“Kenzel Fallen has seamlessly pivoted from a career in finance to coffee company owner, running things with professionalism and panache that few industry veterans have yet to achieve. Mom to three kids under five, Kenzel brings the enthusiasm of a ‘prosumer’ to her role as ops and everything-but-roasting at the company she founded with her spouse and business partner, Tio. Having traveled to origin and many coffee farms long before founding Three Keys Coffee, Kenzel brings empathy and intention to green buying decisions, focusing on buying coffee that is sustainable both economically and environmentally. Three Keys, inspired by jazz music and art and science greats of color, seeks to bring specialty coffee to communities that have historically been excluded by third-wave-type coffee culture.”
Nominated by Bethany Hargrove Letoto
Do you have a coffee-making ritual?
When I’m home and have time, I prefer to brew on a v60. But most of the time I’m grabbing leftover coffee from whatever my husband has brewed on our Moccamaster (no matter the temp by the time I get to it, useful lukewarm at best). Or I’m stopping into a shop on the way home from dropping our kids off at school.
What is the quality you like best about coffee?
The best part about coffee, especially as both a participant and owner in the industry, would be the people. Coffee enthusiasts are some of the most innately unique, interesting, and genuine people I’ve encountered.
Best song to brew coffee to at the moment.
Come on that’s way too difficult to ask me! A love of music—jazz and otherwise—permeates so much of who I am and is also deeply reflected in the branding for Three Keys Coffee (for anyone who isn’t aware). But I’ll go with “Boogie Stop Shuffle” by Mingus. It’s funky, upbeat and energetic. I once used that as background music for our very first TikTok (yes we’re on TikTok *gasp*) where I showed the behind-the-scenes of our roastery operation.
Do you have a favorite item of clothing to make coffee in?
Bombas gripper slippers
What was the last cup of coffee you enjoyed?
Three Keys Coffee’s El Vergel Colombia Anaerobic Natural “Stardust”
What is your idea of coffee happiness?
Happiness to me is about peace. Sometimes we think happiness should evoke some loud feeling of elation but really it should be about comfort and contentment with who, where, what you are. So I guess coffee happiness is all of that plus a quiet cup of coffee.
What issue in coffee do you care about most?
Amplifying the voices of minorities and underrepresented groups as owners, creators, and influencers in the specialty coffee industry.
Did you experience a “god shot” or life-changing moment of coffee revelation early in your life?
I once gifted coffee to renowned poet Nikki Giovanni when I was 10 years old. I only remembered in adulthood after finding and reading the handwritten note she sent me as a thank you back in 1996, saying coffee was one of her favorite things. So I think realizing the universal love, draw, and full-circle impact that coffee—scratch that, *the sharing of coffee—can have is a revelation I’m still appreciating on a daily basis.
If you could have any job in the coffee industry, what would it be and why?
I currently have at least 12 jobs in coffee right now spanning:
5. Strategy & Planning
6. Public Relations
7. Customer Service
8. Social Media
10. Green Buyer
11. Q Grader/Quality Assurance
12. Grant Writer
So I think that’s already about 11 too many.
I wouldn’t mind learning how to do some latte art though.
Who are your coffee heroes?
Tio Fallen of course. He’s the one who introduced me to coffee.
If you could drink coffee with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?
Bethany Letoto. She has been on our team for nearly a year but surprisingly we’ve never met in person. She lives in Hawaii and I’m in Houston. So maybe one of these days we can actually drink some coffee together 😊
Do you have any coffee mentors?
Some of the best advice and perspective I’ve received in coffee has been through a small WhatsApp group for Black Women in Coffee. Special shoutout to the regulars which include Muna Muhammad from Eight50 Coffee, Gai Davila from Davila Kafe, Neichelle Guidry from BlackGirlBlackCoffee, and Phyllis Johnson from BD Imports/CCRE/countless other affiliations.
If I had to pick a single person from that group though, it would absolutely be Phyllis. I could listen to Phyllis recite the alphabet and I’d probably feel inspired and ready to build a coffee empire after it. She’s an extraordinary individual.
Where do you see yourself in 2042?
I have three children, two businesses, one dog, and a wildly ambitious yet forgetful husband. I can’t tell you where I will be in 20 minutes let alone 20 years 😊
The Sprudge Twenty is presented by Sprudge and Pacific Barista Series.