Engineer by Day, Roaster by Night: Liam & Ian Coffee Roasters

Food: Interviews & Features

Wilfredo Alonso is a man who wears many hats—father, engineer, husband and coffee roaster, this Puerto Rican American is now the proud business owner of Liam & Ian Coffee Roasters. Named after Alonso’s two sons, both avid coffee lovers, Liam & Ian Coffee Roasters is still relatively new. What began as a hobby became an online business and can now be found at local farmers and holiday markets. How did this full-time engineer find interest in starting a coffee roasting business? Where did this love for coffee begin?

Alonso started drinking coffee at about seven. “I remember sitting with my cousin, Justin, in front of a TV with a cup of coffee with milk and a piece of bread with butter. That was the afternoon snack,” he says. As he got older, coffee became Alonso’s drink of choice—especially during his university studies for civil engineering—but always with milk and sugar. One day someone challenged his approach toward coffee, saying, “If you have to put sugar in your coffee, it’s not good coffee.” With an inquisitive mind, Alonso decided to test that theory for himself.

Alonso’s coffee roasters philosophy is all about balance—finding that space between bitter and sweet, surprising and familiar.
Photo: Kevin Edwards

On an experimental visit to a local coffee shop, Alonso’s world was changed: “They gave me an Ethiopian coffee, and, oh man, that blew my mind. I was like, ‘How is this possible?! This coffee—with no flavors and no sugar—tastes like blueberry!’” Once Alonso got up the courage to try roasting on his own, he found that a background in engineering was the perfect foundation for learning about the roasting process. As an engineer, he says, “I understand about gradients, temperature gradients, materials … So the first time I saw a roasting profile graph … I knew right away what I was seeing.”

Alonso dove headfirst into the science of coffee roasting. “I started roasting using a popcorn popper which I tweaked to control the heat and airflow,” he says, until he was able to buy an industrial roaster. With grid paper and a pencil, he handwrote his own roasting profile and rate-of-rise graphs, making notes on which flavors and processes worked and which didn’t. “I got into it and I got better and better, and I learned from my mistakes,” he says.

“One day someone challenged his approach toward coffee, saying, “If you have to put sugar in your coffee, it’s not good coffee.” With an inquisitive mind, Alonso decided to test that theory for himself.”

He aims for a medium roast, asking himself, “Is this a coffee I can drink every day?” Carefully testing each batch of coffee “as the customer will drink it,” Alonso experiments with all brewing methods, such as V60, Moka pot, drip, French press and AeroPress.

For Alonso, Salt Lake is home, and as a business owner, it has its perks too: “People love to support local businesses here; they’re really loyal when it comes to local businesses,” he says. Selling at the Herriman Farmers Market, Alonso loves the opportunity to engage with his customers and form relationships with them. “I have so many customers that come every Monday to get one or two bags—every Monday,” he says. “When I see them coming, I know what they want.”

Alonso roasts and bags all his coffee on his own, sometimes aided by his sons Liam and Ian, working out of a kitchen space rented from West Jordan’s Puerto Rican restaurant Papito Moe’s. Right now, Liam & Ian Coffee Roasters is selling a Guatemala single-origin and a Central American Blend of Guatemalan and Nicaraguan coffees. Alonso also has a Holiday Blend in the works—a medium-roasted combination of coffees from Papua New Guinea, Brazil and Ethiopia.

You can keep up with Liam & Ian Coffee Roasters on Instagram @liam__and_ian_coffee_roasters and Facebook. They will be selling at upcoming holiday markets, and their coffee can always be found at Papito Moe’s Puerto Rican restaurant.