Americans alone consume 146 billion cups of coffee per year. Whether used to wake up in the morning, as a boost for a busy afternoon, to wrap up a delicious dinner or to sit down and reconnect with an old friend, a great cup of coffee is the perfect companion for most of life’s events.
Tony Anderson, who co-owns Three Story Coffee with his wife, Sarah, loves coffee for those reasons. But his love of coffee goes beyond its robust flavor and ability to bring people together.
“I love coffee, but I am more passionate about the people and the potential that coffee has to change lives,” he says.
Everybody has a story, and that’s the beginning of the story behind Three Story Coffee.
“The name came from the idea that everyone has a story: you, me, the rest of the world,” Anderson says. “It has amazed me that for such an iconic and ubiquitous piece of our culture, few people stop to think about where their coffee comes from and much less about the people who grow and pick it.”
Anderson’s agriculture degree, heart for mission work and experience working with small farmers have fueled his passion for coffee, which is grown in 70 countries, almost all of which are developing countries. The goal of Three Story Coffee is to help coffee fanatics understand that their coffee-purchasing habits matter and can make a real difference around the world.
“I want people to know that their coffee purchases can either perpetuate slave labor or send a child to school,” Anderson says. “We want to make sure we are doing the latter by building relationships with farmers and coffee communities, sharing their stories and eventually connecting our customers with the farmers so that our customers can partner with us to invest in the story of those communities.”
Three Story Coffee is a not a coffee shop; it’s a coffee roaster, which means the owners purchase green coffee from farmers around the world, roast it in their store on East Dunklin Street and “make it yummy,” Anderson says. There are a few seats in the store where customers can sit, share stories and even sample the various types of coffees, but the primary focus of the store is to sell whole bean or ground coffee by the bag. And though the coffee is certainly important, the stories behind the direct trade coffee are equally so.
“We want our customers to know the names of the farmers and to know their story,” Anderson says. “I want people to love our Guatemala Mama Carmen coffee, and they do, but I want them to know that a doctor gave Mama Carmen her farm so she could continue to do the work that she was called to do. Over the years, Mama Carmen has cared for, looked after and taken in hundreds of orphans and street kids. Growing and selling coffee provides the resources for her orphanage.”
Although the shop has only been open a short time, Anderson says the response has been amazing. Customers are interested in hearing the stories, learning the names of the coffee farmers and seeing photographs.
“For instance, I posted a picture on our Facebook page recently of a new direct trade coffee we are getting from El Salvador,” Anderson says. “The picture was of the coffee being blessed by the local priest as it was leaving the farm. We got an amazing reaction from people who loved the story. I have people who can’t wait for that coffee. They haven’t even tasted it yet, but they love the story and want to invest in those farmers and be a part of their story.”
Three Story Coffee also sells other direct trade items such as baskets, woodcarvings, loose-leaf tea, chocolate and jewelry. Each item represents connections and relationships that the Andersons have forged during the past several years.
“We are focused on building direct trade relationships with the farmers,” Anderson says. “We want to know the farmers, pay them a fair price and then work with them to improve their product to add even more value for them in the future.”
Anderson believes that for coffee to be great, it should be great for everyone. That means that a portion of coffee purchases from Three Story can be designated to one of a list of missionaries working in countries such as Sierra Leone, Bolivia and South Africa. Three Story also supports projects that impact widows and orphans, programs that teach people how to grow food and sustain their families and education programs that help break the cycle of poverty.
As they look toward the future, Anderson says he has realized that, based on their vision and goals, Three Story Coffee might work better as a not-for-profit organization rather than the for-profit company they’ve operated as for the past year.
“We have just started looking at transitioning,” he says. “We have realized that since our focus on the farmer side is relationships, education, community development and missions as well as education and awareness on the consumer side, a nonprofit structure might be a better fit.”
Anderson also plans to continue to grow his network of farmers. A list on the wall of his office is a visual reminder of the progress he seeks.
“I keep a list on my wall of the countries we want to go to and the connections we have made in those countries,” Anderson says. “I have been amazed at the people we have crossed paths with that can create opportunities to build relationships in these coffee communities.”