During his residency at Inova Fairfax Hospital in 2017, Larry Istrail met a patient suffering from a rare form of cancer called pheochromocytoma, which can be treated with surgery. It causes the adrenal gland to pump out too much adrenaline, which leads to high blood pressure, sweating and anxiety. Basically, as Mr Istrail said, the symptoms are similar to drinking too much coffee.
Now, Istrail, an internist at Inova Fairfax who lives in Arlington, has launched an online-only coffee company, Pheo Coffee, named after the condition to fund surgeries in developing countries.
Starting a new company could be tough but starting a coffee company could be even tougher. The reason: Istrail didn’t have any experience roasting coffee. He started roasting coffee from Ethiopia and Mexico in an iron skillet in his kitchen. After around many unsuccessful attempts and a lot of burned beans, he turned to Lone Oak Coffee Company in Winchester, Va., for roasting.
Pheo Coffee now has a selection of four kinds of coffee and each roast honours a significant moment or person in medicine: the Butterfly blend is a nod to Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing; Wilhelm Rontgen’s X is a breakfast blend celebrates the discoverer of X-rays; Dr. Morton’s Dulci Vitrioli is a single origin Mexican Chiapas that tells the story of the first use of anesthesia; and Dr. Oliver’s Norepi is a single-origin Ethiopian Yirgacheffe that honours the discovery of adrenaline.
Istrail aimed to create a business with a stronger social mission. He partnered with Watsi, a nonprofit healthcare crowd-sourcing platform that enables individual donors to directly fund medical care for individuals in developing countries without access to affordable medical care. A portion of the profits from the coffee and other merchandise—medically themed shirts, mugs, and glassware—ultimately go toward surgeries in developing countries around the world. When people buy coffee or any other item, they receive a photo of the person their purchase is directly impacting.
To date, Istrail’s company has helped to fund ten surgeries, with ten more currently in the works.