Get Your Caffeine Fix From DC’s New Women-Owned Coffee Business

Rako offers free delivery of sustainable, locally roasted, single-origin coffees.

Melissa and Lisa Gerben. Photograph courtesy of Rako Coffee Roasters.

Lisa and Melissa Gerben were on the verge of launching their specialty coffee business—including two DC cafes—when Covid-19 hit. The health crisis changed the sisters’ plans, but like many other small business owners, the sisters pivoted. Rako Coffee Roasters, a collection of sustainably sourced, locally roasted, single-origin coffees, launched last week as an online marketplace with free shipping in the DC area.

Melissa, a certified specialty coffee roaster with a background in international trade, says the seed for Rako planted when she and Lisa went to Guatemala as teenagers and visited a coffee farm. The two have since traveled to Ethiopia, Burundi, and beyond, creating relationships with coffee farmers, many of whom they directly import from.

Part of what sets the company apart is the production process, done at a high-tech facility in Lorton, Virginia. Gerben uses environmentally friendly Loring equipment to roast beans and experiments with different ways of making batches that mirror how home drinkers might experience the flavors. Each product comes with a detailed brew guide for a spectrum of equipment, whether you’re making coffee on a common drip machine, getting fancier with a French press, or going next-level with pour-overs like Chemex or Hario.

“With people staying at home, we wanted to give them the ability to deep-dive into the coffee. You can really pull out flavors in different ways when you’re brewing,” says Gerben.

The Gerbens say they still want to start pop-ups around the city whenever it’s safe to do so, and they eventually hope to open brick-and-mortar spaces. In the meantime, they’re doing their part for the local industry by donating 10 percent of every coffee sale to Erik Bruner-Yang’s Power of 10 initiative, which provides employment to hospitality workers and meals for first responders and those in need.

Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.