Groundwork Coffee has been serving up delicious coffee for over 24 years, and we’re thrilled to have founders Eddy Cola, Steven Levan, and Jeff Chean be part of our Coffee Meets Water campaign. Thanks to them, we’ve been able to fundraise and spread the word about our effort to fix 22 broken water wells in Sidama, Ethiopia, a leading provider of coffee beans in the region.
Below, we chat with Eddy and Jeff about their coffee background and why they want to join us in changing the world:
What first drew you to making coffee?
Eddy: As a child, I used to watch my grandfather drink coffee. So, naturally because I wanted to be like him, I wanted to have what he was having. Later, as a young adult, I was drawn to the caffeine jolt. But over time, and being a foodie, I got into the artisanal and craft aspects of it. When I was younger, I was partial to espresso — now I prefer drinking a good cup of coffee (usually using a Curtis Gold Cup brewer).
Jeff: I got in the business 20 years ago. At the time, Starbucks was just opening their first stores in Los Angeles. On my drives to law school, I would stop in at Starbucks and try to reconcile their flavor descriptors with what I was drinking at any given visit. I couldn’t—and wondered if I could do better. I like to think we have.
What do you love about owning your own coffee business?
Eddy: For starters, I love coffee—and tea. I also like making a delicious product and offering it up to customers. Finally, I am a big proponent of organic, sustainable food and beverages. The natural-food category is close to my heart.
Jeff: I get asked that a lot. People also comment on what a great job it is because I get to drink such great coffee. I always feel compelled to let them know that they are only seeing the tip of the iceberg in that they are focusing only on the coffees and blends we actually sell. Behind every great single origin we buy, the Coffee Team has to wade through lots of bad to kinda-good coffee samples before we settle on buying the gems we find. It is at that moment—while having cupped sixty or so coffees that we will reject—when I slurp an amazing coffee sample that smacks my palate like a slap across the face that I really enjoy my job.
How would you describe your coffee in three words?
Eddy: Delicious. Local. Organic.
Jeff: Ditto, well said.
What is the most popular drink you serve?
Eddy: Probably cappuccino and lattes by volume. But our “dirty chai latte” is a real popular signature drink. (That’s chai latte with a hit of espresso!)
Have you traveled abroad for coffee sourcing? What were some of your favorite destinations and why?
Eddy: Our coffee team has traveled to Brazil, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru, Honduras, El Salvador, and Hawaii, to name a few. We travel for a number of reasons, including judging at Cup of Excellence and other competitions. The most important reasons we travel are: 1) we want to find coffees before a Coop blends them into homogenous lots and they get lost; 2) to develop personal connections and partnerships with growers and coops from whom we consistently buy; and 3) promote and encourage our partners at origin.
What is your favorite brewing method and why?
Eddy: Chemex. It brings out the best flavors of the coffee, particularly the fruit and floral. And I like the artisanal craft aspect. It feels scientific. Chemex was actually developed by a scientist in a lab. It is, essentially, a modified beaker.
Jeff: Yeah, me too. I like the Chemex because it forces me to slow down and appreciate the brewing process. It goes only as fast as it goes and I can’t force it; I’ve got to literally “Stop and smell the coffee!” Oh, and it tastes great.
How important is it to have clean water in order to make great coffee and why?
Eddy: Very. Coffee is about 98.5% water! Bad water can make the best coffee taste awful. What’s important to us is to choose a sustainable method of getting the proper water.
Why did you decide to join the Coffee Meets Water fundraiser?
Eddy: It’s a great cause. We’ve been looking for a water partner at origin for some time and Coffee Meets Water fit the criteria of a program we were looking to participate in.