I recently sat down with Martin Diedrich, at his Kéan Coffee over on Westcliff Drive for a fresh cup of joe and an update from an authentic sustainable thinker.
Such good coffee and amazing thinking should come with a warning label like “Look out world, ain’t no stopping you now!”
In case you have been living under a rock the last couple decades, Martin Diedrich is the thought leader and titan of the coffeehouse industry. He is also a local.
For those of us trying to reinvent ourselves in a challenging economy, Martin provides hope and a bit of a road map.
Now, I say authentic sustainable thinker because Martin did not read this stuff in a book, nor glean it from a documentary. His original thinking came from experiences growing up on his family coffee farm in Guatemala, providing intimate knowledge that food does not come from the Ralphs bush, while forming an understanding of the natural system that sustains us.
Full disclosure on this green story: I will do my best to parrot the wisdom shared with me, to be a conduit for amazing thoughts. Rather than have one giant quotation, know that these are Martin’s words and thoughts. Words like “community” were used often and represent the linchpin of Martin’s sustainable thinking. I will leave you to visit www.Keancoffee.com to get the backstory of his history, family and entrepreneurial success. We will focus on the evolving story, on the future.
Kéan Coffee, named for Diedrich’s son, is established, voted best coffeehouse in OC and recognized by the community. The name represents the family thinking that they are looking forward, not back. Whenever you wonder how Martin came up with a decision for where to source coffee beans, what to pay for them, what he was going to allow in his coffeehouse experience and what would not be tolerated, the same simple mantra was the guide, “It was the right thing to do.”
Community is such a part of how Martin and his wife Karen lead their life. The coffeehouse is their way of life, it is who they are. This is not just a business, it is a chance to serve the community with their God-given talents. The community, in turn, supports them in a culture of reciprocity. They recreated themselves, not focusing on past accomplishment, with a desire to take coffee to the next level of culinary art. The couple apply themselves wholeheartedly, in a holistic way. Why would, why should a business be a separation of one’s personal values and business values?
Social justice goes hand-in-hand with environmental well-being, and is a direct focus of Kéan Coffee. Dealing with and being dependant on agricultural products necessitates this focus. Martin is well traveled, a geologist and early Indiana Jones, with a resultant empathy for the people who grow, harvest and produce the crops. He points out that we, as consumers, have a direct impact on agricultural workers’ lives. He and Karen apply their personal values and use their purchasing power to buy socially and environmentally sustainable products as much as possible.
In part, not entirely, Kéan Coffee uses fair trade, organic and in other ways sustainably grown coffee. The expanded discussion on sustainable coffee purchasing philosophy is a whole ’nuther cup of latte. In order to get quality, year after year, Martin will pay a fair price. If he were to “grind” a supplier, sacrifices in quality of coffee and in life would be the unacceptable consequences.
Martin’s “do the right thing” mentality yields decisions about packaging, a big deal, that push back against the unconscious tendency to over-package. Proper disposal of waste has landfill consequences. Kéan Coffee takes responsibility for its surroundings and existence by managing its waste stream. Coffee bags, as an example where almost no one else has ventured, are biodegradable. Used coffee grounds are offered to guests to amend soil in gardens. A coffeehouse actually consumes more milk than coffee, and all plastic milk jugs are recycled. There’s lots more, and you should know that Martin’s choices received a Zero Waste award by our good friends at Earth Resources Foundation.
“Shop local” is not theoretical rhetoric to Martin, as Kéan Coffee seeks to support and sustain the small local business person. Trying in every way to keep local bolsters the local economy, which is good for his business too. Besides, doing the right thing is to serve the best bagels - sourced just down the street at Shirley’s Bagels. If you’re at Shirley’s and want a cup of fresh coffee, you guessed it, they serve Kéan coffee.
Unlike the folks at BP, you will not find Martin nor Kéan Coffee boasting of environmental accolades. “Greenwashing” is an accusatory term, labeling the recipient as an entity that tries to take one green decision, and paint the whole company green. Martin slides in a reference to another coffee company with a green logo, the one that serves burnt coffee to the sheople. Martin is disappointed in companies that use hucksterisms to try to make you feel good about using their products.
Please, do not let all this wonderful sustainable thinking lead you into thinking Martin does not know how to run a business. This entrepreneurial coffeehouse purveyor of community knows exactly what he is doing in a low-ticket, low-margin, high-turn model where the experience is integrated with a quality product. With one eye on our conversation and one eye on the business, Martin took time for an employee discussion about why an operational process not followed results in a quantifiable operational expense that is money Kéan Coffee cannot share with employees.
There is no us and them with Martin, his family, nor Kéan Coffee - no putting up fences. Water does not know fences. Everyone can drink some water, drink some air and have some of the best fresh coffee or Latte Art, a signature of the craft at Kéan Coffee. You will go for the coffee, and return for the coffeehouse experience, powered by an authentic sustainable thinker.