On most Saturday afternoons in a small garage in Atwater Village, you can stop in for a cup of hand-roasted coffee, lounge on the couch and meet the other customers and friends of the owner who come by — or you can buy a bag to take home.
It’s not your typical coffee shop, which seems fitting for what customers describe as not your typical coffee.
Greg Thomas, owner of Trystero Coffee, has been hand-roasting coffee and serving cups to customers and passersby alike for about three years. The 51-year-old Atwater Village resident recently celebrated his 2,500th batch with a small “party” in his garage, arranged in a hybrid living-room-coffee-room setup, decorated with artwork and Christmas lights on the walls.
“It’s been really fun, especially meeting new people in the garage,” he said.
An IT technician by trade, Thomas was inspired to roast his own coffee after trying a brand of hand-roasted coffee at a San Francisco farmers market. Curious about how roasts would taste lighter or darker, he began experimenting on a cast-iron pot on his stove where “you get the whole smell and see the whole process right in front of you,” he said.
But when he moved to a loft that wasn’t conducive to stove-top roasting, he looked into buying a roaster, investing in the smallest he could find and one he still uses: the Deidrich Idaho-based IR1.
From the start, Thomas had selling coffee as a side business in mind. He began selling the packages he made at home to friends and family, and after he got a handle on the process, began providing roasts to Demitasse Café in Los Angeles.
Many of Thomas’ customers learned of Trystero through the online bicycle forums he is a part of, such as LAFixed, where he spread the word. He also got some publicity when he was mentioned in an article on Carolyn Kellogg’s book blog about “The Crying of Lot 49,” which features a Trystero symbol that inspired Thomas’ coffee brand name.
That’s where Nick Rucka, 38, a Portland, Ore.-transplant who was Thomas’ second customer, learned of the garage.
During his quest for a good cup of joe in Los Angeles — which he says didn’t exist at the time — he read about Trystero in the article and emailed Thomas, who began delivering coffee to Rucka’s office in West Hollywood.
“If you’re serious about coffee, you can basically have Greg roast it whatever way you want, the kind of roast you want,” he said. “But if you’re also, ‘I like a cup of coffee but I don’t know anything about that stuff,’ then he’ll make recommendations.”
About a year after Rucka discovered Trystero — after becoming friends with Thomas and learning more about the process — he began roasting coffee too, just for his own consumption. He still considers Trystero coffee to be some of the best in Los Angeles County.
“The kind of coffee you get in here, it’s the difference between listening to something on an eight-track fuzzy, horrible, mono sound and then getting a cup here, it’s just incredible, high-definition, rich warm sound,” he said. “It’s just there’s so much to it, all these elements that you were missing before are there.”
Esther Miko, 31, another customer who attended the batch party, knew Thomas through mutual friends and began following Trystero when Thomas was roasting it on his stove. Having grown up drinking Armenian coffee, Miko said she has always been a fan of hand-roasted and pan-roasted coffee.
“My mom used to hand-roast growing up and I would always sneak in the beans and she’d always get mad at me,” Miko said. “So when Greg started roasting, I was really excited and I’ve just kind of followed it till it became what it is now.”
In addition to online customers and old friends, people walking along the Los Angeles River often stop by after passing the garage. A steady stream of people flow in on Saturdays, Thomas said, ranging from five to 15 a day.
More than three years and 2,500 batches later — which he sells for between $10 and $14 for a 14-ounce bag — he has made about $10,000 a year, he said. He also sells one higher-end roast for $25.
“My goal is to always provide amazing coffee at reasonable prices so that more people have the opportunity to try really good coffee,” he wrote in an email. “If I ever do this full time I'm going to do my best to keep overhead low so that I can keep prices down on even high-end, expensive Geishas and the like.”
He manages to roast twice a week on Mondays and Thursdays for about four hours each, and, weather permitting, serves coffee for up to five hours on Saturdays to those who stop by or come to pick up orders — all while working full-time at his IT job.
Thomas hopes to eventually expand. He has in his collection the next-size-up roaster, a 5.5-pound roaster, which, even if he doesn’t expand sales, will help him reduce his workload by 2 1/2 times.
He’s also looking into a partnership to sell coffee and pastries as part of a motorcycle refurbishing shop in Frogtown.
“On the pure coffee side of things, my suppliers are really good, my customers are great and I’ve had a really good time for the last three years doing it,” said Thomas, who will continue serving coffee on Saturdays even if he expands.
And while people might come initially for the coffee, many stay for hours or come back frequently for what customers described as the welcoming vibe of the garage. Miko described that feeling as an inclusive environment where patrons talk art, music and, of course, coffee.
“I love reading at bars and coffee shops but more and more I’ve noticed, the more sterile a place looks — like everyone is on their Macs or iPads — I just don’t feel like it’s an environment I want to be in,” she said. “Here, it’s more people coming together to share ideas and speak and communicate with one another.
“You don’t usually find that in Los Angeles.”
Follow Sameea Kamal on Twitter: @SameeaKamal.