May

Alvernia Magazine | Good to the last drop

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Richard Kessler never imagined he’d end up as a bean counter, let alone one in the coffee business.

But much as a well-crafted cup of java ignites the senses and draws you in sip by sip, the co-founder and chief coffee roaster at the Peddler Coffee Company was captivated by a deep and rich experience he had in a local coffee shop.

Soon after moving to Philadelphia in 2013, Kessler happened upon a specialty coffee shop in his neighborhood. The shop, he says, was beautifully constructed, with large windows surrounding the entire face of the building, and completely dressed in reclaimed wood.

“Walking in for the first time, I felt a level of intimidation,” says Kessler, who grew up in Reading and graduated from Alvernia with his business degree in 2011.

The menu was layered in difficult-to-read words describing coffees from small regions of Ethiopia, Kenya and Central America. Kessler believes he ordered coffee from somewhere in East Africa; he doesn’t remember exactly. But what he can’t forget is the indelible impression the experience made on him.

“My mind was blown,” he says. “I had never experienced coffee as it is intended to be. The delicate, floral aromas, raspberry, lemon, sweet and delicious all the way to the bottom of the cup. I was mesmerized by how incredible this coffee was. It was an absolute awakening. I knew then and there that I wanted to get involved in the coffee industry.”

Kessler teamed with friend Zachary James Urbanski to launch Peddler Coffee, a nano-scale roasting company that features small-lot, single-origin coffees from across the globe. Instead of jumping into the crowded Philly coffee market, elbows out and swinging, Peddler politely delivers on its promise to provide quality coffee using ethical practices.

Peddler Coffee was originally conceived on a mobile business model. The coffee is peddled by pedal on the streets of Philadelphia, served from the company’s custom-made tricycles that feature hand pumps to dispense coffee. But Peddler Coffee has since opened a shop in the city’s Bella Vista neighborhood.

What separates Peddler Coffee is its focus on quality and its strong infusion of ethics into its business practices, even in a business where the product is increasingly commoditized to reap greater profits. Kessler cites the strong correlation between the quality of the coffee and the ethics with which it was produced.

“Our craft goes beyond the roasting process,” he says. “We strive to promote quality throughout the entire supply chain, from the farm to the brewing process. Paying a premium to the farmers for the hard work they put in to produce excellent coffee is of utmost importance to us.

PH: Kessler“Our philosophy is that while ‘fair trade’ and other certifications are great for the wholesale improvement of the coffee industry, it is an emphasis on smallholder farmers striving for quality rather than quantity that truly yields the greatest economic and environmental improvements for everyone. These farmers need a skilled labor force, which in turn demands a decent living wage,” Kessler says.

Peddler Coffee works with two direct trade importers who build relationships with cooperatives and farmers around the world. Its coffee selections always rotate with the harvest seasons. Currently, the company is offering coffees from Ethiopia, Costa Rica and Colombia. Earlier this year, it offered coffees from Guatemala, Rwanda and El Salvador.

“Coffee is a fruit,” Kessler explains, “and just like any other fruit, it needs to be bought in season, so we rotate our menu with the different origin harvest dates. Excellent coffee always takes great care to produce.”

The second aspect of ethical coffee is an environmental focus. He points out that large coffee producers will generally produce coffee — and only coffee — on large plots of land.

“Large monoculture farms can completely destroy ecosystems and can have long-lasting negative effects on entire regions,” Kessler says. “We will only deal with farmers who insist on using their land properly and have strict and rigorous environmental standards.”

A record-setting soccer goalie, Kessler credits Alvernia’s faculty and coaching staff for their positive impact on him as a person and as a professional — particularly business professor Travis Berger, whose teachings and style helped Kessler develop his ethical, spiritual and philosophical ideologies. Just like the power of Kessler’s coffee shop experience, his Alvernia experience was equally transformative.

“I was able to learn extremely valuable life lessons at Alvernia,” he says. “The most important thing that you can get from any schooling is experience. You don’t find experience within textbooks; you find it from being surrounded by different people with unique ideas and attitudes toward life, and with different backgrounds and life experiences.

“My time at Alvernia gave me the chance to learn how to deal with people,” Kessler adds.

“And in the coffee business, people are everything.”


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