Nominated by Justin Brostek and Juanita Brown.
Daniel Brown is the founder of Gilly Brew Bar, a successful and important new coffee company based in the Stone Mountain suburb of Atlanta. Housed inside a historic 19th century home known as “The Mayor’s House,” purchased in 2015 by Brown and his wife, Shellane Brown, Gilly pushes quality and innovation across an ever-changing range of premium coffee “elixirs” featuring dried herbs, bitters, and aromatics. Brown was nominated by multiple people for The Sprudge Twenty, and in one nomination essay is described as “one of the most innovative, creative, savvy interpreters of the coffee experience I have ever encountered.”
This interview has been edited and condensed.
What issue in coffee do you care about most?
There are so many, but I deeply care about advancing the education of coffee production to coffee consumers.
By the time our coffee reaches the hopper or drip station, it has traveled miles and has passed through many hands. I want all of my customers to not only have a great cup of coffee but also a better understanding of the process and effort that it took to adeptly prepare their beverage. In turn, I believe customers would appreciate the nuances of a pure, well-grown, cultivated, harvested, roasted, and brewed beverage.
What cause or element in coffee drives you?
Mixing & pairing coffee with other flavors is intriguing to me. Taking risks and challenging myself creatively through innovation, experimentation & revivals of alternative brewing methods & technology are a few causes and elements that drive me.
What issue in coffee do you think is critically overlooked?
Just to name a few:
- Sadly coffee shops have become participants and identifiers of gentrification, as opposed to genuinely helping to revitalize and/or reinvest into communities.
- Much of Western culture is saturated with excess. The monitoring of caffeine intake per day is not really implemented, I believe it should.
- Lack of positive awareness and exposure for amazing black- and brown-owned businesses around the world! But Big Ups to Sprudge for championing and acknowledging talented working baristas, cafe owners, and career professionals of all shades across the globe; especially for the ones who wouldn't have received this recognition in the past.
What is the quality you like best about coffee?
I see coffee as an artisanal food and my vision is to use it to enhance the culinary experience.
The quality I like best about coffee is its many notes; every crop from every origin tells a different story. But my interest doesn't end at how coffee tastes. What interests me most is why coffee tastes the way it does. Knowing the why gives me a foundation and a story that I get to share and interpret in my own unique way.
Did you experience a “god shot” or life-changing moment of coffee revelation early in your career?
I experienced a life-changing moment of coffee when I was a child.
The doctor diagnosed me with asthma and recommended I use an inhaler. But anyone who grew up in and around some sort of Caribbean culture knows about how home remedies are often favored over prescribed medication any day. And so at night when I would wheeze, mum would give me a hot cuppa black coffee. It would open up my airways in the lungs and therefore relieve my symptoms.
Coffee for me then was used for medicinal purposes and I still see it that way. It kept me alive (and awake) multiple times.
What is your idea of coffee happiness?
My idea of coffee happiness is being able to serve anyone that steps foot into my bar. A customer may visit that one time and never come again or they may decide to come back. Either way, I know both customers will leave, feeling Gilly.
If you could have any job in the coffee industry, what would it be and why?
Farming or the advancement of technology for the industry. Maybe inventing a new roasting machine or brewing method.
Who are your coffee heroes?
My coffee heroes are all of the men and women who labor day in and out in the farming lands. They cultivate the land that grows this wonderful creation of a tree that produces these juicy peaberries we call coffee.
If you could drink coffee with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?
Too easy. I’d drink coffee with my grandfather, Gilbert. I named my company after him and I’m blessed to still have him around. Sipping on some coffee on our family land in Jamaica, no words exchanged would be just enough.
If you didn't get bit by the coffee bug, what do you think you'd be doing instead?
I’d definitely still be pursuing another one of my business ideas. A studio, maybe? Music (singing/songwriting) has always been a huge part of my life. Perhaps I could sing behind my bar for now, become the first bonafide singing barista.
Yeah, I’ll start there… Look out for my first EP with my band of baristas, aka The Gilly Gang.
Do you have any coffee mentors?
Unfortunately, I do not. I’ve subscribed to a couple of vets on YouTube who have been in the game for some time now. OG’s like James Hoffmann or cats like Chris Baca are always dropping knowledge. In a lot of ways, I’ve become a mentor to others. But I have no in-person coffee mentors in my life. That would be awesome though—hit me up if you’d like to teach me some things.
What do you wish someone would've told you when you were first starting out in coffee?
I wish someone would have told me how difficult it was to reach people in your own community. I get so much support from people outside of Stone Mountain Village but I have many neighbors, just walking distance away, who never come over for a cup.
You know what? I’ll bring them a cup someday.
Name three coffee apparatuses you'd take into space with you.
A nursery (consisting of a raised bed, filled with organic fertilizer) to guarantee healthy seedlings
A drip irrigation system with valves (to avoid water waste) will already be installed in my rocket of course. If you haven't figured it out already, my goal is to grow the first coffee farm in space! Crazy huh?
What's the best song to brew coffee to?
That’s a hard one. My go to’s would have to be a worship song or an instrumental by an artist like Snarky Puppy, Towser, or a classic beat by James Dewitt Yancey aka J.Dilla.
Look into the crystal ball—where do you see yourself in 20 years?
No need for the crystal ball, 20 years from now I will have a sustainable business that has grown to bear much fruit.
My wife and I will have a free weekend to do whatever we please. We’d have children by then and we’d be in a position to help them focus on their dreams (college, travel abroad, or continue in their parent’s footsteps).
I’ll be financially in a place where I’d also be able to pour into the lives of others (family and friends…) most of all, I’d do all that I can to advance the Kingdom, for the glory of the Lord.
What'd you eat for breakfast this morning?
Porridge. My mum's recipe, made by my wife Shellane. Cheap and easy to make but very filling.
When did you last drink coffee?
Does right now count???
What was it?
It was a shot of spro: Gilly Blend (Brazil + Colombia), bright, buttery, brown sugar, roasted by my partners at Firelight Coffee Roasters.
Zachary Carlsen is a co-founder and editor at Sprudge Media Network. Read more Zachary Carlsen on Sprudge.