Contemporary Coffee Explained by Ally and Casey of Canyon Coffee
“We love making pour overs for their clean, smooth taste, and the mindfulness that goes into making them. It requires quiet focus and enables us to slow down a little.”
Completely by chance, I happened to walk into the Echo Deli café in Paris (that offers “Angelenos New California cuisine”) on the same September day that Ally Walsh and Casey Wojtalewicz of Canyon Coffee was visiting from L.A. for a little pop up. For an extra euro or so, I got to try a cup of hand poured drip coffee (black, of course) made from their Ethiopian beans, which Casey told me have a smooth, chocolatey undertone, and I agreed. It was light and pleasantly balanced – true hipster coffee (well, it is!) at its very best.
A few months later I reconnected with the duo, and in a very lovely virtual meet-and-greet, they shared their story and passion for organic, specialty coffee: “Ally grew up in New York, Casey in Minnesota. We both ended up in Los Angeles in our early 20s, and that’s where we met (6 years ago!) and still call home today. Travel is a notable passion we share that I believe we’ve really enabled each other to pursue. Coffee is another.”
What lead up to the launch of Canyon Coffee?
– In the early days of our relationship, we both traveled a lot for work – Ally through modeling, Casey through music. We were both regular old coffee lovers at the time. But being the curious people we are, we always took it upon ourselves to find local roasters on the road. This turned us on to the quality and culture of the specialty coffee world. It also morphed coffee into an integral part of our relationship. We’d send bags home for each other to enjoy, and whenever we were finally in LA together, we grew to cherish making and enjoying coffee together at home.
– This passion only grew over time, and in 2014 Casey actually began to work in the industry as a barista. This led to a friendship with roaster James Klapp. With all the pieces falling into place, the last step was for us to connect the dots. We had always wanted to start something together that we were both passionate about, would enable us to share something we care about, and give us more opportunities to travel together! Canyon Coffee was born.
What would you say is the magic of coffee, and what made you become passionate about it?
– I think the initial magic that grabs us is in how incredibly good it tastes and makes you feel. And not just the first sip – the sound of the grinder, the smell of the freshly ground beans, the ritual of brewing. It holds a nostalgic quality in our hearts.
– But as you learn more about coffee, the magic reveals itself in the entire process of production. When we talk about quality specialty coffee, we’re talking about farmers high on mountains picking cherries by hand from trees at just the right ripeness. These cherries are de-pulped, fermented, washed, dried, sorted, packed, and shipped off to market country ports. From there, they’re shipped to roasting facilities, where they’re roasted batch-by-batch (hopefully to perfection!), packed in bags, and shipped to homes, coffee shops, restaurants, hotels, etc., where they are measured out, ground, and brewed any number of ways before making its way into a cup to be enjoyed.
– I think we became passionate about it through the passion we witnessed and experienced in baristas and other roasters. We also were inspired by beautiful shops and the culture of community and warmth coffee seems to attract so well.
What can you tell us about your own coffee brand? How and where do you source it, and by what criterias?
– Our whole approach is to make quality coffee feel easy and approachable. Here in the USA, while 80 percent of Americans enjoy coffee, “specialty coffee” is only a small percentage of that total market. This means a lot of people are missing out on the good stuff! From the beginning, we’ve opted to source and roast coffees that are smooth, have a nice full body, and fall into the broad taste notes of chocolate and caramel. While we were amazed to taste strong notes of blueberry or strawberry in coffees we experienced, we realized this style of coffee was often going over our friends’ heads. Let’s start simple, but quality, we thought.
– Regarding sourcing, we’ve started Canyon by only sourcing certified organic coffees. We began with the help of green coffee import companies who place transparency at the forefront of their mission. Now that Canyon has been around two years, we’re really hopeful to start making direct connections with farms we’ve learned about and sourced from so that we can (ideally) pay them directly for their harvests, and arrange export with the help of third parties.
“With our business, we choose to support farmers who’ve made the investment to grow certified organic beans.”
What are your thoughts on ecology and sustainability, and how do you consider it in life and work?
– It’s something that’s always on our minds, that we’re always working towards. Because really, it’s everything. It’s a topic that has roots for us, too. Casey was placed in LA after college as a community organizer in the campaign to move the city off coal (the campaign succeeded!).
– We consider it in life by living simply, always aiming to minimize our consumption and waste. With our business, we choose to support farmers who’ve made the investment to grow certified organic beans. We are also considering expanding that scope to include farmers who are trying to gain certification, and are already growing organically and/or in environmentally sustainable ways. In the future, we’re excited to make significant contributions and support causes we care about, such as wilderness protection, ecological restoration, women’s rights and education.
Would you like to share your morning coffee rituale with us?
– Whoever’s up first makes coffee for the both of us (the discussion of who is usually what we talk about as we’re falling asleep at night). We fill our kettle, ignite the flame on the stove. As the water’s heating we usually light some candles and incense in the house and pull our V60 or Clever pour over dripper out of the drawer. Then we open a bag of Canyon and measure out a few scoopfuls into our burr grinder. When the water’s ready, we preheat the filter and glass coffee server. We used to just eyeball it from there, but now we really enjoy using a scale. We pour the ground coffee into the filter, bloom it (pour just enough water to get all the grounds wet and wait 30-45 seconds), and fill it up to make our pour over.
What is the secret to making a ‘perfect cup of coffee’, and which method is your favorite?
– Fresh roasted, fresh ground, not-too-hot water, bloom, 14 or 15-to-1 water-to-coffee ratio. We love making pour overs for their clean, smooth taste, and the mindfulness that goes into making them. It requires quiet focus and enables us to slow down a little.
This is widely debated, but: what would you say are the health benefits of coffee?
– Haha… I think the only argument people could make against coffee’s health benefits are when people (1) drink excessive amounts, or (2) load it up with sugar. That’s why all of our bags say “Enjoy it, as with all things, in balance.”
– That said, the research for coffee’s health benefits is actually pretty remarkable. Coffee is super high in antioxidants. It’s wonderful for your liver. Drink two cups of regular coffee a day, and you get a 40% reduction in dying from primary cancer of the liver – the third leading cause of cancer mortality in the world. It helps your liver process alcohol and lowers the chances of drinkers developing cirrhosis.
– Coffee has also been linked to decreased chances of prostate, skin, colon, and endometrial cancer. It’s also been linked to lowering the risk of cognitive decline, Parkinsonism, and type 2 diabetes – primarily when it’s enjoyed black.
Finally: What’s up next for Canyon Coffee?
– We’re so grateful for everything that’s happened with Canyon so far. We introduced Instant Coffee in 2018, and we’re excited to watch that continue to grow. We’re helping more cafés and restaurants with their coffee programs, and will continue to become available in more places for retail and on-bar. In particular, we’re excited about the opening of Neighborhood here in LA, a coffee shop we’ve been a part of since the idea stage.
– We have a few other things up our sleeves, including some new products and exciting developments of our brand and production! But it’s too soon to reveal, now. We hope you’ll follow along, and that if you haven’t yet, you’re able to enjoy our coffee sometime.
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