Note: The opinions shared in this article do not reflect the overall position of The Herald, but rather offer insight from the authors. 

Geneva, a small town of about 13,000 people located in upstate New York is no stranger to a good cup of coffee. Aside from Dunkin’ Donuts, there are a plethora of small owned businesses that specialize in serving coffee. However, have you ever thought about where that coffee comes from and how it impacts your environment? 

I visited five local coffee shops in Geneva and researched where they source their coffee from and what sustainable practices they are implementing into their businesses. The coffee shops include Bad Burro, Bagels and Cakes, Empire Coffee & Donuts, Monaco’s Coffee, and Grounded. Two of the shops, Empire Coffee & Donuts and Grounded, recently opened up this Spring.  

Before I ventured out to the businesses themselves, I took a dive on the internet to see if I could find any primary information before conducting my interviews. I was pleasantly surprised to see that a good amount of the shops already included their coffee sources as well as their commitment to sustainability.  

On Monaco’s Coffee’s website, they state that they “try to source as much from our neighbors as possible.” They list the various local sources that their food comes from, some places being Rochester, Finger Lakes Farms, Canandaigua, and Geneva itself. They continue to state that their “coffee is roasted in house by John Cannon.” 

Empire Coffee & Donuts includes their sustainability statement on their home page. They say that they “are providing locally roasted coffee in a setting that is warm & family-friendly.” They are committed to providing high quality coffee for their customers. They utilize Cobblestone Coffee Roasters coffee. This coffee is roasted right across the road in small batches. They also include that their coffee is sustainably sourced and fair-trade. 

Taking just these two shops into consideration, by simply looking at the statements they provide on their websites, it appears as though Empire Coffee & Donuts provides the most sustainable cup of coffee so far.  

There is a lot that goes into making a business sustainable, from the most obvious such as reusing, recycling, and reducing plastic; to the less obvious such as switching to LED lightbulbs, reducing travel, and having energy efficient appliances. Reducing your carbon footprint and wasteful practices are other great ways that businesses can work to be sustainable. In my research, I was mainly interested in finding out if the coffee they are using is sustainably sourced or not.  

For the other coffee shops, I had to do a little more digging to see how sustainable their beans are. I knew I had to get to the root of the source, so I ventured out and spoke with the owners of the companies to see what I could find out.  

A table and chair sit in front of a trendy coffee counter.
Interior of the newly opened Grounded Coffee Shop. Credit: Sydney Herbruck / The Herald

Grounded is a new family-owned coffee shop that just recently opened up in Geneva this Spring. It is located on 68 Castle Street and provides both dine-in and takeout services. Additionally, they are open from 6:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. everyday.  

I spoke with the manager of Grounded, Joe Paynter, and learned just how sustainable their practices are.  

Sydney Herbruck (SH): Why did you start your company, what made you interested in roasting coffee?  

Joe: My parents always wanted to have a coffee shop, but just never had the time to open one. They talked and joked about it forever and this year they finally got around to doing it. It was always a dream of my dad’s, and then we found the perfect space on accident. I dropped out of college and got my brother Cameron to drop out with me and we have just gone from there.  

SH: What an amazing and wholesome story, that’s very inspirational. Now, what role do you play in the decision-making process when it comes to sourcing your coffee?  

Joe: We, meaning my brother and I, used to get a lot of freedom when it came to picking out where our coffee came from, but now we don’t have so much freedom. We played around with trying out too many different coffees and our parents got annoyed with us, but in the beginning yes, we did. We were able to choose from six different roasts of coffees that we like the most, and we chose our three favorites out of the six.  

SH: That’s funny, I’m sure I would have too much fun trying out the different roasts as well. For my next question, I am wondering where you source your coffee from.  

Joe: We source our coffee from a local roaster in Rochester called Joe Bean. Joe Bean is a B Corp Certified Company that is women owned. In order to have your company get the B Corp seal of approval, you have to be committed to meet high standards of verified performance, accountability, and transparency. B Corps are also recognized for their work of fighting for social and environmental justice. Additionally, Joe Bean sources their beans from Central America with award-winning coffee farmers.  

A small wooden bod containing coffee sleeves with a sign that says "Black Market"
Sustainable coffee sleeves at Grounded. Credit: Sydney Herbruck / The Herald

SH: That’s amazing. I love learning about B Corp companies so the fact that you source your coffee from a sustainable company is a huge step in the right direction, which leads me to my last question. Are you continually working to make your business more sustainable?  

Joe: Right now, we are doing everything we possibly can to keep our business sustainable. We have only been open for sixty days, but in those sixty days we have recycled everything we can, composted everything we can, and we make sure that our food waste is going to the proper places that are the least harmful to the environment. Right now, it is just me, Cameron, my mom, Jen, and our family friend, Zoe. And we are all committed to making this business as sustainable as it can be.  

SH: Thank you so much for your time. It was amazing getting to speak with you and I love your coffee. I will definitely be stopping in more frequently in the future.  

Speaking to Joe from Grounded was very refreshing. It is nice knowing that small coffee businesses in Geneva are trying their hardest to source their coffee sustainably. So far, Grounded is very comparable on a sustainability level with Empire Coffee & Donuts, and seems even more sustainable than Monaco’s. Something that I thought was very fun was that Grounded uses uncooked spaghetti noodles instead of plastic straws as coffee stirrers. They also use paper straws instead of plastic ones and serve their food on reusable plates. The spaghetti noodles were the most interesting aspect to me because I would never think of that as a replacement for straws.  

After receiving various “no’s,” “I don’t knows,” and “I’m not sures” from Bad Burro and Bagels & Cakes, I decided to interview the owner of Empire Coffee & Donuts, Dan Godwin, to see if I could learn more information than what was on his website. I asked him the same questions I asked Joe Paynter to keep the playing field fair.  

A light brown beverage in a glass mug sitting on a table in front of a rustic counter.
Iced coffee served inside Empire Coffee and Donuts. Credit: Sydney Herbruck / The Herald

SH: Why did you start your company, what made you interested in roasting coffee?  

Dan: It’s interesting because my background isn’t in business. I am a certified Biology teacher first, a foster care worker second, and then I decided I wanted to open a coffee shop with my wife. We named it Empire after our favorite movie Empire Records.  

SH: That’s a wonderful story. I know that you own the business, but I’m wondering what role you play in the decision-making process when it comes to sourcing your coffee.  

Dan: Other than deciding to get our coffee from Cobblestone Roasters across the street, I don’t have much say. I have to trust the roaster, John, that the source is organic and fair trade. Since our businesses is right across the street, we are John’s first stop.  

SH: You say that your sources for your coffee are as sustainable as you can make them since Geneva isn’t the right climate for coffee roasting. As for your business, are you looking to transition into more sustainable practices? 

Dan: Sort of. We give discounts if you bring your own travel mug. People ask me if I’m going to start selling Empire travel mugs, but why would I when everyone has one hundred travel mugs? I don’t care if it has another label, Starbucks, Monaco’s, bring your own mug and I’ll give you 25 cents off. Even bringing your own mug is better than us giving out the paper cups that we provide since they still have a plastic lining. More than 10 billion cups get thrown out each year which is terrible. I’m trying to combat that number.  

SH: That is amazing, and is more than what most small businesses are doing that I visited. Speaking of small businesses, what do you think their role is in terms of engaging with carbon neutrality?  

Dan: Any businesses should take into consideration carbon neutrality when harvesting their products. We’ve only been open two months and so we are obviously still learning what more we can do. We don’t have access to a lot of the ways that we can achieve that carbon neutrality just yet. There is a company in Berlin, Germany that is 3D printing terracotta coffee cups that are biodegradable and can be composted. Of course, I’d be interested in doing that when it’s more feasible. Since our business is right across the street from where we source our coffee, that last bit of carbon footprint is very little. There are no pesticides used and it is all organic which I can imagine helps a lot as well.  

SH: I’m glad you’re self-aware and care so much about this. It’s something I’m very passionate about as well. Thank you for taking the time to speak with me, I loved getting to know more about you and your business.  

Dan: Of course, it was lovely speaking to you too, let me know if you have any other questions and stop in any time.  

After speaking with the owners of both Grounded as well as Empire Donuts & Coffee, I realized sourcing a sustainable cup of coffee is much harder than it seems. These two local, small owned businesses are starting with all the right steps in terms of becoming a sustainable company: sourcing their coffee from sustainable and fair-trade companies, using paper straws, composting, recycling etc. However, is it enough?  

It is nearly impossible to have a company that is completely sustainable. Coffee aside, you have to take into consideration the other aspects such as where the food they’re selling is coming from and what it’s packaged in. This is a lot to analyze and can often make the business lose money rather than make money.  

For example, Bagels & Cakes is a much larger operation than the other business I visited, therefore it is not uncommon that the employees there were unaware of where their coffee was sourced. Their primary product is not coffee, making it easy to be put on the back burner. Coffee aside, a lot of their food is served in plastic containers with plastic utensils; the latter is nearly impossible to recycle. They also sell merchandise such as T-shirts, the production of which uses a lot of water and dyes. If you’re looking for a more sustainable cup of coffee or even an option for lunch, Bagels & Cakes is not at the top of the list.  

One of the other businesses I stopped at, Bad Burro, turned out to be a little more sustainable than I was expecting. The employees were also unsure of where their coffee came from, and when I asked about sustainability, they were at loss. However, I did learn that they home make most of their dairy products, which does help in terms of achieving carbon neutrality. That was all the information I was able to acquire from my research on Bad Burro, making their coffee slightly more sustainable than Bagels & Cakes, but still far behind Monaco’s, Grounded, and Empire Coffee & Donuts. 

There are many more small businesses that serve coffee in Geneva, N.Y. However, these are just the few that I chose to focus on. I wish I had a more straightforward answer for you, readers. But for now, all I can say is that your coffee is somewhat sustainable. It is clear that certain businesses care about the origins of their coffee more than others, and with that, I would say you should give your patronage to them. Despite what the businesses are doing themselves, you can always choose to bring your own travel mug or coffee cup to these places to try and promote sustainability yourself. Every act helps in the fight to find a sustainable cup of coffee.  

Sydney is a member of the class of 2025 and a Staff Writer for the Herald.

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