The Dish List: Kean Coffee

Phuc Pham | New University

There’s nothing quite like a coffee shop — it is home for the writer, the reader and the dreamer in all of us. And in a world where coffee culture rules, Kean Coffee is the king. This hidden gem is tucked in between a few small businesses across from Westcliff Plaza in Newport. I arrived on a Wednesday afternoon and was greeted by the faint scent of pine wafting from holiday wreaths cheerfully placed upon the doorway and the twinkle of lights woven around the store. I made my way to the back of the line and examined the menu. I had been there a few times before, and decided to go with my usual order of the Café Napoli, a delicious conjunction of white chocolate and hazelnut, ordered in a ceramic cup for a sit-and-stay visit. The expansive menu offers an indulgent number of choices, from the Turkish latte spiced with cardamom, the Grasshopper latte, and the Cafe Borgia, a mix of orange and dark chocolate. To my great delight, I noticed upon closer examination that Kean also offers almond milk in addition to organic milk and soymilk — a rarity amongst coffee houses and a top-notch sign of a great business.

Kean’s coffee philosophy centers on a wholesome and environment-friendly approach. Using fair trade and rainforest certified and biodegradable product packaging, Kean is a socially and environmentally restorative coffeehouse that does as much for its customers as it does for the environment. The award-winning store’s main hallmark is their latte art. The milk is first whipped into a velvety microfoam while the espresso is extracted through pressure and portion control to create an ultra-fine foam called “crema.” The milk is then poured into the crema with precise and controlled motions to create latte art — at Kean Coffee, this comes in the standard leaf design, but in my experience, the secret is to request a different design. I placed my order, asking the barista to surprise me with a unique design. To my great delight, my latte art came in the shape of a bear, peering out of the cup as if giving a small hello.

Kean Coffee is relatively small, with room for only a few polished wooden tables available and a high stool bar built along the wall to create a nook perfect for reading or doing light work. Bags of coffee beans, French press machines and Kean merchandise are available for purchase. In addition, Kean offers a sampling of pastries as exotic sounding as the name of its drinks: the chocolate almond swirl brioches and apricot ginger scone, among others, are available to pair with the perfect cup of coffee.

If the name Martin Diedrich sounds familiar, then you won’t be surprised to find out he and his wife created the company Diedrich Coffee. In 2004 however, the coffee connoisseurs parted ways from Diedrich Coffee to return as an independent coffeehouse operators — thus Kean Coffee was born. I spoke with Karen Diedrich about her family’s interest in creating Kean.

“Our vision for Kean Coffee is two parts: one aspect is to offer the highest quality coffee attainable to our guests and to offer them the ultimate coffee experience, as well as the highest quality in everything else we purvey,” Diedrich said. “The second aspect is to create a community gathering place where people can feel a part of their community, meet in a warm, comfortable environment to interact with others, relax and feel they have a refuge from the stresses of life.”

When asked how Kean has succeeded in creating a third place venue that caters to an audience appreciative of fine coffee and espresso Diedrich said, “The atmosphere we create in our coffeehouses is a welcoming community meeting place open to people from all walks of life. One thing some people get frustrated about is that we don’t offer Wi-Fi, but we intentionally do that because we want the Kean Coffee ambiance to be one of social interaction, not a library or office-like atmosphere … we don’t want it to turn into a ‘second office’ instead of a ‘third place,’ or the community feeling will be spoiled for those who want to connect with others in real life rather than sit alone and connect online.”

So why is it called Kean?

“Kean is the name of our only son,” Diedrich said.

“We kind of borrowed his name because it represented bringing coffee to the next generation.”

Indeed. The Diedrich’s passion for procuring the finest coffee is evident through their business model and the quality of everything they have to offer and, like their coffee, is an unstoppable force when it comes to practicing their coffee ritual. And to that, I raise my cup of coffee.