Houston's Three Keys Coffee Combines The Magic of Black Music & Travel
While many small business owners struggled at the beginning of the pandemic, Three Keys Coffee owners Tio and Kenzel Fallen were brewing up a master plan inspired by one of America’s most beloved music genres and the beauty of the world.
The husband and wife duo were working in their respective fields when they decided to make their coffee roasting hobby much more than a weekend pass time. Tio had been brewing coffee for years at their home and had even taken an origin trip to Guatemala to discover the true roots of coffee production. In late 2019, the couple founded Three Keys Coffee, a craft roastery based in Houston, TX.
The coffee brand was inspired by the Fallen’s love for travel and their appreciation for jazz music. After Tio’s grandfather handed him a trumpet in third grade, the engineer and master roaster never lost his love for music. The ‘three keys’ represent the three valves on the trumpet.
“That essentially is the inspiration for the brand,” Tio said. “This pairing of music, specifically Jazz, and coffee.”
With music as the foundation of their coffee empire, the Fallen’s love for traveling to new places also played a major role in the development of Three Keys. Before starting the business, the pair traveled across the world to places like Bali, where they witnessed an elderly village woman roasting coffee beans in a pan over a fire. These experiences were the beginning inspirations for the Three Keys Coffee brand.
“Our love for coffee truly grew in lockstep with the stamps on our passports,” Kenzel said. “We kept traveling to these different regions that were coffee-producing regions and finding ourselves, being consumers and being enthusiasts, more interested in that background story of where does coffee come from and where is it grown.”
Dedicated to melodic notes and fresh roasts, Three Keys Coffee emerged during a time when the majority of people were spending more time at home. The COVID-19 pandemic had just hit the US, and many businesses struggled to pivot to adjust to a changing global climate.
The pandemic became an opportune environment for the brand to thrive, and the Fallens have seen a steady increase and success since the brand began in 2019. The coffee has shipped to all 50 states as well internationally. It is sold in Trader Joe’s and was named the 2022 Best Roaster in Texas by Food & Wine Magazine.
“People were spending more time at home and were more interested in coffee,” Kenzel said. “A lot of their favorite shops and things were closed, so they were having to brew their own coffee at home and that gave way for us to be more of a player in that space by offering our products online where we could ship it across the country. ”
Built on their enthusiasm for exploring new places, Tio and Kenzel believe traveling is an intricate part of the Three Keys Coffee story. Many of their flavors are inspired by places they’ve visited and source coffee from. The Brazil Bossanova is a single-origin coffee sourced from Brazil, named after one of the country’s most popular styles of music.
Other flavors like Congo Square, sourced from the Democratic Republic of Congo, pay homage to the New Orleans Square where slaves would gather to make music and birth sounds that would become the beginning of American Jazz music.
“It’s an interesting feeling to know these countries and these places are beautiful in aesthetic and the culture and the people, but they also produce these beautiful coffees that I can showcase through our brand and share with our consumers,” Tio said.
With coffee being grown in over 70 countries, the Fallen’s plan to continue exploring the world in search of more coffee farms growing beautifully flavored coffee beans. They plan to travel back to Antigua, a place known for its amazing coffee because of the microclimate, volcanic soil, and lush, tropical environment. The couple also plans to travel to Kenya and Italy to gain even more insight into coffee culture around the world.
“You have to travel to see them firsthand experience of the coffee farms,” Kenzel said. “You could do a world tour of coffee growing around the globe. It’s definitely something we’re looking forward to exploring even more countries and having coffee be a part of that story.”
Although coffee roasting is a 10-minute process, that short time is vital to influence the taste and smell of the roast. An engineer by profession, Tio has mastered this process and pushes the limits of roasting to create the perfect flavors for Three Keys Coffee.
“My goal is to combine the art of roasting and being one with the coffee as it’s roasting but also combining that with the science of roasting and looking at different variables and how those can be manipulated to increase consistency but also bring out the most flavor,” Tio said.
Like Jazz, Three Keys Coffee is pushing boundaries that have placed coffee brands in a creative box for years. Long gone are the days of instant coffee, and Three Keys is reframing the possibilities that can emerge from a good, fresh roast. Like Jazz music, the coffee is setting the standard for coffee in the industry.
“Jazz is very much so universally accepted and rooted in American history,” Tio said. “Jazz is the prototype of creativity in music, and it’s highly respected for the level of degree it takes to be a musician and just has that freeform of thinking and exploration within the genre. So that’s why we use jazz as our muse for the brand identity.”
Three Keys Coffee is a multidimensional consumer experience. From the vibrancy of its packaging and design to the fresh smell of the roasted coffee and the Jazz song that accompanies each package, buyers are engaged and involved from purchase to consumption. Already established but still looking to expand, the Fallen’s are hoping to continue growing the brand. They plan to acquire a larger warehouse space where consumers can visit and enjoy coffee drinks, and will continue shipping their fresh roasts all over the world. They also know travel will continue to play a big part in creating gourmet coffee experiences for their international consumer base.
“We want to grow thoughtfully and make sure we’re always giving people that true, high-quality experience,” Kenzel said.