You Should Know: Jess Charwin

Jess Charwin. Courtesy of Jess Charwin

Ellen Braunstein

Did you know the first European coffee house was founded by a Jewish merchant in 1632? And that coffee houses served as safe spaces for the growth of Yiddish literature and intellectualism?

Jess Charwin, 34, of East Falls, drops those tidbits of Jewish history and counts herself as a purveyor of a community tradition that brings her closer to her Judaism.

Charwin imports coffee beans through direct trade with a farm in Colombia. The farm works with technology that saves water consumption, making it a sustainable process. And Charwin and her partner Ed Johnston pay 20-25% over the fair-trade rate for their Cultura Coffee brand.

“The majority of coffee from Colombia is actually very low grade purchased at a super-low price from farms that don’t produce very sustainably. So, we’re trying with our company to turn some of that on its head and focus on responsible sourcing,” Charwin said.
The beans are roasted in kosher equipment in Philadelphia and sold wholesale to grocery stores and cafes.

The interfaith couple also has held pop-ups around city neighborhoods offering free samples of Cultura Coffee.

“I was inspired by the idea for a social impact coffee company that leverages our connections to bring remarkable specialty coffee to Philadelphia and positive change to our communities,” said Charwin, whose day job is as a marketing manager for a team of workforce solution consultants.

Charwin does not belong to a synagogue but said she was reintroduced to Jewish teachings and rituals through her Tribe 12 fellowship. Tribe 12 connects entrepreneurial Jews in their 20s and 30s to Jewish life and community in Philadelphia.

Charwin was first introduced to coffee when she traveled to Columbia for her job as marketing director of a social impact traveling company. Previously, she worked in marketing for an investment bank in Manhattan.

Charwin is from Cranbury in Central New Jersey. With the help of several Indian-American friends, she got an early start in entrepreneurism. She developed a talent for henna painting and started a business.

“I actually turned it into something larger where I had a few employees and it helped me pay my way through college,” she said.

She is also a foodie and loves cooking.

“I just love making people happy through serving them whether it’s food or coffee,” she said. “I think it’s something that really connects me to my Jewish heritage.”

Growing up in an interfaith family, Charwin would join her folks during the holidays to share food and togetherness.

“That was a ritual and something that gave a lot of meaning and joy in my life,” she said.
Charwin was introduced to Judaism by her grandmother, a Yiddish speaker. That connection drove her to bring not just better coffee to Philadelphia but a better coffee culture, she said.

“Coffee wouldn’t be something to take just as fuel for productivity, but something that you would want to sit and savor and share with friends,” Charwin said.

This is the first year she and her non-Jewish partner, Johnston, will host a seder.
“Ed meeting my grandparents at a family seder was an enlightening experience into my past and what’s important to me,” she said. ”My grandmother loved him. So, I was really happy with the result.”

When they met, Johnston, 37, worked as an underwater welder in the Gulf of Mexico oil and gas industry. They first became acquainted at a café in New Orleans, where she attended Tulane University. There she majored in international development, Spanish and Portuguese.

The couple came to Philadelphia because of Johnston’s career move to Comcast as a Python software developer. Self-taught, he now works as a software engineer for an online pet supplement company called PetLab.

Through his introduction to Charwin’s family traditions, Johnston has come to appreciate Judaism.

“They seem a little bit more level-headed and calm than some of the other religions out there,” he said. “I really like that most of the rituals and celebrations are about getting together and remembering good times, some bad, but let’s eat.”

The couple relocated to Philadelphia right before the pandemic and were unable to get established with new friends. But Charwin made an important community connection with her first Tribe 12 event — a Shabbat dinner in Spanish at Moishe House.

“It made me realize the connection I was missing in the Jewish community,” she said.
She continues to enjoy the Tribe 12 seminars and fellowship.

“There are some really smart people doing some awesome things in the world and being able to work next to them has been really an honor.”

Charwin also appreciates the mentorship she’s received in the program.

“It just connected at the right time with what we wanted to do with our goals for Tribe 12, with the fact that it’s an accelerator with a clear social impact,” she said.

Ellen Braunstein is a freelance writer.


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