Kean Coffee: Carrying On Family’s Caffeinated Legacy

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Coffee Orange County

Kean Coffee serves as a caffeinated beacon in a Westcliff plaza.

No matter where I eat in Orange County, I inevitably combine the meal with a visit to Kean Coffee. There’s certainly excellent coffee in Los Angeles, but some of Kean’s specialty drinks still warrant a significant detour.

Kean Coffee is a fairly recent phenomenon, but coffee clearly flows through owner Martin Diedrich’s veins. The Diedrich coffee connection dates to 1916, when Martin’s grandmother Charlotte inherited a Costa Rican coffee plantation. Charlotte’s son Carl and his wife Inga continued the legacy, purchasing a coffee plantation of their own, in Guatemala. Beginning in 1972, Carl drove vans full of green coffee from Guatemala, roasting and selling the beans in Orange County. In 1986, son Martin opened a retail coffeehouse in Tustin. By December 2004, when Martin resigned from Diedrich Coffee, the company was a 200-outlet chain. In December 2005, Martin and wife Karen resurfaced in Newport Beach, naming their modern coffeehouse in honor of son Kean.

In opening Kean Coffee, Karen and Martin hoped to recapture the early energy of their previous coffeehouse. Karen said, “When Diedrich Coffee grew a bit too big, the in-store roasters were taken out and the coffee was being roasted offsite at an out-of-town roasting facility, and was no long truly fresh-roasted.” That’s not the case at Kean.

Karen Dietrich explained that she and her husband settled on the location for practical reasons: “We can literally walk to the coffeehouse.”

In addition to the spot-on coffee drinks, Kean Coffee also hosts inviting décor. Karen said, “The design concept was to create a rich, textured environment that would stimulate all of the senses. The sense of smell and taste are of course stimulated by the coffee. The visual sense is stimulated by a variety of materials including wood, fabric, metal, limestone plaster, the sense of touch with the textured “coffee bag wall.” To reinforce the coffee theme, there are even live coffee trees inside the coffeehouse. To boost the style quotient, the Diedrichs imported dazzling hand-painted glass lamps from Fortuny in Venice, Italy.

There’s almost always a steady flow of customers, but Kean offers several comfortable places to relax, including a sun-warmed patio, high-top and low-slung tables.

Like at most modern coffeehouses, Kean has an overhead drink menu. Considering all the enticing options, the menu has been known to induce decision-halting brain freeze.

Martin’s brother Stephan crafted the coffeehouse’s shiny red coffee-roasting machine at Diedrich Manufacturing, Inc. in Idaho.

When asked to describe what separates Kean from other area coffeehouses, Karen said, “Martin personally selects the highest quality single origin coffees he can find, and strives to provide a variety of coffees from different regions which represent the best of any particular season.” Given that philosophy, don’t be surprised to find blackboard options like pure Kona, Kenya Peaberry, Indonesia Sumatra and Guatemala Antigua, which fits with the Diedrich family tradition. It also helps matters that the Diedrichs show up at the coffeehouse on a daily basis.

With Kean Coffee, the Diedrichs have pushed themselves to improve upon the success they achieved with Diedrich Coffee. Karen said, “We have taken the caliber of the drink preparation to a higher, more sophisticated level, and modeled Kean Coffee after the ‘third wave’ coffeehouses that are setting the pace for the U.S. coffeehouse industry, largely in the Pacific Northwest.”

Coffee Orange County

Cardamom-dusted Turkish latte has become a signature Kean Coffee beverage.

The Turkish caffe latte with cardamom ($3.85) is evidence of their achievement, a reliably flavorful drink that’s dusted with cardamom and sports dazzling steamed milk fronds. Latte artistry is stressed at Kean, so don’t be surprised if your cup features a similarly dazzling milk crown. So far, two Kean employees have participated in barista competitions, which Karen called “‘Iron Chef’ for baristi.”

For a company that prides itself on latte artistry, the medium Caffe Borgia ($3.85) was a letdown, with bunched-up fronds. Thankfully, what the orange and dark chocolate drink lacked in style, it compensated with flavor.

Other interesting drinks on the menu include the Caffe Napoli with hazelnut and white chocolate, and The Grasshopper with mint and vanilla. Kean even has an interesting iced tea selection, highlighted by pear ginger black tea ($2.25) and Moroccan mint.

Coffee Orange County

Kean provides a lavender milk steamer for caffeine averse customers.

For customers averse to caffeine, Kean offers milk steamers. They sprinkle Lavender Milk Steamer ($3.30) with purple lavender crystals.

To provide customers with solid sustenance, the Diedrichs rely on Pacific Whey, a local bakery that keeps Kean’s display cases fully loaded. Popular items include a home-style bread pudding, flourless chocolate cake, mixed-berry peach scones and chocolate espresso chip cookies. For lunch, expect frittata, egg and cheese biscuits and turkey-Swiss “savory pouches.”

Being earth-friendly is another key aspect of the company’s mission. Kean is green. Not only does the couple source as many organic, fair-trade and Rainforest Alliance Certified coffees as possible, they also use biodegradable paper and plastic products and donate coffee grounds for fertilizer. Karen said, “We do this not so that we will look good but because we truly care and it is who we are and what we are about.”

Karen acknowledged that she and her husband plan to open one or two more locations in Orange County, but not until they find a location they love. It’s unclear if Kean Coffee is headed for empire status, like the previous Diedrich venture. If so, the test case is promising.


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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