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We took a West way drive to Santa Monica to catch up with Ally Walsh and Casey Wojtalewicz, the couple behind Canyon Coffee. They poured us up some coffee and served up good conversation in their cozy, book and coffee filled, home. It was such a treat to spend the morning with them talking over rituals, traveling, and all the different ways to brew up a good cup. Meet Ally and Casey!
How did Canyon Coffee start? How does it reflect your values and who you are as people?
CC: We were sitting around our kitchen table one night, talking about what we wanted our lives to be like over the next few years. We wanted to create something together, to travel more, and to surround ourselves with people that inspired us. We drew it all out on a giant piece of paper, and Canyon Coffee came out.
In that sense, our company—every bag of coffee—is like a tangible token of our dream.
Of course there’s a whole history and series of events that led us into the coffee industry. We fell in love with coffee together, through work and our travels. Then Casey started working as a barista a few years ago, and that led to the friendships that enabled us to start Canyon.
We sought to create a package to embody our experience around coffee. Special, warm… even beautiful. Everything came out of our values and lifestyle. We favor quality, so our beans had to be nothing less than premium. They just have to taste great, as a rule. No pretentiousness around it. We strive to only eat organic, therefore we only use certified organic beans. We lean towards functionality and coziness in our aesthetics and lifestyle (versus high end or high brow), so our coffee is versatile and easy to make taste good at home and is roasted medium for that classic chocolatey diner-style flavor.
Coffee is such a necessary part of so many people's morning rituals. Do you guys have any morning routines or rituals that help to start your day off on the right note?
CC: The ritual of coffee is definitely what woke us up to the importance of creating that space in the morning, years ago. Aside from the mindfulness that goes into making our coffee by hand, we always meditate and stretch when we wake up.
Beyond that, we just try to be intentional in creating space to start our days off right. Sometimes that means writing, or reading, or getting an early workout in.
What tips do you have for anyone wanting to develop a coffee palette? What's the best way to really taste the fullness of a blend?
CC: Most basic answer—try an Ethiopian coffee and a Guatemalan coffee at the same time.
There’s a line from a Vonnegut novel, Bluebeard, where a woman asks a man how to know if a painting is any good. The man says something like, “Why, just look at a million paintings, and then you’ll know.” We’re not saying you need to drink a million cups of coffee. But, like wine, simply trying different coffees and taking note of their origin will lend itself to revelations.
The best way is through cupping. “Cupping” is the universal method of tasting coffee. It involves preparing different beans in exactly the same way at the same time and then tasting them all at once. It’s practiced the same in the finest of coffee laboratories to the farms where the beans are grown. Your local roaster / coffee shop may have public cuppings. If they do, try it out! If you’re ever worried about pretentious, know-it-all coffee-types, asking them questions is a great way to clear the air and learn a lot.
Who would you love to have over for a cup of coffee?
Ally: Georgia O’Keeffe
Casey: David Bowie
With both of you coming from creative backgrounds, I'm sure starting a business was a new and exciting adventure to start, what lessons have you learned so far while being entrepreneurs?
CC: Two things that seem contradictory come to mind.
One, trust yourself to learn. When we encounter a task or challenge that’s foreign, we often have the impulsive thought, “I don’t know how to do this. I need to find someone else to do this.” Starting our business, we’ve learned it pays to have a can-do mindset. Rather than pay people to do things we didn’t understand, we’ve taught ourselves. As we start out-sourcing different aspects of our business, we do it having a solid understanding of what it takes to get that job done.
Two, ask for help. I’ve heard it said that there are two kinds of entrepreneurs… one kind hires help—anyone!—when they’re simply too busy to pull it all off anymore. The other kind searches for people who are better than them at certain things, and hires them.
In what ways do you balance a busy schedule, tend to your relationship, pursue outside interests AND manage to stay grounded?
CC: First, accept the fact that it’s not always possible! Haha… But seriously, be okay with that, always acknowledging when you’re not doing well and taking note of how to operate better. That’s really a secret strength of being partners in life and business: we look out for each other and help each other to be our best, on all fronts.
A big part of it is knowing when to start work, and when to turn it off. Respecting each other’s mornings, telling each other to take a break in the afternoon when they’re stressed, respecting each other’s evenings, having times where we just don’t talk about work (like dates!). We stay grounded through our own self-care. Meditation, exercise, hikes in the Santa Monica mountains. We tend to our relationship on a daily basis through making coffee, lunch, and dinner together. We surprise each other with little gifts or notes. And we almost always have some kind of trip or adventure planned to look forward to.
You have an entire weekend away from work: where do you go in LA to reset and recharge?
Ally: Korean Spa!
Casey: The beach or the mountains. But also we’d be just as likely to head up to Ojai or Los Alamos for a change of pace. Bring our books, relax, go on long walks…
Do you remember the best cup of coffee you've ever had? What makes that memory stick out?
Ally: It’s a toss-up between Shozo Coffee in Tokyo (just because it’s my dream coffee shop) and The Mill in SF. I’m not usually an afternoon coffee drinker… but one day I shared Casey’s long black (short Americano) and was just blown away. For me, the best cup has as much to do with the setting and moment as the beans themselves. … I also cried the first time I made a cup of Canyon Coffee (from our first roast) because I was so happy with how the flavor turned out! That was a good cup :)
Casey: We were backstage at Treasure Island festival with my old band. It was one of those grey, blustery days in the Bay Area. Sightglass had set up a little pour-over bar in the artist’s area, and that first sip was like an epiphany. It just hit the spot on so many levels.
What’s your preferred way of brewing a good cup of coffee?
CC: We love making pour-overs. It makes for such a smooth cup, and I think we really enjoy the mindfulness of it… We love our V-60, but probably are most in love with the taste of the Chemex.
What are three things you would recommend for someone to add to their lives?
CC: "Just Kids" by Patti Smith
Probiotic hot sauce from Ojai!
Canyon Coffee ;)
Thank you Casey and Ally!