Verso L’alto Coffee Roasters in Santa Barbara, CA

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

Instagram: @versolaltocoffeeroasters

Verso L’alto (to the heights, in Italian) takes its name from the motto of a prolific Italian mountaineer, Giorgio Frassati, who was a Catholic activist known to be a pillar of community and a quiet champion for underserved populations in Italy. For Samantha Flanders, the motto serves both as a call to her outdoorsy customers and a challenge to her entrepreneurial spirit.

She roasts in a space she affectionately calls the “speakeasy:” a renovated three-car garage shared by fourteen other young adults in a community-living, converted convent in Santa Barbara, California.

Setting the Scene

Samantha Flanders attended Thomas Aquinas college in Ventura County, California in pursuit of a nursing career. While she was there, she studied under a professor who homeroasted: she and other students would attend his cuppings regularly.

Samantha came from a coffee-minded family, but she’d only ever seen it from the customer-side. The cuppings showed her a different side of the drink, and she was intrigued by coffee roasting as a hobby. She’s a hobbyist herself, with special interests in beekeeping and pottery.

Her pivot from nursing to coffee solidified after a year in New Zealand, when she lived down the street from a coffee roaster and could smell the roasting every day. The other kicker: she tasted Yirgacheffe coffee for the first time. “I’d never had a coffee I couldn’t live without before,” she says.

Returning to the US from New Zealand, she took up roasting, initially only to re-create the quality she’d experienced abroad.

The Way Up

She started roasting on a popcorn popper. In that period, she lived in Campbell, California with her sister Hannah, who would eventually join her in creating Verso L’alto. Extra coffee was gifted to family and friends. Soon, people were asking if they could buy more.

At first, the answer was no. Roasting in such small volumes was incredibly time-consuming, and she had a full time job that she couldn’t give up. When a friend offered to buy her a Behmor coffee roaster, she saw the support her network would give her if she decided to launch a business.

Another friend, an entrepreneur, sat down with Samantha and helped her figure out the logistics of entrepreneurship. By the end of the conversation, she was sold. Instead of attending nursing school, she’d invest in herself.

In October of 2020, she ordered her 2 kilogram roaster. Prior to delivery, she apprenticed with Eddie Assin of Soul Grind in Pacifica, California.

“He knew I wanted so badly to learn and be involved,” She says. Working with him showed her how interconnected the roasting community is.

Her roaster arrived in December and she got down to business.

When she moved to Santa Barbara the following year, she installed the 2 kilogram in “the speakeasy”, a three-car garage shared by her community living building residence.

Despite the challenges of moving and installing the machine, she made it work. The roaster and packaging/shipping station take up a third of the shared space. The other one-third is a remote work office, and the far end boasts a bar.

Now, the weight of Verso L’alto is carried by both Samantha and her sister Hannah. Samantha is the roaster and the business manager; Hannah focuses on communications as well as building the recognizable aesthetic of the brand.

They cater to customers with shared interests in the outdoors and family. “You can’t be everything to everyone,” she says, and has focused her marketing and web efforts to cater towards hikers and other nature-loving lifestyle types.

The Verso L’Alto Menu

Verso L’Alto always has three core products: a Misty Valley Yirgacheffe, homage to Samantha’s first specialty coffee love; a high-grown Mexico Chiapas, and the most popular, a Brazil Santos. Right now, the menu also offers a half-caff and decaf of the Mexico Chiapas; a Guatemala Maya; a Peru; and an espresso blend named after mountaineer Giorgio Frassati.

For subscribers, Samantha tries to roast and send out a new coffee every month. The subscription coffees are always in season. “I try to work with the harvest,” she says.

Greens come from InterAmerican and Royal Coffee. She also sources some through Rolling Beans, a local company introduced to her by Eddie Assin at Soul Grind.

Verso L’alto merch–camp mugs, beanies, and trucker hats–comes from Rustek in Oregon, which also caters to the same outdoor lifestyle.

Samantha is currently working to build the Speakeasy into a community center. The events that she hosts, like thanksgivings and brunch-style gatherings she calls “cinnamon roll saturdays,” which feature coffee tastings, are open to the public.

Her dream is to expand Verso L’alto into a larger gentleman’s farm. Her vision is a family friendly beer garden-like space complete with non-alcoholic options. She sees the speakeasy as her own version of the kind of space she encountered in her own travels, and the blueprint for the bigger outdoor space she wants to create in lieu of a traditional cafe.

Ideally, she’d like Verso L’alto to sell solely natural-process coffees, but for now buys a variety of greens and is focusing her efforts on increasing their volume of sales with the goal of committing full-time to her company later this year.

Bring Verso L’Alto Coffee Home

If you’re in the Santa Barbara area, you can stop in to the speakeasy for a coffee tasting on Cinnamon Roll Saturdays. Otherwise, you can order Verso L’alto coffee on their website, set up your own subscription, or follow along on Instagram.

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