Canyon Coffee has made it their mission to find the smoothest, richest beans that can be brewed and served black and still taste delicious to a wide variety of palettes. Born of a love for the ritualistic and sociable aspects of coffee drinking, founders Ally Walsh and Casey Wojtalewicz travel the world to find farmers committed to growing their beans sustainably and without the use of harmful chemicals. We caught up with Ally in LA to find out more about picking the perfect beans, running an environmentally responsible business, and what's ahead for this labor of love.
Tell us a bit about your background.
I grew up in New York on Long Island. After high school, I studied marketing at FIT in NY for a few years, then wound up signing with Wilhelmina models. I got to travel around and lived in Miami, London and Milan, then settled in California, in Venice.
I was always a coffee lover. But it wasn’t until I met my partner Casey in 2013 that it developed into more of a passion. We were both traveling a lot for work and started learning more about the coffee culture and industry. It all culminated in 2016 when we decided to start our own project together. Canyon Coffee is what came out!
From Canyon Coffee's Instagram feed, follow @canoyoncoffee
We read that you take your coffee black, so when we first tried Canyon Coffee we followed your lead. It really does have an incredible flavor – how did you land on the beans and what was the process like when you set out to source coffee?
Yes I’ve always enjoyed my coffee black! I think that gave us an advantage in picking our first beans— I was already so used to searching for and drinking clean, smooth coffees, and knowing when something felt too acidic for me or even burnt. As a result, the bottom line for our coffees is they have to taste great, black!
The process of selecting our beans is maybe my favorite part of having a coffee company! We do cuppings on a seasonal basis, where we request samples from fresh harvests and taste them all together on one table. We procure these samples through coffee importers we trust. We do a lot of the work before tasting, with regard to choosing coffees that are grown sustainably without chemicals. At this point we’ve only sourced organic coffees that are fair trade (when from a cooperative), and already have good ratings (cupping scores).
And then we go purely off our palette! We look for coffees that have a solid but smooth body, with chocolate and caramel characteristics.
We’re big fans of traveling with a specific agenda and really love the coffee focused travel guides on your site – what spots around the world stick out as true gems? Any experiences / tastes / places that cannot be missed?
Oh yes! So many… I think my true gem list would include Shozo Coffee in Tokyo, the Sightglass shop on 20th St. in San Fran, Telescope in Paris (their filter coffee is made 100% by hand via aeropress!), Tandem in Portland, ME, Do Your Thing in Marfa, TX (coffee and toast!), and 108 (A.K.A The Corner) in Copenhagen! All these places have some combination of great coffee, combined with a beautiful welcoming environment. There’s something special about each of them.
From the Canyon Coffee Japan Coffee Guide, Shozo Coffee in Tokyo
When traveling we’re always struck by how different the coffee ritual is from place to place – In Italy the idea of to-go coffee seems to barely exist while here in the US people are dumping it down their throats while running to their next appointment. Do you have a specific routine when it comes to your coffee?
Yes! I think the ritual component of making coffee at home in the morning has really played a significant role in bringing us to where we are today! I make coffee at home almost every morning. The exception is when I have to get up and go so early that I’m better off grabbing a coffee from a shop that opens at 6:00am.
My routine really just involves slowing down and making the coffee-making routine special. I like starting the flame to heat the water on the stove, lighting candles or incense in the house, the smell of opening the bag of coffee and scooping it fresh to grind, and finally making the pour over. You kind of can’t help but be mindful when you’re brewing coffee by hand like that.
You run the company with your boyfriend Casey and for some couples that would be choppy waters – how do you balance your personal life with the business?
Haha… I’d be lying if I didn’t say that it can get tricky at times. But ultimately, it’s a really enriching experience. When you’re in the thick of the day-to-day of running a growing business, you can get caught up in the grind together. But when you take a step back and realize how much we’ve grown and what we’ve built together, I feel so grateful for what we have and our relationship.
In terms of how we do it, there are things we’ve done from the get-go. It was important early on to make date nights a regular thing, and keep business stuff off the table. Now, we still go on dates, but just having a clear end to the work day and making dinner together at home is really nice. It’s also what we’ve always done. It’s just about knowing when to turn off the business mindset. Also, respecting each other’s independence and giving each other room to be ourselves is really crucial. It’s why Casey and I both enjoy traveling solo or with friends as well as traveling together!
At this point, it feels like a pretty normal relationship to us. It’s just that we’ve spent so much time together and function on so many levels together that we have a lot of respect for each other’s own individuality.
Beyond collaborating with Casey, you seem to surround yourself with so many incredible makers and doers. How has the Los Angeles creative community influenced you and your day to day life?
It’s definitely an inspiring place to live. I feel like we were really moved to take the leap and start our own thing because of the entrepreneurs, most of them women, we saw around us in LA turning their passion into a business. With all these other amazing women entrepreneurs growing and building their businesses around me… I just feel lucky to call a lot of them friends and be able to grab lunch or a glass of wine with them and relate on the topics of running a business. I feel like I have a support network of mentors around me.
How important is sustainability and making environmentally responsible decisions when it comes to Canyon?
It’s very important to us. The state of our planet, the pollution and negative effects of our industries on people and the environment really weigh on us. I think our mindset is and has been that we want to always have a mindset of constant improvement. We don’t want to just give a percentage of profit and pat ourselves on the back and market the fact that we do that! Our goal is to create a company where everyone involved, at every point of the supply chain, has a good quality of life. Because sustainability isn’t just about the environment, it’s inseparable from the human, social and therefore economic components of what you’re doing!
We’ve made a lot of tough, often expensive decisions with our business to keep things in line with our environmental ethos. Are there decisions that you’ve made with Canyon that have been more expensive or harder to accomplish because you have ideals you feel strongly about?
Most in the coffee industry would say we’re severely limiting our coffee prospects by narrowing our selection to only organic coffees. But we didn’t even think about that as a tough or expensive decision. It was just our rule. And actually, because of what we’ve learned through meeting and talking with farmers, we’ve decided we’re going to begin supporting farmers who grow sustainably and organically but haven’t been able to yet afford the organic certification. For some cooperatives of farmers, they’re doing everything they can to grow without harmful chemicals because they actually care about their land and their children and future generations being able to work the soil. We want to support that. It’s more important to us than being able to say we’re “100% organic.”
What’s next for Canyon Coffee?
I think we’re going to be looking to start a shop soon. We feel so lucky to have started something that’s been growing from the beginning. Two years in, we’re feeling like it’s time to create a space that represents this whole world we’ve been creating that people can come and enjoy.
And finally, our puff beauty question! Do you have any unusual beauty or skincare secrets you’re willing to share?
Honestly, I keep it pretty simple! I’ve been really liking the face mask and face oil by Lesse lately. Aside from that, I just drink lots of water, don’t eat a lot of sugar, and use coconut oil and jojoba oil on my skin! Coconut oil, which can be very hydrating, works best when heated, so I use it in the shower or bath.