I’m sure you love your coffee, but it’s unlikely you love your coffee as much as Ligia Moss loves her coffee.
Ligia runs CoffeeTico Services. From its headquarters in the part of Montgomery County where North Potomac shades into Gaithersburg, CoffeeTico repairs high-end coffee machines, the sort of contraptions that at the press of a button, automagically grind the beans, brew the coffee, froth the milk and deliver a carefully measured dose of happiness into your waiting vessel.
Of course, like all things made by humans, these machines occasionally break, which is how I came to meet Ligia. (She pronounces it “LEE-hee-ah.”) My Gaggia Classic — a relatively simple, option-free espresso machine — was constipated.
Ligia said a lot of her customers are surprised when they pull up to CoffeeTico, expecting, as I did, that it would be located in a storefront or light industrial complex. Instead, it’s in a suburban neighborhood, in a suburban house — Ligia’s house, the one she shares with her husband, David, and their sons, Ian and Kevin (well, Ian; Kevin just left for college).
I asked Ligia: How did you wind up running about the only place in our area that repairs broken espresso machines?
It’s in her blood. Though she lived all over the world as a child — her dad was a diplomat — Ligia is originally from Costa Rica. In that Central American county, coffee is something like a sacrament.
“I grew up with coffee,” Ligia said.
She is particularly partial to a Costa Rican brand called Café Rey, which is 100 percent Arabica beans. This was impossible to get around here, so on trips to Costa Rica, Ligia would fill her suitcase with bags of Café Rey.
“More friends started asking me if I could get some for them,” she said.
That had the effect of cutting into her personal stash, but Ligia was happy to be spreading the gospel of Costa Rican coffee. Eventually she made a deal with the owners of Café Rey to import their product. She named her business after the nickname for a person from Costa Rica: “Tico.”
During a trip to Costa Rica, Ligia bought two fancy coffee machines, one to keep for herself and one to sell. When hers broke, she figured out what it needed — a flow meter — and contacted the manufacturer, Saeco. The company told her that it couldn’t sell internal electrical parts directly to consumers, only to authorized service centers.
And so Ligia decided to become an authorized service center. In 2004, she traveled to Ohio for a couple of weeks of training in the intricacies of boilers and blowdown valves, of gaskets and brew groups and portafilters.
Now, she said, “I can look at a machine and tell you what’s wrong.”
This is, perhaps, not surprising if you know that Ligia is a hydraulics engineer with two degrees from George Washington University. Her day job is in the Montgomery County Department of Transportation.
“This is my hobby,” she said of CoffeeTico.
It’s a hobby that keeps Ligia busy on weekends in her basement workshop.
When I visited, 11 machines sat on metal shelves awaiting repair. That’s a typical workload, though it gets busier in the winter, when people tend to drink more coffee, Ligia said.
There was an Italia Digital, a Starbucks Barista, a Vienna Plus, an Incanto Deluxe, an Odea Giro. Each had a problem that prevented it from dispensing the magical liquid so many Washingtonians crave. Lined up along the floor were what Ligia called “dead ends,” machines so broken that she uses them just to train technicians. (She likes to hire engineering students.)
Ligia, 56, has strong opinions about coffee. She prefers the milky coffee she drank as a child, which the high-tech all-in-one machines are especially good at making. She’s dismissive of pods, those little prepackaged ampuls of ground coffee that are so popular. (She doesn’t think the coffee is fresh.) She finds the coffee roasted in our area especially oily. She counsels descaling every three months. (That was the problem with our machine: scale buildup.)
“I just like coffee,” Ligia said, adding: “I like good coffee. I drink coffee all day long. I enjoy coffee, and I like sharing.”
In her day job, Ligia is occasionally called in to work for days on end when an emergency is declared in the county.
“If we’re activated, the first thing in the car is my coffee machine,” she said.
Ligia will not be without her coffee.
8For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.