Each morning, a cup of coffee. That is the daily ritual for 70% of Americans. From Keurig machines on nightstands to drip coffee pots in kitchens that keep caffeine coming all day long, most adults survive on coffee to give them a boost of energy to start their day.
Yet despite the overwhelming number of people who rely on coffee as an essential item in their life, coffee sourcing is not often well understood or celebrated as an artisanal craft. Enter Murray Lebovitz ’23, studying Supply Chain Management in the Martin J. Whitman School of Management, determined to create community centered around appreciating and championing the craft of coffee through his platform Keep Coffee Casual.
Lebovitz’ interest in coffee began after working a summer camp job after he graduated high school. As one might imagine, the coffee there was atrocious, probably mixed from an industrial sized instant coffee container. Lebovitz couldn’t stand it and bought his own personal-sized coffee maker. He soon began taking it everywhere with him.
As he started his studies at Syracuse University, Lebovitz continued his tradition of brewing his own coffee every morning in his dorm. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in his freshman year, Lebovitz used his newfound time to research more into the practice of brewing coffee, curious to discover the intricacies of what had been for him for so long a core, but not understood, aspect of his lifestyle.
Lebovitz’ newfound passion and interest in the art of coffee led him to start his own mini business selling his own cold brew coffee across campus during freshman year. His fascination with coffee grew into him securing a job at the new Salt City Coffee as one of their roasters, working hard to create the perfect, most flavorful roast of coffee for the local artisanal coffee shop.
As Lebovitz dived deeper into the world of coffee, he wasn’t content to let it merely be a personal hobby but wanted to unite and connect with other people around the appreciation of specialty coffee. Enter Keep Coffee Casual, a business focused on creating community for coffee lovers and expanding the specialty coffee community to everyday coffee drinkers.
Lebovitz identified two main problems within the coffee industry today — transparency and consumer accessibility. The coffee industry is sourced from coffee farmers in countries across the world, typically Southern hemisphere developing countries. It unfortunately can be industry that profits off exploitation from poor farmers, without consumer transparency of these practices. “Transparency is huge in the coffee world because the product people are drinking is sourced so far away from most people. Keeping the supply chain transparent works as a benefit for both sides,” said Lebovitz of his hopes to increase people’s awareness about the sourcing of coffee through Keep Coffee Casual.
While standard coffee is readily accessible to most Americans, Lebovitz also hopes to improve accessibility to specialty coffee. Specialty coffee, which highlights carefully cultivated roasts for unique flavors, artisanal methods of brewing from pour over to French press, and often is sourced through ethical fair-trade practices, is typically not accessible to most people because of the price difference and purchasing barrier to entry.
Lebovitz hopes to introduce more people to specialty coffee through Keep Coffee Casual’s coffee variety bags, which include different roasts following an industry theme. This allows new customers to try various varieties of coffee without committing to the expense of a large bag of one variety that they may not like. Instead, consumers can dip their toes in the world of specialty coffee by trying what aspects they love.
He is working with the Blackstone LaunchPad to refine his business model and begin work on commercializing his venture. He’s also been offering occasional informal pop-up coffee tastings featuring unique roasts in the LaunchPad for other student ventures, growing a cult following and appreciative audience for his coffee expertise.
The power of coffee lies in its ability to cultivate community. This is at the core of Keep Coffee Casual’s mission. Through intentional consumption of ethically sourced and specialty coffee, Lebovitz seeks to create community around the care and love for coffee. “Coffee is a great way to bring people together – that’s where the magic happens,” said Lebovitz.
Story by Claire Howard ’23, Global Fellow