All photos c/o Tanbrown Coffee. Photo by Keenan Hadley.
Marissa Childers and Ethan Darla met through an Asian coffee professionals call. Darla had just recently moved to Atlanta, and he and Childers clicked immediately as they shared the gripes they had with the coffee industry and how it could look different. They both cared heavily about where coffee comes from, how they can source and make coffee better while also changing the landscape of their local coffee community. The idea of starting a roastery together was borne. They called it Tanbrown Coffee.
"Coffee is tan and brown, and we are also tan and brown. It gave a balance of jest and humor as well as a stark reminder and homage to where coffee comes from. We wanted to remind folks that coffee is a black and brown product and seeing our faces in this space is a reminder that we are meant to be here and we are allowed to take up space and treat coffee and people better than we have seen in our time in the industry." ~ Marissa Childers and Ethan Darla
We're stoked for this honest conversation with Childers and Darla, as they share their coffee journeys, their greatest challenges, and paving a new path for their community.
Ethan Darla: We wanted a space of our own in a way that gives us value and voice. The only way it seemed possible for us to do that in the coffee business is to start one ourselves. We hope to bring everybody that wants to be here, along for the ride. There is much more than can be said as there always is, but I do believe space and place in this business for us and those like us is why we started it. Also, we like coffee.
Marissa Childers: So, this feels like a very complex and slightly personal question, strangely enough. We didn't see ourselves in a lot of the coffee shops and spaces down here (in Atlanta). It was tiring talking about the scope of the coffee community and we got to a point where we decided to "just do it" because there was an assumption that if we felt held back in spaces of education and roasting, there was a white counterpart who had said "I can do it myself." So the question arises "why can't we do it?" The answer to which is "you can." So Tanbrown in part started as a love of coffee and education, and in part, as a way to pave a new path for our community.
Photo by Keenan Hadley.
Can you talk a little about your greatest challenge in your coffee journey so far?
Childers: Our greatest challenge in our coffee journey so far is honestly trying to launch this thing! We are both creatives and have a ton of ideas, but we also realize the need to reel everything in from time to time. We also have had a bunch of issues sourcing coffee because it is something neither of us have done before, so learning how to navigate the new world of sourcing feels challenging, yet exciting. It also shows us the value of time and finances which are both scarce as we both work full time jobs outside of Tanbrown to make this dream a reality. So, if anyone wants to help us or sponsor a bag of coffee for us, that would be amazing!
Darla: I agree with Marissa, it is launching this thing. There is a lot to learn and we are here to learn and grow and share. While there are challenges when it comes to the ins and outs of the roasting world, we are also glad to have had so much support from the community around us.
Being people of colour in America who are hyphenated artists and entrepreneurs is a challenge in itself. Access to money via jobs to support our work and our community is difficult. The challenges are many, the greatest is hard to speak of as it is waking everyday and doing the thing that we feel most compelled to do.
In what ways do you show up for yourself or your staff every day?
Childers: We don't have staff but we have each other. In some ways we show up for one another by just making sure we check in and say "thank you" or "I am grateful for you" and mean it. Oh and food. Always food.
Darla: We love each other. We eat together, vent, send memes and sit down and talk.
Photo by Keenan Hadley.
Do you remember your first (ever) sip of coffee?
Childers: My first sip of coffee I hated. I tried it black and it was something I always loved smelling. I think I snuck some from the carafe while my mom had gone to work one day, because the smell was always so alluring. After that, curiosity kept me and then I started using the french vanilla Mr. Coffee creamer and it changed the game for me, though now, it makes me feel sick if I drink anything too dairy or too sweet.
Darla: Yes, I remember the first time. I was in a student dining room in Chicago, that was located in a basement with no natural light but a few windows and it was early in the morning. I was told that I would enjoy this cup of black coffee without milk and sugar. I hated it. Tasted gross but I drank it cuz I felt the energy boost.
How has the way you identify kept you from accessing the things you want or need for your business?
Darla: You have to tactfully navigate a room to communicate what you want. Speaking your truth unashamedly only works for a few; the rest of us have to wade through a swap of resistance to be seen and interacted with, whether it be a yes or a no to the ask. Being, non-American politically, being both black and brown, being a migrant, being a creative and an entrepreneur and attuned to what my body communicates and how it is that I am perceived here is what has kept me from many rooms. I appreciate this question and I am grateful to answer it but there is so much to say here. So I’ll say that, I'm another drop in the ocean of the marginalized and am here to work with, for and alongside those who feel similar.
What advice would you give to someone that holds a marginalized identity who is looking to start a coffee business?
Childers: You are not an island. There are many people out there who will try to keep you down, but there are also many more who will help you get off the ground. If you don't know something, reach out to someone and the worst thing they can say is "no" which is just a word! Generally speaking, you do not have to be an expert before starting things. If you dream about it and the only thing stopping you is fear, just do it and allow community to be there to support you because your story and space are important. Part of the battle is showing up.
Darla: Do it, reach out for support. Ask. Contact Tanbrown, maybe we can help and we would love to. We are very accessible and always will be.
What kind of music do you like to listen to while you work? Do you have a playlist you could share with us?
Childers: My music heavily depends on mood and who I am with. If I am being honest, I probably listen to more podcasts than music, but artists I always come back to are Jhené Aiko, Samia, Remi Wolf, and some good old fashioned pop punk because I'm a sad boi at heart. To be honest, I will generally like anything, but I can't listen to Tame Impala or Mac Demarco anymore because I have a theory that all coffee shop radios lead back to Tame Impala and it hurts my brain.
Darla: I listen to alot of Arabic, Hindi, Malayalam, Tamil, Kannada, Telugu, Korean and English music. Here is a playlist that I made for a community called Playlist Posse.
Describe your favorite coffee drink!
Darla: Oat Cortado with sea salt and a caramel drizzle. My sister used to make it for me and it is my all time favourite espresso drink. The espresso had a gradient of flavours, and salt and caramel helped those flavours shine. It was so smooth on the tongue like a buttery croissant.
Childers: I love iced coffee of many forms. I make a ton of iced pour overs which I think stem from my Korean heart loving iced americanos for years. To me, there is a magic about an iced coffee, so many nuances of flavor come out when brewed just right and there can be a balance of refreshing met with moments of pause. I also just love chewing on ice even though it's bad for my teeth.
How can your coffee community support you best right now?
Darla: We need to buy more coffee, and soon, a bigger roaster. Exposure would help. Financial support would help us a lot too.
Childers: Please buy our coffee so we can buy more coffee because we dream to build more in our community. Tell your friends about us! Send resources or grant opportunities! We are but a couple of folks doing things without investors.
The last two years have been particularly rough (to say the least), what kept you going?
Darla: My family and friends. Good food and beautiful art. I don't mean to sound cliche but that is really all that has kept me going.
Childers: lol. Honestly seeing people show up for each other has kept me going. Anger has fueled me more than it has in the past. My dog has kept me going and watching people I love and care about thrive, doing the things they love and are passionate about has been life giving.
What’s the most unexpected thing you’ve experienced with your business so far? Good or bad!
Childers: The support has been unexpected. Just the amount of sheer joy and love we have when met with an order. Wow. That's unmatched. I don't think I realized how many people would be so supportive and even advocate for us.
Darla: People really supported us so much and are continuing to do so. That is what I found to be so unexpected and grateful for.
Why do you think it is particularly important for the coffee community to take care of each other?
Childers: it's important because a lot of times… the corporations and businesses aren't going to be the ones to take care of people in the margins so pay baristas more and invest in education, they can turn into industry leaders one day and that could be something that can change the industry for the better. Until then, we gotta stick up for one another because we have each other.
Darla: Oooofff. Pay your baristas more. Let's start there.
There are always new things to learn about coffee! What’s holding your interest the most right now? What would you like to learn more about asap?
Childers: Currently I am really interested in history from different producing nations and how it came to be. I am also really wanting to learn more about green buying, sourcing and ethical partnership because that's a whole new world. Finally, I am always trying to dive deeper into sensory development and sense memories because those particulars always remind me of the details of coffee.
Darla: There's a story about coffee from Yemen that went to India. That is what I am really into right now. Knowing more about that. I am also wanting to learn more about different ways of processing coffee. There is always something new on the horizon.
Childers: Cooking more coffee for folks, planning new pop-ups, hopefully getting into some farmers markets, and eventually being a part of building more for our immediate community. But we are doing this together so it's gonna be great.
Darla: Waking up tomorrow, and doing this all over again and I am looking forward to it cuz I get to work with Marissa.