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Smart brew Featured

10:40am EDT June 28, 2005

Doug Zell founded Intelligentsia Coffee in 1995 and focused on providing the highest-quality coffee possible.

Quality is how Zell has differentiated his business in a crowded market. He provides a product that has led Intelligentsia to become, according to CoffeeReview.com, the "highest-rated roaster in the world."

Quality is the focus of the entire coffee-brewing process. Zell chooses the finest growers from Mexico, Nicaragua and Rwanda, and requires an extensive six-month training program for employees before they become baristas.

Zell has also created a wholesale business, selling to the likes of Whole Foods, Frontera Grill and Charlie Trotter's. Intelligentsia also sells to other local coffee shops and is expanding its wholesale program to other parts of the country.

Zell says experience, talent and skill are the basis of his hiring campaign, but for Intelligentsia, talent outweighs experience. His baristas recently placed second, fourth and sixth in the U.S. Barista Championships.

Employees starting at all levels have a chance to move up in the company. They are encouraged to take part in community activities, and Intelligentsia makes monetary and in-kind donations to various charities.

Zell says that one of the greatest rewards is to economically help countries that are not as wealthy as the United States by doing business there. The company is able to help supplier countries by paying growers more than competitors do.

Growth is in the future, but Zell says the focus will always be on the quality of his product.