For senior Taryn Murphy, coffee is more than a drink; it’s a lifestyle. That’s why she started the Coffee Quester, an Instagram account dedicated to helping coffee connoisseurs find the best espresso in their area.
As Murphy recalls, it all began on July 4, 2018 when she and her family were visiting Newport Beach, California.
“We went to Alta Coffee and I ordered the toffee latte and it was the best latte I’d ever had,” said Murphy, a California native. “I realized that other people needed to know where they could get a latte that was that good.”
So Murphy started doing research on how she could spread the word about her discovery. She quickly realized there wasn’t a platform specifically dedicated to reviewing coffee.
“I thought, ‘Why not start a coffee blog that tells you in detail where to find good coffee and describes the coffee well enough that you already know it’s going to be good before you shell out the money?’” Murphy said.
From there, the Coffee Quester was born.
Murphy’s account, which has more than 3,000 followers, features a bright, vibrant aesthetic and photos of coffee, coffeeshops, and Murphy herself. Her captions rank each beverage (usually a latte, but sometimes an Americano or cortado) on espresso, flavor, presentation, and vibes, and conclude with a summary of her overall impressions on the coffee and experience. The account may look effortless, but Murphy says there’s far more to being an Instagram “influencer” than meets the eye.
“This summer, I threw myself into putting in all the energy it takes to grow an account and it was exhausting,” she said. “I spent eight to nine hours a day on it. I made it my full-time job.”
Much of Murphy’s work involves understanding and harnessing Instagram’s algorithm to make sure her account makes the biggest impact possible. That means drafting posts for the week, uploading daily Instagram stories, interacting with followers, and reaching out to other coffee accounts.
“Social media takes way longer than people think,” Murphy said. “I have a lot more respect for influencers of all kinds. It seems like a shallow dream and a flimsy, unrealistic job, but it’s a business and it takes a lot of dedication. You could never stop working at it.”
Of course, there’s also the “questing” part of the account.
“Sometimes I would drink three lattes in one day if I was in an area where I knew there were three good coffee shops and I wanted to get content from all three of them,” Murphy explained.
Isabella Redjai, a senior and fellow Californian, witnessed Murphy in action when she joined her on a questing escapade one summer.
“Taryn always caught a fun angle with her camera, took time to distinguish the nuances of the flavor of coffee, and gave a thoughtful review to each cup,” Redjai said, recalling the quirky coffee shops they visited in Orange County.
Murphy estimates she’s reviewed more than 100 coffeehouses — she’s even gone international, offering her thoughts on a cup of joe while in Israel. But one of her favorite establishments is one Hillsdale residents know well.
“One of the best coffee shops I’ve been to — it’s in the top five — is Rough Draft,” she said. “Their syrups are house-made, which is super important.”
That means a lot to someone like Kate Swope, a Hillsdale senior and Rough Draft barista.
“What Taryn is doing is shedding a light on really good, well-made coffee, not just Starbucks or Biggby or Dunkin’ Donuts,” Swope said. “She’s showing people all over the country that they have access to places that care about the quality of your drink. As a barista and somebody who really cares about coffee, I appreciate that somebody is taking the time to give credit to good coffee.”
This summer, the COVID-19 pandemic presented a unique challenge to Murphy’s coffee questing. With coffeeshops limited to grab-and-go service, Murphy couldn’t take pictures of shop interiors, or give ratings on beverage presentation as shops were only serving drinks in disposable cups. But it also presented some unexpected blessings.
“I found that people were more willing to talk because there was less business, so I was able to form a lot more connections with the owners of coffeeshops and hear more about their backstories,” Murphy said. “I also noticed that coffee shops were more willing to go above and beyond because they wanted their customers to have a good experience.”
According to Murphy, another unexpected blessing has been the online coffee community she has come to know through her account.
“I never thought I would make friends with other coffee influencers, but I totally have,” Murphy said. “I’ve actually FaceTimed with another coffee influencer just because we loved each other’s accounts so much. Now we interact as friends and DM each other and update each other on our lives.”
In fact, it was through this fellow coffee influencer that Murphy made her most exciting connection yet: actor Hugh Jackman.
“Hugh Jackman, unbeknownst to a lot of people, has his own coffee company and he also has two cafes,” Murphy said. “He’s been featuring different coffee blogs on his Instagram and so I reached out to him and I asked if he’d be willing to feature mine. I figured he’d never see the message so I forgot about it. And then one morning I woke up to a mention of my coffee blog on Hugh Jackman’s Instagram story. He offered to send me some packages of his coffee called Laughing Man Coffee and I’ve been drinking that at school.”
The experience taught Murphy a valuable life lesson.
“I’ve learned how to be bold about reaching out to influential companies and brands,” she said. “I used to be really intimidated thinking, ‘Wow, I can’t just email them out of the blue and ask to partner with them.’ But it turns out you can, and if you’re smart about the way you present your skills, they’re usually happy to connect with someone who can expand their advertising.”
Murphy is less active on her account during the school year, putting coffee “on the back burner” to focus on academics. But even during the semester, Murphy says she’s busy brainstorming a long-term plan for her coffee passion. She hopes that what started out as a hobby will lead to a career of brand consulting or social media marketing for coffee companies. Murphy’s other dream is to host a coffee travel show that spotlights unique lattes throughout the United States and beyond.
“The ultimate goal is to build a set of skills in the coffee industry where I am educated enough to use my coffee knowledge for all kinds of different things, whether that’s marketing, pursuing a TV show, or being a consultant for coffee shops on interior design or branding,” Murphy said.
Regardless of how her love for coffee manifests itself in the future, however, Murphy says the primary goal of her Instagram account is to build community.
“I really want people to be able to find coffee they love, which is why I started the account and is still the reason I run it,” she said. “Having seen how much coffee brings people together, it brings me so much joy to help people find their next best sip.”