"This one’s like dried mango, honeydew and toffee,” explains Brad Ewing, owner of Three Ships Coffee. He takes a whiff into a bag of coffee beans as a euphoric look takes over his face. Picking up another bag, he exclaims, “I really like this one because it’s like punchy, punchy, punchy fruit, and then it’s got this really long finish.” Listening to him talk about the bags of beans with such enthusiasm, you may think he’s just over-caffeinated. But the truth is he’s that excited about coffee.
He and his wife, Amy, started the business last summer. Brad, a Virginia Beach native, says he wanted to give locals something to be proud of that they can call their own and also to create a sense of community. They achieved success when their cold brew coffee gained popularity at the Old Beach Farmers Market.
A year later, the couple has transitioned into roasting small batches of coffee out of their garage in Virginia Beach's Shadowlawn neighborhood.
The beans come from coffee-producing countries that offer the type of complexity that they’re endeared to. Their favorite region is Africa, specifically Ethiopia and Kenya.
“We chase the harvest. It allows us—if we pay attention and do our homework—to get the coffees that just got harvested,” Brad explains. “They come in bright green, and they’re just beautiful.”
Each time they get a new bean, after it’s roasted, they go through a process called cupping, essentially making a very fast cup of coffee to taste. Amy’s sommelier’s palate comes in handy when it’s time to determine whether the coffee measures up to their standards. “The cupping process is all about finding defects," Brad says. “You try to figure out if you can bring out the true beauty of that coffee.”
Brad describes the process as an art form. “We’re no longer in the shadow of the people who produce the coffee,” he says. “Every bit of artistry that goes into producing our coffee we do ourselves.”
The Ewings are especially happy to be able to roast their own beans, not just to control cost but to control quality. “We’re not just a coffee roaster. We’re not a manufacturer. We are two real people,” Brad says. “The attention to detail—all the way from the green bean to the cup—is really what makes a different experience.”
Follow Three Ships Coffee on Facebook to find out when and where they’ll be setting up the Susan Constant, a pop-up pour bar, and visit www.ThreeShipsCoffee.tumblr.com to learn where coffee can be purchased.