cup to measure every other one, and they had succeeded. They were, for me, doing it! And so, then I thought if they can do it in Alaska, I should be able to do that wherever I go in the continental U.S.”
The decision to move to Madison was made very carefully but quickly became part of the plan when Anno was accepted to the UW to complete her degree as a Physician’s Assistant, which she continues to do. The two eventually began roasting coffee in 1997 at the Madison Enterprise Center in the same space subsequently occupied by two other successful businesses enthusiastically supported by Co-op shoppers (Just Coffee and Potter’s Crackers). Today, all of the roasting is done at their shop on East Washington Avenue in Madison, where either Tracy or EVP’s full-time roaster keeps up with the growing demand. Freshly roasted bags of EVP coffee are typically delivered to the Willy Street Co-op by Tracy or one their 16 employees within as little as one hour after roasting. Some of the regular roasts include the Sumatra blend, Guatemalan French Roast, Costa Rican, Peruvian and Java.
Air roasting, a newer approach to roasting coffee beans versus the traditional drum method, remains Tracy’s preferred means for achieving the signature flavor of any one of their 16 coffee blends. Of air roasting, Tracy said, “The way I try to describe it is like, the difference between Jiffy Pop popcorn and air popcorn. With Jiffy Pop, or classic on-your-burner popcorn, some of those kernels are going be perfect, some are going to be overdone and some are going to be underdone. The way the drum roaster works is it’s like a dryer and it’s a hot surface that’s actually roasting the beans. During the rotation, there are points where the beans are falling onto the hot surface and then being roasted, so there’s a randomness, whereas with an air roaster, like an air popcorn popper, basically you’d have to intend to overdo it. Pretty much everything gets [popped evenly]. Some people prefer the drum, bur they’re very different offerings...I just like the offering of the air roaster.”
EVP’s raw (green) coffee beans are purchased through a Midwestern-based company Tracy has worked with to establish a standard preference for only those beans that meet her discerning level of quality. “I will buy fair trade beans,” Tracy stated, “but I’m not signed on to the fair trade movement. I want conscious coffee; I want [beans from] whatever estate or co-op is caring for the environment, caring for the workers and also making beautiful coffee. What I’ve found is that a lot of co-ops and small farms are excluded from getting certified by fair trade because of their size and so a lot of my coffees are coming from folks like that, which I totally appreciate because I’m a pretty small roaster and there are a lot of folks who are not willing to distribute to me because I’m of a size that it’s not worth their while. And so, it’s not that I don’t believe in the fair trade movement; it’s that it’s a big brokerage. They have to do stuff that makes sense for them, so they then require a certain size of co-op or farm and some people get excluded, and I just feel like I’d like to support the farms and co-ops who, even if they wanted to sign up, they can’t.”
Asked about what she looks for in a bean, Tracy provided a simple explanation of the basics, including the industry criteria for shape, size and color. Of the relative variances in bean quality she said, “I want a bean that we’re going to be able to roast and have it be a beautiful experience. To be perfectly honest, I feel like we can take a good bean and its usually great tasting. And it’s because of the love, the way we roast it, and our accountability.”
The abundance of local coffee companies for consumers to choose from in Madison is a dynamic Tracy recognized and was aware of well before she opened her business. “It’s not easy,” she explained. “It’s a challenging thing, but I feel like if there are people who want to make a beautiful offering, there’s a place for all of us. I know I want more beauty and I’m not afraid of someone else’s vision and, if I can support it, I’m happy to. But I feel like there is a place for all of us. And the consumer or the community will ultimately decide if you’re going to make it or not.”
Tracy and Anno took a chance on offering something beautiful to our community and their audience continues to grow—a fact which is not lost on either of them. As Tracy said, “I feel so grateful to be doing what I’m doing, and I love it. I love what I’m doing, and I love my life. Every moment I get to be myself, and I really feel so grateful for the support and to the people who can understand what we’re doing.”