From time to time as we report on cafes around the world, we also get to tell feel-good stories of human kindness, redemption, and community. In fact, we get to tell stories like that on a pretty regular clip; the overlap between the goodness of humanity and global coffee culture is all around you, if you know where to look. Here’s five examples of good coffee companies that also do good. There’s heaps more stories like these ones below, just waiting to be discovered.
Big House Beans in Antioch, CA
“Big House Beans isn’t your typical irreverent coffee shop name. It isn’t a joke, or a casual, flippant nod to some forgotten part of the East Bay’s history. No, Big House Beans is an allusion to owner John Krause’s time spent in incarceration, both mentally and physically. At the age of 4, John Krause was a passenger on a motorcycle when it crashed, killing his father and kicking off a slow downward spiral that would find him homeless and battling addiction. Altogether John Krause was in and out of prison for almost 15 years.
Then in what he describes as a “spiritual experience,” John Krause found God. Not long after he found coffee, and with the help of a pastor and part-time inventor/home coffee roaster he opened Big House Beans. Krause’s goal wasn’t just to open a quality coffee roaster, but to offer ex-convicts and recovering addicts a place to work, to have structure, and learn tactile skills that will help them re-enter society. He currently employs one full-time staffer and two interns, all with either incarceration experience or a history of addiction.”
The Interval in San Francisco
“You can’t tell people to think long term. We want people to interact with a space and come to it however they want,” says Alexander Rose, Executive Director of the Long Now Foundation. The foundation, a non-profit dedicated to long-term thought, decided to create a café and bar in their San Francisco headquarters to spur on discussion of interaction, availability, and openness over the next 10,000 years. Walking into the striking sanctuary they’ve created, it is clear that everything has a long story behind it.”
The Corp in Washington DC
“All these studying, laughing coffee drinkers I see belong to a demographic referenced by Tracy Ging in her 2014 Symposium talk as the “young millennials”. According to her presentation, these age 18–24 consumers gravitate toward handcrafted, customizable espresso-based beverages, and the more demonstrated knowledge and know-how by the barista, the better. As Ging notes in her talk, this is a group of coffee drinkers who started drinking coffee at a younger age, and typically drink coffee away from home; with higher exposure to cafes come higher and more nuanced expectations.
Here I was, in a wonderland of solely that demographic, and at Corp cafes, that demographic makes up both the customers and the baristas. “The student-run aspect of these cafes is huge,” incoming Corp CEO Marnie Wallach tells me as we sit at Uncommon Grounds. “We understand our primary customer base because we’re a part of that demographic, too.”
Purringtons Cat Lounge in Portland
“The American cat cafe cultural moment is just getting started; it’s a perfect storm of urban small business ownership, internet cat virality, and social do-goodery. I hope every one of these love muffins finds a forever home, so that the Purringtons can introduce a new clowder of cat friends to chill with. And moreover, I hope that when a cat cafe inevitably comes to a neighborhood near you, it is done with the degree of care, respect, and love evident here.”
Yanaka Coffee in Tokyo
“Think for a moment about random acts of kindness: big or small, there’s something about a good deed that makes us feel good. It might be giving up a seat on a crowded train, sharing an umbrella in the rain, or a kind word on a bad day. Sometimes, it might be as simple as a free cup of coffee—exactly the case at Yanaka Coffee in Tokyo’s Shimokitazawa neighborhood, where good deeds cost twelve stamps, and come in the form of a unique pay-it-forward card.”