By Megan Sayles, AFRO Business Writer
Report for America Corps Member
Tio and Kenzel Fallen have long been coffee lovers. Tio works in the oil and gas industry as a mechanical engineer, while Kenzel specializes in risk management for banks.
When the couple traveled internationally, they made it a point to visit coffee-producing countries. They loved visiting small shops to sample locally-roasted and brewed coffee.
In 2019, the husband and wife decided that they would jump into entrepreneurship with their own roastery. Three Keys Coffee, based in Houston, produces craft coffee that is roasted-to-order and ships nationwide and internationally.
The name of the coffee company was inspired by the three valves of the trumpet, which Tio has played since he was young.
Before launching, Tio and Kenzel wanted to ensure that Three Keys Coffee would be unique from other roasting companies, so they incorporated jazz music into their brand.
“We were thinking about the branding and what we could do with this to kind of differentiate ourselves and stand out as not only just a coffee company but presenting this multi-sensory experience,” said Tio. “We thought it’d be a good idea to sort of pair the coffee with a vibe, like music.”
The couple landed on jazz because it is a genre of music that appeals to a wide range of demographics. There also tends to be overlap between the jazz and coffee community.
Each roast from Three Keys Coffee has its own specially-curated playlist on Spotify that features artists and sounds that compliment the brews.
Tio and Kenzel intentionally source their coffee beans from a wide array of countries, including Kenya, Ethiopia, Guatemala and Colombia.
As head roaster, Tio employed his background in mechanical engineering to understand the heat conduction and convection involved in coffee roasting.
The roastery’s Congo Square coffee was recognized by the Coffee Review as one of the top 30 coffees of 2021, with 94 points out of 100.
According to Tio, Three Keys Coffee’s affordability, brand inclusivity and reputation as a roaster sets them apart from competitors.
“We’ve been able to introduce people that traditionally would not have avenues to enjoy specialty coffee,” said Tio. “We’ve been able to introduce that into their homes.”
For Tio and Kenzel, the COVID-19 pandemic had a positive impact on their business. Many coffee shops had to close their doors to the public, so customers were looking to purchase coffee online and brew it at home.
Still, the couple has faced challenges in running Three Keys Coffee while maintaining their day jobs and parenting their young children. Since starting the business, Tio and Kenzel have become expert multitaskers so that they can grow Three Keys Coffee and juggle their other responsibilities.
In the ensuing years, Tio and Kenzel would like to have more involvement in the coffee supply chain, whether that’s opening a brick-and-mortar store or partnering with coffee farmers in the countries they source from.
Tio hopes that Three Keys Coffee can serve as a model for other minority roasting companies. He wants them to know that the industry is not exclusive to White coffee professionals.
“The vision prominent in the industry, a premier roaster in the industry,” said Fallen.
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