Four Letter Word: A True Coffee Love Story

There are some people out there that are driven by creativity and sheer passion — and when these types of people pair up, big things tend to happen. This was the case for long-time friends, Eylem Ozkaya and Ria Neri.

Collectively, they decided to build their artisan coffee empire — and the rest is, as they say, history. Their story is not just unique, it is inspiring. Showing everyone around them that anything is possible, their evolution is somewhat of a love story.

Although their coffee “love story” technically begins on an island off the coast of Istanbul, Four Letter Word has since joined Logan Square. This Chicago neighborhood is known for its cocktail bars, craft beer, music venues, and of course, funky coffee shops.

The Evolution of Four Letter Word

Female-founded, Four Letter Word first began on the island of Burgaz. This is where the initial seed was planted and from there, the company grew into what it is today.

Friends since their childhood, Eylem and Ria are both Chicago locals. Being a city that is known for its quirky coffee shops and rare-find roasters, it was a trip to Istanbul that got them thinking.

After Eylem moved back to Istanbul, Ria soon came to visit. It was there that they began to think about the things they loved and how they could create something together. Their ideas and suggestions quickly turned into a collaboration — one that would send these friends on an exciting artisan coffee journey.

Ria was (and continues to be) a beer sommelier and avid homebrewer, with a keen interest in science and art. Although raised in Chicago, Eylem is originally from Istanbul. A self-taught baker, she too enjoys the balance between art and science.

So, it’s no surprise that roasting came so naturally to this passionate pair. They also have a great eye for design and a pair of warm hearts, eager to help those in need, as well as the planet.

Taking their vision to Burgaz, they opened their first microroastery in 2013. The concept’s design was created by their other long-term friend, Kevin Heisner, who is also a partner of Ria and Eylem. However, they all appear to have more of a family-like bond than a business partnership.

Bringing Four Letter Word Home

Although Ria’s holiday turned into a business opportunity, they would not stay on the island for long. After making their newfound dream a reality and learning the ropes, the Four Letter Word team decided that it was time to bring their evolving vision back home, to Chicago.

They had experienced great success in their Turkey-based location, which is still in operation, and based on their new knowledge (and growing relationships), they saw another opportunity. They were ready to bring a new concept to the Chicago craft coffee scene.

By fall 2015, their sister location launched and has continued to grow ever since. First located at The Plant, in the Back of the Yards, this location was the perfect stepping stone to reach the hearts (and taste buds) of Chicago-based coffee lovers. If that wasn’t enough, Ria also eventually co-founded Whiner Beer Co (just to give you an idea of how impressive these ladies are).

In-line with Four Letter Word’s overall mission and values, The Plant was an optimal starting point. With around 25 businesses inside this not-for-profit, sustainably run building, byproducts from one company’s production are then passed on and used by other participating businesses. This was important to Four Letter Word, as the company actively works to minimize waste production.

For example, when Four Letter Word was finished with leftover burlap bags (which were once used for storing and transporting green coffee), growers within the facility would use this material to grow microgreens. This is just one example of many, as environmental awareness drives the operations of Four Letter Word.

Their level of passion and commitment is driving environmental awareness, all while producing the highest quality coffee. However, they take the same approach when it comes to social initiatives. Spending time in Ethiopia and Columbia, Four Letter Word actively supports those in need of greater opportunities.

Expanding in the Second City

After they first introduced their unique brand and inspiring mission to the people of Chicago and beyond, Four Letter Word continued to grow. By 2018, they were ready for their first Chicago-based retail location.

Although just 500 square feet, this gave the team plenty of room to work with (considering their Turkish location is only around 150 square feet). Not surprisingly, it is beautifully designed, pulling inspiration and elements from their exciting journey thus far.

In fact, when you step into their new space, you will find personal items from each of the three owners’ homes. From furniture to art, they really stamped their newest location with a very personal touch. It’s a collaboration between them and their journey thus far.

More on the Goods — An Inside Look at Four Letter Word Coffee

Like most passionate artisan roasters, the team at Four Letter Word aims to respect the inherent qualities of the coffee they source. Meaning, they roast their beans to match what the producer originally intended.

Sourcing their beans from various regions, here are some of their most popular products:

Ethiopia, for instance, is known for its genetically distinct coffee. It is one of the global areas where coffee still grows wild, allowing it to evolve naturally. Four Letter Word will continue to source the highest quality coffee, opting to serve coffee that serves a true purpose.

If you’re not a Chicago local but would like to support the efforts of Four Letter Word, all while enjoying incredible coffee, you’re in luck. You can brew one cup after the other at home, following their inspiring story from afar.

The team from Four Letter Word has shown us that you do not need an army to build your own little empire. What started as a two-women, one-man venture, has since grown into a socially and environmentally conscious brand that touches the lives of many.

As they give back to the farmers and growers of the beans they roast, you and other coffee lovers also reap the benefits. As you sip Four Letter Word coffee, you can feel good knowing that you’re supporting a company that is actively making a difference.

Also, it doesn’t hurt that their coffee is, well, amazing. Try it for yourself and be sure to follow them as they continue their exciting journey. From Istanbul to Chicago, who knows where they’ll pop up next!


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