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Taryn Murphy reviewed Cafe Lola lattes for her Instagram account, Coffee Quester. Courtesy Taryn Murphy

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.”