When Roy Baker left Oklahoma State University in 1995, he never imagined his life was destined to be a mountain of beans.
Long before he and his wife and business partner Maura started roasting coffee and cocoa, the couple raised four boys, lived between Tulsa and Houston, and enlisted in the Army National Guard.
It was in a tent in Kabul that the first seeds of Zero Tolerance Coffee and Chocolate were sown. And those seeds have become an old-fashioned cafe at 913 W Britton Rd. in Old Britton that’s backed by artisan coffee, roasted and ground on-site, and artisan confections made with cocoa roasted, tempered, ground and packaged in the chocolate factory in the back.
‘Zero tolerance’ comes from coffee and chocolate ban
Scout energy abounds in Bakers. Listening to them speak gives the impression that a common appreciation of the preparation has welded their hearts. Historical research came easily and handily.
Zero Tolerance takes its name from the cafe ban of 1675, which was issued by King Charles II. The ban on the sale of coffee, tea and chocolate in cafes was adopted on December 29, 1675.
“It lasted 11 days,” Maura said. “The ban was an attempt to suppress free speech, but people wanted their coffee.”
It’s a story often told within the walls of Zero Tolerance because storytelling is part of the fabric of this growing micro-community.
“I love getting to know our guests, but I also love introducing them to each other,” Maura said. “The tradition of coffee is a community and getting to know its neighbors.”
Community spirit comes easily to bakers through a lifetime of military service. Roy comes from a family of Air Force men and his sons are sailors.
“My sons joined the Navy because they’re smarter than me,” he told a client. “They wanted to go to the cool places.”
Without Roy’s military service, Zero Tolerance would be Zero Dark Thirty.
Creative Coffee and Cocoa is a family business
“I started drinking coffee because of my grandmother,” Roy Baker said when asked about his origins. “I didn’t really like it myself when I was a kid, but she always drank it. I made it for her. After she left, I kept doing it because it reminded me of her. You know, l smell and all, so I ended up starting to drink it and I was like, ‘Hey, this stuff is pretty good.'”
Roy worked as an accountant and tax specialist, specializing in the oil and gas industry, while the passion for gourmet coffee percolated. Maura worked as a fitness instructor.
At first, Roy roasts the coffee beans, but Maura takes over the wheel of the roaster once it’s deployed.
“While I was in Afghanistan, Maura had to start doing most of the roasting,” he said. “She was already pretty good at it, but while I was gone she really got it.”
Roy’s coffee eventually became so popular that he had to ask for help grinding the beans.
“I had to have two guys to help me grind,” laughed Roy. “We had a queue at the door where people were waiting for coffee.”
Maura has become optimistic about roasting beans. Cacao captured his curiosity.
“I started playing around with the cocoa beans and quickly got to see all the different things you could do, and things really opened up,” she said.
Keeping Connected During COVID-19
Once back in Houston after his deployment, Roy was lured to Oklahoma City by Devon Energy. Full of confidence in 2019, the Bakers couldn’t have seen fate rush in with bad news.
First, Roy was fired from Devon just months before Zero Tolerance was scheduled to open.
“At first I was going to help out when I had time,” Roy joked. “Once I was fired, I had plenty of time to focus on this place.”
Then COVID-19 arrived just a few months after the store opened.
“We stayed open as best we could,” Maura said. “We wore masks and walked the pavement, of course, but we felt like people needed some connection. It was a scary time for everyone, and we wanted to offer some kind of comfort. People just needed their coffee.”
When not serving people, bakers were getting better at making coffee and sweets.
Maura’s ongoing dance with chocolate is on display at the cafe’s entrance along with Oreshki cookies, a nut-shaped treat filled with dulce de leche cream from Roy’s Ukrainian heritage. Foo bars are Maura’s answer to the Butterfinger, and her answer is correct. Peanut butter cups can clink Reese’s anytime, and those heart-shaped numbers will fly like Cupid’s arrows on Valentine’s Day.
Thirsty? The shop uses a Cyclops Immersion Batch Brewer to customize your cup of coffee. Need a suggestion? Poor Ken is a cold brew guaranteed to pick you up, shake you up, and send you on your way with a friendly pat on the head.
Their cocoa products include single-origin chocolate bars and artisanal confections speckled with nuts and fruits. Want to drink chocolate? Keep the chocolate hot for the winter, Zero Tolerance offers cold brew cocoa tea.
Whether sipping, munching, or both, Zero Tolerance has a comfortable place to enjoy it. Friends can meet inside or in the courtyard where local musicians play occasionally. Singles looking for a quiet quarter of an hour can sneak up to street-view seats along the front window.
A growing community of partners
The hill of beans the bakers climb each day is neatly stacked in hessian sacks inside a metal building around the corner from the cafe’s back exit.
The unmistakable aroma of coffee and cocoa fills the air inside the roastery and chocolate factory. This is where people start looking for Oompa Loompas for lounging.
Alas, no mythical creature does the dirty work at Zero Tolerance. Maura and Roy don’t have time to fantasize, they’re too busy testing, learning and executing. They share responsibilities and a common curiosity that feeds their knowledge of the processes and the various equipment that supports them.
“We had to buy a lot of used gear to start with, but we’re not afraid of that stuff,” Maura explained. “Roy is pretty good at taking things apart and putting things back together. He even makes improvements to some things.”
A conversation about cocoa beans can take you all the way to the origin story of the beans and the long journey they make before they were roasted, crushed, winnowed, ground, alcoholized, tempered and molded into candies. that would make Willy Wonka shiver.
Talking about coffee beans is no different. The conversation takes off from Ethiopia to Guatemala and spans the globe. Zero Tolerance currently offers beans from Guatemala, Costa Rica, Sumatra, Uganda, Mexico, India, Kenya, Colombia and Nicaragua.
The bakers then want to expand their community beyond Old Britton. Not with new locations, but new partners.
“We would like to do more of that,” Maura said. “We love bespoke roasting and collaborations. We’ve spoken to a number of local suppliers.”
Among their current collaborators are Lahoma’s Red Ridge Creamery, which supplies milk and cream.
“When you taste these things that are made locally, they are made with love,” said Roy Baker. “You can taste that, it makes a difference in flavor. It makes a difference in what people do, so we’re trying to bring together as much of that love as we can.”
The Bakers and their delicious adventure recall the wisdom of the most famous chocolate maker ever: “Don’t forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he wanted; He lived happily ever after.
If you are going to
Zero Tolerance Coffee, 913 W Britton Rd., is open 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday with brunch served 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sunday.