BLK City Coffee Roasters in Chino, CA

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Find them online and buy their coffee at blkcitycoffee.com!

Instagram: @blkcitycoffee

Setting the Scene

Meg Le Vu drinks a lot of coffee. She operates a wedding photography business with her partner, Kevin; it’s a full-time job. In that role, she wears many hats: scheduler, manager, podcaster, photographer.

She started roasting her own coffee on his suggestion. Maybe, he asked her, it would be more cost-effective to roast it herself?

So Meg, ever the trier, got a Hottop. And she found that, even more than drinking coffee, she liked roasting it. Her partner saw potential too. He wanted to know if this might be their move away from their day jobs in the wedding photography circuit.

The Hottop was the perfect beginner’s machine. To Meg, it said, “hey, look: you can start small, and maybe you can become bigger.” She was intrigued by that idea; she wanted to see how far she could go.

But as she got started, she found herself testing out the waters alone. While there was an odd blog or two online, largely she found a void in home-roasting content to learn from. And so she felt she had to do it alone.

BLK City Coffee Roasters wasn’t intended as a content-heavy project. She started documenting her roasting only as a marketing tactic, using the videos to interest other coffee lovers as well as answer her own questions. Since she’d found so few resources online, she decided to create what was missing: she would fill that digital void and help others just starting out.

Making videos came easily to her. She’d gleaned a lot from co-running the photography business. She knew how to work with cameras and recording technology. She knew how to build a recognizable brand and entice customers. From her podcasting period, she could project an at-ease and inviting persona on-camera. Everything came together for her channel to thrive. And best of all, she liked the intersection of making videos and making coffee.

“I fell in love with the art and the science ” she says, “and that coincided with the content creation.”

Even more than a way to sell her coffee, Meg saw the videos as a way to connect with the home-roasting community. Nothing she does is secret; she keeps a public, running list of every piece of equipment she uses, complete with addresses, prices, and links.

Her own roasting grew as her YouTube channel did. When she grew out of the Hottop, she opted for a 1 kilogram, a decision she explains in the Q&A video titled “How Did You Justify Your $8000 Coffee Roaster Purchase?” and documents through the “Upgrading Our Roaster” series.

The 1 kilogram has alleviated a lot of the time limitations that came with using a sample roaster, and has also given Meg more time to focus on the interconnection between her own roasting and her support of the home-roasting community. She’s made a lot of connections with people seeking out exactly what she sought out when she started.

The BLK City Coffee Roasters Channel

As of now, her YouTube channel has over a million views. She posts a huge variety of content, all tailored for the home-roasting community. Meg gets many direct messages from other home-roasters who’ve just started out, and many of those questions are answered and expanded into ten- or twenty-minute videos. In Meg’s experience, many beginner roasters have the same questions; the ones who ask them are just the voice of a larger crowd.

The questions cover a myriad of topics, such as “What causes baked flavors?” or “Is sour/acidity the same thing?”, and they all speak to the spectrum of challenges that a beginning or intermediate hobby roaster might encounter.

Meg’s philosophy about questions guides her work. Her content is all anecdotal, coming from her own experience on the 1 kilogram and, before that, her Hottop. She believes knowledge that isn’t shared is a wasted opportunity. It’s the sharing of answers that makes knowledge active and tangible, and what gives Meg such a fulfilling role in the hobby roasting community.

Sometimes, she’ll get questions that she has no answer for. And her response is always the same: let’s figure it out. Let’s try it. “Maybe the content will help us learn,” she says. Putting together a recorded answer helps her reason through questions and come out a stronger roaster.

Other videos cover topics like cupping process, roast walkthroughs, labeling, pricing, shipping, or choosing a roaster.

While she opts to include ads in her videos, she says it’s more for reach than anything, since YouTube algorithms are often finicky about showing unsponsored videos to subscribers. Otherwise, the BLK City Coffee Roaster channel is purely run on passion. And now that Meg has decided against expanding her roasting practice into a professional venture, the content is the main focus of the hobby.

This outcome is one she didn’t expect, and one she recently committed to. As her business has grown, so has the time commitment. And Meg, who still co-runs the wedding photography business, is already balancing a whole stack of hats.

Last year, her birthday gift was a three-day private training course with Klatch coffee roasters in Ontario, California. She learned a lot while she was there, like how to parse out the small differences between roasts, and how to tap into the power of cupping. “To be a good roaster is to be a good cupper,” she says. “you have to actually taste what you’re doing.”

While she was there, she saw one possible reality of a professional roaster’s career. Klatch has seven locations in California; their roastery is also a training lab. She saw how things might pan out if she chose to pursue coffee full-time.

“That question came up,” she says. “ I want a café?”

To answer that question, she had to do more than experiment with sample greens on camera. She had to consider where her energy was best spent, and consider if she wanted to rebuild what she and Kevin had already built with Kevin Le Vu Photography. It took nine years for that business to become sufficient enough that they could have free time again. Would she do that long grind again?

A few months ago—about half a year after the Klatch course—she realized that the answer was no. She did not want a café; it wasn’t the right time to go all-in on coffee yet. Their joint photography business was their priority, and realizing that helped Meg home in on the heart of BLK City Coffee Roasters, which was unexpected but felt right: not the coffee itself, but the educational content.

Keeping the Momentum

While the content wasn’t the reason she started, it’s now the reason she continues. She still roasts two or three times a week, and her coffee is still for sale on BLK City’s website. But the bulk of her time is spent making videos to answer questions from YouTube comments and Instagram direct messages. “BLK City is a product of my interest and love for the community,” she says. By focusing on the content, she is no longer straining so much to balance two from-scratch businesses, and she has more freedom to invest in the side of coffee that calls most to her.

Now, BLK City Coffee Roasters caters mostly towards roasters looking for anecdotal and ground-level advice about their own startups. Her customers are split; some are roasters, some family and friends, and a small percentage have wandered into her online store from Instagram or elsewhere.

After deciding against scaling, Meg found herself feeling differently towards BLK City Coffee Roasters. “I don’t have that pressure anymore,” she says. “I’m sure many people would love to just roast for fun. When you have to make a product, something gets compromised.” Without that pressure, she can use her knowledge to help others build their own dream roasteries, keep her family and friends in locally roasted, quality coffee, and still have the security of an established family business.

Meg uses her own roasting time to demonstrate, experiment, and sample roast the occasional new green. And she can roast what she likes without spending much time catering to a specific market. Most recently, she’s put out Pioneer, a fruity and crisp light roast high in acidity and sweet and long in the finish. In the name of transparency, the product page includes the RoastPATH profile, so any curious customers can see exactly how she made it.

Bring BLK City Coffee Home

Pioneer, and all her other roasts, are available on the BLK City Coffee Roasters website. You can check out her YouTube channel here, drop a burning question in her Instagram inbox, or keep updated on her Facebook.

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