Humans of the U: Simon Zivny

“I have been a coffee drinker for a long time. From age 14 (if not earlier), I’d drink espresso with my family when we visited cafes, and a lot of my ideas about coffee started there. Even though the coffee I was drinking was very different from the coffee I try to make now, the experience was similar. It was special, it was new. You always ended up tasting things you didn’t expect to taste.

When I moved to Utah from Portland, I knew I wanted to continue to work in coffee and be a part of a community. And I knew I had beliefs about how coffee should be made but had no interest in running a business. So, when life started to take unexpected turns, and I was given the opportunity to run my own business at the university, I had decisions to make. Among other unexpected challenges, I’d have to do a lot of the business side of things in order to get to make coffee the way I wanted. But when a friend joined forces and helped handle the business side—leaving me to focus on coffee—I decided I couldn’t turn down the opportunity, and Coffee Lab was born.

Immediately I knew I had to make coffee exactly how I wanted for it to work, and I knew there would be times when this mentality would seem like a poor business decision. But for me, making coffee that is elegant in its simplicity, highlighting flavor over anything else—that is the only way.

We’ve stayed true to this idea: Coffee, water, whole milk (for cappuccino and latte) and never any other ingredients. This is the only way to highlight all the beautiful flavors that coffee has to offer.

I have always struggled with authority, and certainly with people telling me how to do my job, so I take a lot of comfort in working with coffee. Coffee too struggles with authority. It rarely works to force coffee to be something it doesn’t want to be. The best espresso happens when you listen to what you’re tasting and try to bring out the identifying characteristics of a specific coffee. If you find yourself fighting to subdue flavors in a shot of espresso, you won’t be happy with the drink you end up with.

The university offers me a space to focus on the coffee, to do things in a new way (even when that way seems strange to some). A lot of really wonderful people who help make this idea possible don’t even drink coffee, but I guess they see value in somebody pursuing something with passion, and I am very grateful to everyone at the U for that.”

— Simon Zivny, barista and owner of Coffee Lab, located in the College of Pharmacy’s Skaggs Research Building

We’ll be featuring Humans of the U and sharing their stories throughout the year with the university community. If you know someone with a compelling story, let us know at ThisWeek@utah.edu.