Interview with Michael Acosta ’13

I had the privilege of interviewing Michael Acosta ’13, who is a co-owner of Story and Soil, Hartford’s newest coffee shop. In addition to coffee, we had the chance to discuss his time at Trinity, his favorite thing to order, and the wonderful city of Hartford. 

When did you graduate from Trinity? What did you study, and what was your experience there like?

I graduated Trinity College in 2013 with a Bachelors of Science in Neuroscience and a minor in Philosophy. By design most of my classes were multidisciplinary since I love the intersections of neuroscience and analytic and existential philosophy. I found my niche at Trinity very early on in the Underground coffeehouse, where I would eventually be manager as a Graduate Assistant, and Cleo of Alpha where I’m currently alumni treasurer. I loved my professors and always kept a busy and diverse class load. Being part of multiple groups on campus meant that many more people to discuss life and current events with.

Story and Soil just opened, and you’re a co-owner—what was the process like, of conceiving of this idea and then bringing it to life?

Before Story and Soil Coffee I started another coffee project called N2 Coffee. N2 Coffee was a way for me to introduce local Connecticut specialty coffee in an approachable and fun way. Mobile nitro cold brew was certainly a great way to start the conversation about interesting coffees and the awesome people behind them. I ran N2 Coffee part-time while also studying at Trinity College and then working as a research technician at a biomedical company in Hartford.

Story and Soil Coffee came about when Sarah and Michael McCoy approached me about starting a coffee business in Hartford back in October 2016. In preparation for launching and finding funding for Story and Soil I joined the Social Enterprise Incubator at reSET in Hartford. I had a specific idea of what kind of coffee, service and hospitality program I wanted, but the three of us had to conceptually and at many points literally build the physical space from the ground up. The shop is located in a 128 year old historic building and needed an incredible amount of structural work.

Most of our time was spent finding funding and building a strong business plan. The actual build-out took about four months from floor boards and studs, to final design and equipment. It was important to test our branding and model within our Hartford community and so we participated in a number of events during the build-out, including the first KNOW GOOD Market of the 2017 season, which is run by fellow alumnus Jeffrey Devereux.

What’s the story behind the name ‘Story and Soil’?

The name was directly inspired by the Bright Eyes album titled Lifted or The Story is in the Soil, Keep your Ear to the Ground. My partners and I also had multiple inspirations for the name during our endless discussions since it quietly spoke to our emphasis on the origin of coffee, the terroir and agricultural component of specialty coffee, as well as the beauty of the communities that coffee shops find themselves in, and the stories and common ground they stimulate.

Why did you choose Hartford as its’ location?

As a foodie and through N2 Coffee I met many of the creatives, restaurateurs, farmers, organizers, and passionate Hartford residents that make our Capital city beat and whom are leading the movement to revitalize Hartford. This community and economic and cultural outlook made Hartford a great city to set up shop. This vibrancy and enterprising spirit has also been through out the specialty coffee community in Connecticut over the past 5 years. A number of shops run by young and passionate entrepreneurs have popped up and made a real imprint in the coffee industry and their communities. Hartford and Frog Hollow in particular needed a quality driven community shop that was committed to providing an inclusive and fun space.

And since opening, how has Hartford taken to Story and Soil?

So far Hartford has embraced Story and Soil with grace, curiosity and open arms. Our guests include city workers, local business owners, residents, students, and friends. There is certainly more excitement than confusion on any given day (albeit we are on our fourth day of soft opening). We get more questions about our flights and cocktail inspired coffee drinks than our business model, and our guests are definitely getting savvy to the tasting portions of our coffee menu. Guests have loved our vinyl record selection.

How did your time at Trinity help bring you to where you are today?

Even while taking a number of labs a semester, Trinity made it easy to include exciting classes that provided respite, stimulation and perspective. Professors at Trinity reward critical thought, and breadth of knowledge and interests, allowing for deep dives into a variety of subjects throughout your four years of study. While building my potential career in biotechnology, I never felt shy about continuing to pursue my passion in coffee. I traveled to Colombia, attended conferences and built a rapport in the coffee community that helped me launch N2 Coffee, and eventually Story and Soil Coffee.

Finally: what’s your favorite coffee and food order? Any recommendations for Story and Soil first-timers?

I would begin with an espresso float, and then order a flight of the seasonal espresso and pour over, pairing it with the avocado toast (smashed avocado, roasted garlic, salt and pepper). A glass of hibiscus ginger kombucha or mineral water would be a great finisher.

Guests should feel welcomed to explore our menu or order their regular drink. We promise to have something for everyone, and strive to welcome you into our shop with warmth and gratitude.

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