Ithaca, N.Y. — Copper Horse Coffee, a new roaster that opened in Ithaca this fall, won an award for “America’s best espresso” during Coffee Fest in Atlanta, Ga., on Sunday.

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“It’s pretty awesome,” says Jesse Harriott, owner of Copper Horse Coffee.

“I was hoping to do well, but I did not expect to win … Everybody was laughing at me because I showed no emotion after we won because I was in shock.”

Harriott, 36, has been working with coffee for about a decade, starting in his graduate school days in Louisville, Ky. At a previous competition, Harriott won America’s best espresso with Kentucky’s Sunergos Coffee.


But Harriott, a Freeville native and graduate of the Dryden school district, decided he wanted to move back to Ithaca and launch a coffee roaster in his hometown.

“Honestly, we missed our friends and family a lot,” says Harriott of himself and his wife. (The couple has three children.) “I just wanted to find a way to come back home to Ithaca and provide for my family.”

Copper Horse Coffee would launch in September 2014 off of Route 79, a few minutes southeast of the city.

Starting with just a few accounts, the roaster has now expanded to many accounts, both regional and local — including GreenStar, the Piggery, Carriage House and Rulloff’s Bar and Restaurant.

(Full disclosure: Copper Horse Coffee and the Ithaca Voice are both members of Rev Startup Works in downtown Ithaca.)

“If you make coffee where there’s already lots of good coffee, you have to step your game up,” says Caleb Scott, who co-owns Copper Horse Coffee with Harriott and Kristian Woodall. (Harriott is the only full-time employee.)

“It’s pretty exciting … It’s the American dream; it’s the underdog story.”

Harriott stressed that even as an upstart roaster he has “complete respect” for Gimme! and Ithaca Coffee Company.

“I really respect what they do and am in no way trying to oversaturate the market,” he says. “I’m not just trying to be another roaster wholesaling all my coffee in Ithaca … I know that there’s already great coffee here.”

Instead, Harriott says he’s looking at staying small but sustainable, at selling enough to hire a few people to serve a niche market but not trying to “franchise this and put roasters in every major city.”

“It’s more like, let’s provide a living and let’s provide space … and let’s grow to a sustainable level,” he says.

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From left to right, Gianni Cassantini from Nuova Simonelli Espresso Machines; John Letoto of Greenway Coffee; and Harriott of Ithaca’s Copper Horse Coffee. (Provided pic)

Busy with both Copper Horse Coffee and with coordinating a different coffee competition, Harriott says he relied on a friend in Houston, Texas, named John Letoto of Greenway Coffee for the Atlanta competition.

“For the last seven weeks we were sending coffee back and forth across the country,” Harriott says. “I would send a roast to Houston; he would pull the shots, give me some feedback and I’d do another roast.”

Then came the big competition, and Harriott flew down to Atlanta for the event.

Reached Monday morning, Harriott was trying to figure out a way to get back home amid the snowstorm.

“If I get stuck in Philly, I might just rent a car,” he says. “I’m trying to get back to Ithaca.”

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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.