Stephanie Lorenz, Coffee Buyer & Barista at Blue Sparrow Coffee. The Strava Interview.
Stephanie Lorenz works at Blue Sparrow Coffee (one of our original wholesale partners) in Denver, CO. We’ve been working closely with Steph over the past couple of years as she’s moved into the role of coffee buying. Originally from Wisconsin, she has a truly inspirational and incredible life story. From struggles of addiction to conquering the Pacific Crest Trail on a solo hike, she’s full of positivity and wisdom. So without further ado, we introduce Stephanie Lorenz.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Photos have been provided by Steph herself!Steph - thanks for taking the time to hop on a call this afternoon!
Thanks for giving me a call! I’m actually just wrapping up breakfast (it’s 1:30pm). This whole quarantine/social distancing thing is throwing my perception of time off a bit.
No worries! I totally feel ya. So how long have you been living in Denver?
I moved here in October of 2017 - so about two and a half years.
What compelled you to move to Denver?
Wow - that’s a great question, and it’s also kind of a loaded one. I’m a recovering alcoholic and have been in recovery since September, 2015. I was sober but was relapsing and noticed the lifestyle in Wisconsin (where I’m from) surrounds drinking. I have a family friend here in Denver and came to visit her in 2016. So I rented a car and drove to Colorado on a solo adventure and now here I am!
What was your life like back in Wisconsin?
I went to college at UW-Milwaukee and lived in Milwaukee for nearly eight years. I worked at the college coffee shop and received my degree in journalism but didn’t end up pursuing it. I was super obsessed with sports and worked in professional baseball. Sports and alcohol were my lifestyle. Since I moved to Colorado I slowly stopped paying attention to sports. It’s been pretty liberating.
Is your family still back in Wisconsin?
So my mom passed away in 2018...I was on the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) during that time. Prior to the PCT, my mom and dad came out to Denver for thanksgiving 2017 - a family friend lives a few blocks away from me and we all got to celebrate together.
I’m really sorry...We don’t have to talk about that if you don’t want to.
I don’t mind talking about it - It’s super healing for me. I lost a friend when he and I were 21. Essentially he was murdered after a bar altercation - so I’ve dealt with death at a younger age. Back then I was very addicted to alcohol and later diagnosed with pancreatitis. If I continued on that path I don’t think I’d be here today.
I went to the PCT to seek healing with everything I’ve been through. I was 186 miles away from finishing the trail when I received a message on my gps device that my mom wasn’t going to make it...I had a gut feeling and was unsure of my mom’s destiny. I thought we had more time. But it happened and my life was flipped upside down for several months after.
My mom struggled with alcoholism as well throughout my childhood. When I got sick my mom sat on my hospital bed and had a heart-to-heart with me. From one recovering alcoholic to me who was about to begin a journey...hearing that support from her gave me all the motivation in the world. We had three sober years together and they were the most beautiful. I am beyond grateful and I cherish those sober years with my Mom.
The Pacific Crest Trail sounds like a pivotal moment in your life. Tell me about your decision to pursue the PCT.
It was pretty wild...I was living in Madison, WI and was on Tinder (a dating app). I swiped right on a guy and who said he was from Boulder, CO but was back in Wisconsin. He had just finished the PCT and told me about it. I had no idea it existed. At this point I was sober and in recovery - I was doing a bunch of trail running and that was really my only form of therapy at the time.
I’m sure you’ve had this at some point in your life...my heart was being tugged. I couldn’t rationalize it. My family and friends were questioning me...I didn’t care and I just wanted to go.
Wow! So you literally just went ahead and decided then and there that you were going to conquer the PCT.
Don’t think twice - just go ahead and do it! Honestly that’s the best advice that I would give to anyone! I did a year of prep and research, but you just gotta go and see for yourself.
How long were you out there?
The PCT is 2,650 miles spanning from Mexico to Canada. It goes through California, Oregon and Washington. I was out there for 5.5 months - just straight-up-backpacking and walking. You do a lot of walking.
Was it all blue skies and beautiful fields of wildflowers?
Hahaha of course not! The journey was all incredible highs and lows. You’re walking every day for 5.5 months. You’re stripped so raw. You get to the core of yourself.
I certainly had some terrible days - the one thing they say is that long distance hiking is 70% mental. I definitely agree with that statement. You’re out there alone. Sure, you meet hundreds of other hikers out there. But essentially you’re alone, and stuck with your thoughts and things surface without you wanting them to.
You also meet the most beautiful people in their most authentic, raw nature. You’re out there in dirty clothes, not having showered. You smell bad. You look bad. There’s minimal distractions. It’s really the best way to get to know someone haha.
Damn, you’re making me want to go backpacking. You should write a book!
I am writing a book! Denver has an awesome writer’s community called Lighthouse Writers Workshop. Because of my mom’s passing I had to finish the PCT short, so I went back last August (2019) and hiked the remaining miles. When I came back to Denver I started taking writing classes because I knew I wanted to write a book. It’ll be a long process but worth it.
So this overlaps with your journalism degree.
Yeah I couldn’t be more stoked. I just have this calling to write. I’ve always wanted to write and be an author. In your 20s you’re always learning and experiencing constant lessons. I regretted not applying myself to writing then and I felt it was pretty competitive and that I wasn’t good enough. The PCT instilled the confidence in me - fuck it I can do anything!
So I know you by virtue of us working in coffee. Why coffee?
In high school my mom drank coffee. She’s the only one in our family and always made it in the morning. She would give me leftovers and I would take a cup to school. I just have a niche for being friendly to people and customer service is natural. I love interacting with people.
My friend Alex put me in touch with Jeff, owner of Blue Sparrow, a coffee shop in Denver, CO. I was going to apply to a coffee shop anyway and the rest is history! I don’t drink alcohol anymore and there’s something about a warm cup of coffee in my hand that brings me comfort.
You might not know this but I’ve introduced Strava to so many people. It brings me great joy when someone can not only have a delicious coffee in their hands, but that it’s made with love and it serves so many people along the way.
I love everything that coffee represents - every piece of it. Whereas with alcohol you’re just getting people hammered. Just letting people drown in their sorrow. At least that’s the way I look at it. This way I feel like I’m bringing joy to people. How cool is it that I can serve a community of people in such a special way.
As you know I got into the coffee buying at Blue Sparrow - I’m just stoked to learn more. I want to evolve. Coffee and the people in Denver bring me so much joy.
Well we’re stoked to be able to work with you and the rest of the Blue Sparrow crew! Thanks for taking the time to chat - your story is truly incredible.
Of course! We hope to reopen soon - all of us are eager to get back at serving our community. Thanks for reaching out!