Headshot of Jessica Taylor, Co-Founder and CEO of Ezra Coffee.
Beginning as a passion project, Ezra Coffee Founder Jessica Taylor grew her business from roasting beans on her home stove to big retail shelves. — Rachel Bell

Why it matters:

  • Coffee is one of the world’s most widely consumed beverages, with the global coffee market expected to reach $83 billion by 2027.
  • Ezra Coffee landed on a unique business model in the saturated coffee market by connecting coffee with culture and history.
  • The brand is elevating stories about significant events and people in American history, with a focus on Black and LGBTQ stories.

Jessica Taylor was working in diversity, equity, and inclusion at Toyota when her younger sister, Victoria, found out she was lactose intolerant and allergic to soy and nuts. How could Victoria continue to consume a creamy cup of coffee, a beverage both sisters enjoyed? Taylor set out to solve the dilemma.

At home during early days of the pandemic when shipping delays meant she couldn’t get the coffee roaster she wanted, Taylor roasted beans in a cast iron skillet on her home stove. She experimented with flavors and seasonings. Her goal: to make a coffee so rich and flavorful that adding milk wouldn’t be necessary.

Taylor succeeded, and she wanted to bring her new concoctions to the masses, especially with the knowledge that some two-thirds of the world’s population suffers from lactose-intolerance, with Black and Brown communities among the most affected.

Now, Taylor is the Founder and CEO of the Dallas, Texas-based Ezra Coffee, a specialty, ethically sourced coffee brand whose motto is: connecting coffee, culture and history. “We’re really trying to get folks back to drinking coffee black,” Taylor told CO—.

In less than two years, Taylor has landed her product on the shelves of more than 40 H-E-B stores, one of Texas’ largest grocery chains, as well as online at Target and Amazon. Ezra is also helping support college students by giving need-based scholarships to students attending a four-year institution from a portion of the company’s proceeds.

“Ezra started out as a passion project,” Taylor said. At the time, Taylor was leading scholarship programming at Toyota and had also recently started a nonprofit to support kids going to college. “I had all these pieces, these nuggets, but nothing cohesively in one space,” she said. “I pulled in my love for scholarship programming, history, coffee, and of educating people of color, and I wrapped it all into Ezra.”

Packaging sparks cultural conversations

Taylor’s products are unique for their branding, packaging, and the stories they tell. Coffee blends pay homage to significant events and people in American history focusing on Black and LGBTQ writers, activists, and educators.

“The coffee blend names open the door for conversation,” she said.

Her 64th and Tulsa blend honors the significance of Black Wall Street in the Greenwood District of Tulsa and the 1964 Presidential signing of the Civil Rights Act, while the Lorde Baldwin blend is a nod to Black gay writers James Baldwin and Audre Lorde, who spoke together in a 1984 talk at Hampshire College.

“On the back of our bags, we tell amazing stories about Black people that aren’t rooted in adversity and slavery,” said Taylor, who grew up in Atlanta. “There are so many people who have done great things and made inventions we don’t know about.”

Packaging details are intentional, too, she added. For example, a thumbprint on the coffee bags is a reminder that people of color’s thumbprint is on many of the products and conveniences people enjoy in everyday life. Bags are also adorned with Ghanaian Adinkra symbols from the Asante people in West Africa.

[Read: How Companies Are Monetizing Consumer Demand for Street Food From Around the World]

“The coffee blend names open the door for conversation,” she said. Her 64th and Tulsa blend honors the significance of Black Wall Street in the Greenwood District of Tulsa and the 1964 Presidential signing of the Civil Rights Act, while the Lorde Baldwin blend is a nod to Black gay writers James Baldwin and Audre Lorde, who spoke together in a 1984 talk at Hampshire College.

Jessica Taylor, Founder, Ezra Coffee

Getting help from grants and accelerators

Taylor’s love of coffee began with her grandfather, Charlie, who used to give her sips of his daily brew. He also paired reading with his morning cup of coffee, learning about the world through the day’s edition of the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

“I wanted the same with Ezra,” Taylor said, “for people to learn something and to say, ‘Wow, I didn’t know that.’ No other coffee brands are telling these stories of Blackness.”

For Taylor, the biggest business challenge she’s faced breaking into the $61 billion global coffee market (it’s expected to reach $83 billion by 2027) has been funding. Along the way, she’s benefited from grants and guidance from business experts. She applied to participate in Target’s accelerator program, Target Forward Founders, and got in.

The eight-week program starting in June 2021 included a custom curriculum, speakers, and mentorship. From there, Target told her they wanted to carry her coffee online. Taylor applied to H-E-B’s Quest for the Best competition that sources the best local products made by Texans. And while she didn’t win, Ezra caught a buyer’s eye.

“The buyer liked us and wanted to talk,” Taylor said. During an in-store meeting in spring 2021, Taylor temporarily placed two bags of her coffee on an H-E-B shelf. “I said, this is what I see for myself,” she said. It proved to be a smart business move, too, because Taylor also realized her bags were too large to fit on the shelves.

Soon after, “we did all new packaging,” she said. “Had I not manifested that, I never would have known.” Five months later, Ezra Coffee landed on H-E-B shelves. Taylor also got help from an accelerated business program called BREAKTHROUGH designed to support women of color entrepreneurs in the form of a $5,000 grant.

[Read: Why Amazon, Google, and Other Big Businesses Have Launched Accelerators to Help Minority-Owned Startups]

Expansion plans and new products

Partnerships with other brands have also helped boost exposure as well. During one recent event, Hennessy used Le Grand Duc 1928—Ezra’s cognac-infused blend— to make expresso martinis. The coffee is named after Eugene Bullard, the first Black combat pilot and owner of Le Grand Duc, a famous Parisian nightclub.

Funding continues to be a challenge. Marketing, especially, is expensive, said Taylor. For example, getting a product placed at an end cap, or shelf at the end of a store aisle, a spot that better captures customers’ attention, can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

But consistent marketing is critical to continuing to attract business from Ezra’s core customers: shoppers interested in trying new food products, conscious consumers that want to support a local Black woman-owned business, and coffee connoisseurs.

Recently, Ezra has expanded into the Michigan market, and there are plans to extend into even more retailers next year. In November, Taylor will release a decaffeinated blend. She hopes to extend more scholarships in the coming year, too.

“We’re just continuing to expand,” Taylor said. “We’re small, but we’re scrappy.”

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