While the pandemic has ground many industries to a halt, the coffee industry isn’t one of them. In fact, coffee is being ground (oh yeah, we went there) and brewed in homes at a greater clip than it was before COVID hit: A poll by the National Coffee Organization published last October found that while out-of-home coffee consumption decreased by nearly 20 percent during the pandemic, overall consumption remained consistent, meaning that more people were making and drinking coffee at home.
And while this at-home java-guzzling trend has been brewing since last March, there’s another coffee craze that’s been in the percolator for much longer. “Specialty coffee,” a term for the highest quality cup of joe on the market, is exploding in popularity around the world as consumers become more conscious of where their beans are coming from and what they taste like when roasted, ground, brewed and sipped. “I think there’s a wave of consumers in the market that are happy to forego the convenience or simplicity factor for higher quality and sustainability,” says Matt Pfeifer, co-founder of local coffee club Upstate Coffee Collective. (More on him later.)
In sum, even though 2020 will always be remembered as the year of the pandemic, it was actually a pretty darn good one to launch a specialty coffee company. But you don’t need to tell that to the these three Saratoga County coffee-sseurs.
Grimble Coffee Co.
Nate Reynolds always knew he wanted to start his own business. Having spent his entire career in the beer industry (he’s currently a market sales manager for Sierra Nevada), the Malta resident assumed that business would be in the brewing of beer. But then he and his wife, Becca, began exploring a different type of brew: specialty coffee. “It was pretty clear as I was going through my MBA program,” Nate says, “that starting a coffee business was going to be a little bit more practical for us, for our family life.”
And so, in January 2020, the couple launched Grimble Coffee Co., an organic coffee roasting company dedicated to the environment. Grimble partners with Saratoga Tree Nursery and onetreeplanted.org to plant one tree for every bag of coffee sold, and also donates one percent of its annual gross sales to environmental organizations. (The Adirondack Mountain Club was Grimble’s 2020 beneficiary.) Nate and Becca are also very cognizant of where they get their beans. “We only focus on organic,” Nate says. “We try to buy from ethical sources. We’re buying a lot of our coffee from a group in Central America called Café Feminino. That’s a women’s cooperative that’s changing the industry and allowing women to have their own farms and crops to sell [in order to] make their own money. Traditionally it was always a male-dominated industry.”
Even the name Grimble is a nod to the environment and sustainability—it comes from Grimble Crumple, the Earth-loving main character in the song “The Gnome” by Pink Floyd. “I once read [that] gnomes are so in tune with the Earth that they can walk through it like humans walk through water,” Nate says. “I thought that that was a really cool philosophical look at things. So with that in mind, we were like ‘OK, we want to start a coffee company.’ Coffee is generally not a very sustainable business because of growing and transports and exporting. But we figured we could try to make the industry a little bit better by only [engaging in] sustainable practices.”
All of Grimble’s single-origin coffees and blends are available online at grimblecoffee.com, and every bag of coffee is roasted to order. “When you put in an order, we guarantee that it’s roasted, packaged and sent out within three business days,” Becca says. “We’re trying to get people coffee that’s as fresh as possible.”
Moxxi Coffee Co.
Sure, Leslie Swedish was a coffee lover, but never the type who would’ve thought of founding her own coffee company. “It was kind of my husband’s idea,” the Mechanicville native says. (Her husband is Scott Swedish, owner and general manager of Saratoga Coffee Traders.) “He was like, ‘There’s not many woman-owned coffee companies out there—I think that it would be a really fantastic thing.’
And I was like, ‘Cool story, but I’m a hairstylist.’”
However, Leslie’s interest in the idea grew, especially when she started thinking about branding her hypothetical coffee company. When she came up with the name Moxxi—a play on the word “moxie”—she became even more excited, and when she landed on the concept of funding a foundation through sales of her coffee, she was all in. And so, on September 1, 2020, the hairstylist became the full-time owner of the Stillwater-based Moxxi Coffee Co.
Moxxi’s two types of coffee—Blonde Ambition and Bold Ambition, a light and dark roast, respectively—are available on moxxicoffeecompany.com, as well as at 19 wholesalers, including Roma Foods and Crafters Gallery in Saratoga. But Moxxi has been about more than coffee from the get-go. “I love coffee, but I don’t love sales,” Swedish says. “It wasn’t enough for me to just have a fun name and good coffee and cute logo—I really needed something else.” That turned out to be the Moxxi Women’s Foundation. “The foundation is really about [making] sure that ambitious women are getting an opportunity to do things that they’d like to do if finances are the only thing that’s getting in the way for them.”
To that end, for every item Moxxi Coffee Co. sells, $1 is donated to the Moxxi Women’s Foundation, and Swedish hopes to begin issuing grants within a year or two. Until then, Moxxi will continue its Friday’s Fearless Females blog series, which shines a spotlight on a different ambitious woman each week. Past Fearless Females include MMA fighter Kaytlin “Katniss” Neil, K-9 police officer Jennifer Gambino and Piper Boutique owner Alessandra Bange-Hall. “The foundation and the message that we’re sending is really what this is about,” Swedish says. “We’re using coffee as the language to
share our stories and let everybody know that we’re here. There are so many wonderful, ambitious women out there doing amazing things.”
Upstate Coffee Collective
Don’t get him wrong: Matt Pfeifer loves his job as a software engineer. But like many people who work a 9-5, the Wilton resident felt like his life was missing something. That something turned out to be coffee—or, more accurately, a coffee club.
When Pfeifer’s friend, Queensbury native Kevin Miner, began working in the coffee industry, he told Pfeifer about all he had learned. “I was immediately drawn to it,” Pfeifer says. “It’s an entire world that I had never really known about.” But it didn’t stop there—Pfeifer and Miner wanted to share their newfound interest with others. Enter: Upstate Coffee Collective.
“Our whole intention from the beginning was to spend more time with our community and use learning and something that people love—a.k.a. coffee—as sort of a nexus or center point for conversation and creativity,” Pfeifer says. In 2019, Pfeifer and Miner began hosting meetups at different area coffee shops during which people could listen to a guest speaker or have a conversation about a specific coffee-related topic.
When the pandemic hit this past year, the two business partners switched gears and introduced Highlight Roasts, locally produced coffees that they wrote about and sold on their website, upstatecoffeecollective.com. It was through Highlight Roasts that Pfeifer and Miner met Nick Furnia, owner and head roaster at Knockabout Coffee Roasters. “When we worked with Nick, we got a different vibe from him,” Pfeifer says. “He’s hungry, he’s enthusiastic and he’s super, super smart. We asked him, ‘Hey, would it be cool if we made something together?’” The answer was yes. Last September, Upstate Coffee Collective and Knockabout Coffee Roasters co-released All Day ADK, a collaboration roast that Pfeifer sees as a perfect introduction to specialty coffee. “I wanted to create a coffee that was both approachable and high quality—to sort of bridge that gap,” he says.
This year, Pfeifer and Miner hope to continue that mission of making specialty coffee more approachable. They plan to feature more Highlight Roasts, release another collaboration blend and even begin exploring roasting themselves. But Pfeifer is especially excited about their podcast. “It’s not just a coffee nerd podcast, digging into the nitty gritty,” he says. “It’s a podcast that uses coffee as a focal point for conversation amongst people all across the spectrum—entrepreneurs or people who don’t really drink a lot of coffee but love art. It’s just a way to engage with people in our community. And it’s only going to get better.”