Liz Chrisman is cool from afar, but even cooler in person. And when you don’t find her in class, photographing all the events on campus, working with Marketing and Communications or backpacking in Europe, she’s roasting coffee at The Garage Arcade in downtown Russellville.
Traveling has always been a favorite of Liz’s, as has coffee. From a young age, Liz knew that she enjoyed the smell of coffee, and took it strong and black. The two intertwined once she noticed she was seeking out coffee everywhere she went.
“I kind of starting using coffee as a passport,” Liz said. It’s a pit stop for Liz. Small coffee shops became what she wanted to seek out rather than popular chains, which tend to get their coffee from an anonymous source. She grew more and more intrigued with the concept of shops that roast their own coffee.
Visiting smaller coffee shops led her to meet Adam Moore of Red Light Roastery in Hot Springs. Liz described that Moore is “very into the art of coffee roasting and also the science of it…which is exactly what it is. Which is exactly what photography is. I feel like the two really translate.”
Once her friend Emily Young, who is now the owner of The Garage Arcade, let her know she was thinking of buying Penny University, the old coffee roastery downtown, Liz knew she wanted to jump on board. She didn’t know how, or what she wanted to do, but she knew she wanted to help. Then the idea of continuing to roast coffee came up, and she thought to herself, “If she wants me to do it, I’m going to do it.”
Once Young asked who would roast coffee, Liz didn’t miss a beat. She contacted Moore to become her mentor throughout the process. Liz felt compelled to roast coffee when she saw a need for it in the River Valley area. “People here… deserve to experience that (of coffee).. And can gain an experience from that, you know what I mean? And feel like they’re a little more educated, in a way.”
While learning about the process of roasting coffee, she realized that the art of photography and coffee aren’t all that different. It was a realization that she could “get into a routine of ‘I know this will make this happen, if I do these things’ but there’s also the art of you do it to your own eye, right? I mean you take pictures in a certain way that’s to your own aesthetic. It’s the same way with coffee. I roast to my taste.”
When it comes to coffee, Liz is very in tune with the process. She speaks of it as if her soul is connected to it. She gets to come into the roasting area, and move through the process, and shut out everything else. Liz gets in her zone. “At the end of the day, it’s a lot like photography. It’s all about customer service. It’s about providing a product to someone that makes them happy. Because, coffee makes people happy,” Liz said.
Overall, Liz has learned that you can’t make everyone happy. Compromising what she wants to what the client wants is a big thing. But Liz has experimented and catered to clients as she’s gone, and has not stopped learning throughout the entire process. Learning is big for Liz, as she values her education and the idea that she never wants to stop learning. It shows. Her knowledge while explaining the process of coffee roasting can be overwhelming and simultaneously fascinating. Although Liz takes on many different shoes, she is dedicated to each one she fills and works hard, no matter what.