Stellar Coffee Co. Manager Brews with Craft, Sustainability

By Sean Smith

SAN MARCOS, Texas. -- Madison Myrick didn’t expect to run a coffee shop this early in life; farfetched dreams usually materialize well past the age of 25.

She lived in Africa, then Montana, then worked in coffee in Austin before taking a job with the city. Needing more change, Myrick prepared to pack her things and head to Boise, Idaho to start a restaurant. Right around this time, a moody café filled with smooth jazz and mismatched furniture nestled just off The Square in downtown San Marcos came up for sale.

With Boise on the mind and investor parents with little knowledge of coffee, Myrick argued buying the business was a terrible decision. Despite her warnings, the family purchased Stellar Café but started their business new, keeping just the first half of the old establishment’s name.

Myrick, though admittedly bitter her parents, who live more than an hour north in Spicewood, rejected her advice, found the role of Stellar Coffee Co.’s general manager in her lap. She couldn’t leave her parents high and dry, especially with her knowledge of coffee and proclivity to act on visionary ideas. She nixed the Boise plan and stepped in to run Stellar’s day-to-day operations.

Less than a year later, the shop is set to expand to a new space and continues to focus on sustainable craft coffee in a town overrun by students sugary drinks with the most jitter-inducing caffeine per ounce.

Stellar Coffee Co. now sits as a beaming expanse of light wood, white walls and alt-pop thumping over the droning of keyboards and college talk. Myrick, sipping a cortado as the sounds of Sylvan Esso swirl behind her, doesn’t regret her decision to lead Stellar in this new direction.

“I hate stability and comfort and all of that, so I think it’s really fun to dream and design and get things up and running,” Myrick said. “A lot of people do like stability and comfort. One career their whole life, that’s what they want. And that sounds awful to me.”

Owning and operating a small business, what seems like the stable life Myrick so vehemently avoids, still brings a new adventure each day, like crafting seasonal drinks every few weeks, meeting new customers or planning for April’s expansion to the new space. Myrick has one stable mission through all her work: providing a sustainable, accessible craft coffee experience.

Sustainable coffee from farm to cup

Myrick’s been driven by sustainability since she lived as a missionary in Uganda. She quickly learned the Western view of families abroad often doesn’t align with reality, a perception Myrick said stems from the white savior complex of mission trips and donations to less-developed nations.

“I saw how they're not terribly not well off in Africa,” she said. “They're fine, they think they're fine. We're the ones that think they're not fine. Who are we to tell them that they're not fine? I saw this all the time, like church groups coming over and bringing like old, used clothes to these kids, they're like, ‘Cool, I don't want you're seventh-hand-me-down shirt.’”

Rather than participate in faux-philanthropic clothing drives and out-of-touch missions abroad, Myrick stays aware of how local consumerism directly affects these populations. Taking care to source beans from well-paid farmers and having the coffee roasted by a craftsman rather than a corporation.

Craft coffee’s premium price is more than coffee and milk. The livelihoods of at least two families depend on the product.

“I don't buy beans from farmers that aren't paid well…I want to know who the farmer is that raised the beans and make sure they're paid well and taken care of,” she said. “The coffee that you're drinking, that was grown in Guatemala by a man and his wife, and, probably, their five kids help them. They're paid really well, but they're out there tending and farming. Then that green coffee bean gets sent to my friend Mike, and then Mike spends hours perfecting that roast of the beans, which then get sent here, which then my baristas spend hours perfecting.”

Craft coffee like craft beer and wine

One of the most rewarding challenges in craft coffee comes from the need to educate customers. Myrick equated the journey of discovering craft coffee to how many people are introduced to wine.

“Everyone starts out drinking Barefoot, but once you realize there's better options, you're kind of like, ‘Oh, I don’t really want to drink Barefoot,’” she said. “I think coffee culture is really similar to wine and beer culture, because it's just creating a space where we care about what we do and we want to educate the public on it and help develop their taste buds.”

Myrick said educating customers is key with these complex coffees: some coffees taste like lemon, others blueberries, others are earthy. Each step of how coffee is processed, which Myrick looks to have as much knowledge and control over as possible, affects how a coffee tastes.

“If you’re only drinking white chocolate mochas for your whole life, then you don't even realize that you might like normal lattes if you try a really good one,” Myrick said. “So then you move to just lattes and then to cortados and then you move to this. That doesn't mean that you hate white chocolate mochas now, but it's like developing your palate the same way that you do with wine or beer.”

Andrew Warren, who found his first job in coffee at Stellar and attributes his growth in coffee expertise to the environment Myrick created.

“I think San Marcos doesn’t have as much craft coffee as compared to Austin or a place that already has that establishment,” he said. “She’s bringing a different level of care and craft into San Marcos through coffee that isn’t really around here much.”

The training Myrick gave Warren, a coffee lover since childhood, opened his eyes to the complexities and nuances of coffee and allowed him to create and describe drinks to thirsty San Martians. While he always loved drinking coffee, the 21 year old found new passion in something so familiar.

“I was able to learn stuff from picking up flavor notes from the coffee to different extractions, to really getting to dive into it and see how everything worked,” Warren said.

Stephanie Villanueva, a sociology graduate student at Texas State University, visits Stellar four to five times a week. She found herself trying new drinks at the recommendation of baristas like Warren.

“I feel that it’s very convenient being close to campus so it’s a quick run,” Villanueva said. “Their staff is super friendly and always encourages me to try new things. I’m not super adventurous with coffee, but they give me good suggestions and recommendations. I used to drink the Mayan mocha, now I drink their spiced mochas with oat milk. It’s not super sweet, but it just hits the right spot.”

Between the drive for the sustainable and ethical consumption of coffee and creating a unique, safe space in San Marcos for coffee novices and connoisseurs alike, Myrick wants Stellar to distinguish itself in the saturated college-town coffee shop market.

“There’s 10 to 15 other coffee shops in a five mile radius,” Myrick said. “Why would I do the exact same thing they’re doing?”