Finding the Rhythm of Coffee with Three Keys

Three Keys Coffee offers more than just a caffeine fix. Instead, this Texas-based roaster explores the relationship between coffee and music, and imagines the roasting of coffee like the crafting of notes in a song. You can find music streaming out of the roastery on a daily basis as their team creates sophisticated, yet accessible, roasting profiles. Customers can even enjoy playlists on the company’s website to pair with their roast of choice as crafted by the Three Keys team. We suggest you brew yourself a pot, and put on some jazz, as you read through this interview. 

Hi! Can you tell us where you are located and how Three Keys Coffee came to be?  

Three Keys Coffee is located in Houston, Texas and was created out of a love of coffee, music, art and ingenuity. 

Our founder Tio is an engineer by profession and played trumpet for over 15 years, so Three Keys is a personal reflection of a creative and multisensory experience through coffee.

We’d love to get to know the team behind Three Keys and what role each of you plays! How do you collaborate together over coffee (and music)?

The founding team includes Tio and Kenzel Fallen. We also have a solid team including Alisher Kamalov, Michael Knolland, Eric Tobar.

Alisher is the roasting lead under head roaster Tio's guidance. His responsibility is to deliver consistency and quality of roast profiles. Michael supports operations consisting of everything from green coffee logistics to packaged coffee fulfillments. Eric Tobar is our QA/QC team member, and is responsible for managing wholesale relationships, green coffee samples intake as well production cupping and quality assessments.

We let the team pick the playlists for the shifts in the roastery, but music is usually accompanying our work day.

Three Keys explores the intersection between coffee roasting and jazz music. Can you tell us more about how this concept came to be and what you see as the main intersecting points of each?  

Having a background in music as a trumpet player, Three Keys is a nod to my time as a musician. The name itself represents the valves of the trumpet and jazz is integral to what we do because of the creative license that it embodies, its rich history and the natural relationship music has with coffee. 

How is Three Keys reimagining the Flavor Wheel to roast coffees that are both exciting and accessible? What flavor profiles do you look for in your roasts and how do you recommend specific coffees to your community of customers? 

The Three Keys flavor wheel takes inspiration from jazz sounds and musicians past and present and reimagines coffee flavors through fresh notes and melodic rhythms. It's our intent to create a memory. Flavor recall is about drawing from past experience, and this is our way of removing barriers and allowing even the most casual drinkers of coffee to have a medium for describing what they're tasting. It creates a multi sensory experience when you look at the wheel and you're able to connect flavors, sounds and colors. 

What are you roasting up right now, and how do you like to brew it at the roastery and at home? 

We just did a collaboration project with Antoine Franklin (GM at Blacksmith in Houston,Texas and 2017 World Latte Art Champion) in which we roasted three singles origins of three processes – Colombia anaerobic natural, Congo washed, and Costa Rica honey. We then created a signature blend by post roast blending the three coffee packages into a sampler pack of four coffees! 

[At home] I brew for convenience, which is why the Ratio Six is so great! It makes a great cup of coffee and takes a little bit of the legwork out for me. 

From the photos on your website and social media your roaster, a Giesen W6, looks amazing! How did you choose which roaster you wanted for Three Keys and what do you like most about this one? 

It boiled down to functionality and style. From a functional perspective you have this well-built, hand crafted machine that offers a hybrid combination of conductive, convective and radiative heat transfer. As an engineer, this was most intriguing to me because, in my opinion, this offers endless possibilities for profiling coffees. And then there is the look and feel of the machine; how it's designed for ease of use and overall reliability. I say it's built and performs like a tank, but looks stunning and like it belongs in a showroom.

You recently were named the Best Coffee Roaster in Texas by Food & Wine Mag! What did it feel like to win this award and how did the team celebrate? 

It was humbling and affirmation of all of the hard work, effort and intention that we put into Three Keys. I recently competed in and took 1st place at the USRC (United States Roaster championship) Houston prelims and that just felt like further validation of my place in coffee.  

What playlist is currently on repeat at Three Keys HQ? 

Our "Congo Square" and "Africano Fusion" playlists are probably our most frequently played.

Finally, where can our readers find Three Keys beans both in and outside of Texas? 

Outside of Houston you can find us online at Three Keys Coffee and at several Trader Joe's throughout the central and southern US.

In Houston, we offer coffee pick up coffee at our HQ and you can find us at our wholesale partners: Mo Better Brews, Tipping Point Coffee, Kindred Stories and The List.


Instagram: threekeyscoffee