Keren Blount has always been struck by the connections made in coffee shops. From business meetings and study sessions to first dates, she’s always been drawn to them as spaces for meeting, getting things done and deepening relationships. Years ago, she told her husband that one day that she wanted to own one.
“But you don’t know anything about coffee,” he replied.
In the intervening years, Blount, 28, has immersed herself in the world of coffee, an experience that culminated in 2020 with the establishment of Runner Coffee Company, based in Upland, California. It was the best way she could think of to blend three of her passions: caffeine, getting outdoors and connecting with other people.
Starting from Scratch
Blount was a woman with an idea, but she knew less about the execution. Born and raised in Upland, she was familiar with the outdoorsy community nestled at the foot of Mount San Antonio and the Angeles National Forest. A runner since junior high, she knew just how important coffee was for getting her out the door in the morning, and that she wasn’t alone in feeling that way. She started the only place she could think of: applying for jobs as a barista.
“I got what I thought was a barista job, but it was really an ice cream scooping job,” Blount remembers. The owner had opened an ice cream shop to complement his coffee roasting business, and spent most of his time importing and exporting green raw, green coffee beans.
“I had no idea what he was talking about at the time,” says Blount. “All I knew was that working for this guy would be a step in the right direction for getting into working in coffee. I still work with him five years later and I now manage a roasting facility in L.A.”
Working with a roaster, Blount had countless resources at her fingertips to learn about the process of sourcing, buying and blending coffee. She sources beans from Mexico, Ethiopia, Indonesia and several countries in Central and South America.The more familiar she got with the process, the more Blount began experimenting with creating her own blends.
“One of the reasons I like coffee a lot is because it has to do with food and tasting. I just find that really fun,” she says. “You’re constantly cupping and tasting to find out what goes well, and figuring out percentages of different varieties to figure out what characteristics and nuances you want from each coffee. What do I want to bring out and be elevated through a blend to highlight what makes each coffee special?”
As she began to finesse the characteristics she wanted from her own brand, Blount began taking baby steps toward laying the foundation for creating Runner Coffee Company. She began with a social media presence, following as many local runners as she could and connecting with as many as possible. Formerly a road runner, she ran her first trail race last fall, the locally legendary Mt. Baldy Run to the Top, in which racers gain and lose over 4,000 feet of elevation in just over 7 miles. Soon, she started getting messages from runners who were interested in collaborating with her.
There was just one problem. Runner Coffee Company didn’t exist yet.
Better than Perfect
“All of it was kind of unexpected. It wasn’t something I set out to do and I hadn’t gone in with the goal of starting it in the pandemic,” says Blount. “It just came about.”
When athletes started reaching out to learn more about her brand, Blount knew she needed to get something formally established to be able to create deeper connections within and beyond her community. In 2020, she’d been focusing on fine-tuning every aspect of her dream, trying to make sure everything was perfect. But the opportunities meant for us sometimes come before we’re ready.
“That interest early on propelled me to put something together and get it out there,” says Blount. “I’ve heard the saying ‘Done is better than perfect,’ and that really applied to what I learned. I’d had this dream of my own business for years, and wanting it to be perfect can often hinder you from doing something about it. I just kind of went for it.”
She debuted the brand in 2020, and continues to develop both her products and her process. To date, Runner Coffee has three roast options: a rotating single-origin, a medium roast house blend and her signature “Runner’s High” dark roast.
She’s involved in every step of the roasting method, placing a particular emphasis on sustainability. Some of the coffee farms they work with are small enough that Blount knows which individual is harvesting and packing the beans she’ll roast. Those connections are just as important to her as the ones she makes with local runners on the selling end.
“It has to do with making sure that the ethics that are practiced as early on as [possible], that we treat the people working on both ends well, that they’re making wages to be able to provide for themselves,” she says. “We care a lot about using good quality coffee that is organic and RFA (Rainforest Alliance) certified as well as fair trade. These are all things we look for.”
With Runner Coffee a little over a year old, Blount’s main goal is growth. She hopes to continue partnering with individual runners and to travel to some of the farms she sources beans from. In May, she will partner with her first race, Arizona’s Cocodona 250. She’ll run an overnight aid station for runners and crew, brewing coffee and keeping people awake and moving forward. It’s what she plans to do herself, too, as her dream grows into a reality.
“I’ve never experienced anything remotely like this, it’s my first opportunity. I’m nervous, but I’m very excited to see what can come about from that,” she says of Cocodona. “Since I’m so early on, I’m still working on that process of figuring out what Runner Coffee is. The response has been amazing. I wasn’t expecting what has become of it so soon.”
Reagan Colyer is Trail Runner’s assistant editor. She lives in the Northern Rockies of Montana and came to the trails after college as a middle-distance track athlete. She is a copy editor by trade and a reader of literally anything.