It’s not just the caffeine, it’s the experience: the drip-drip-drip of the percolator, the heady aroma of a fresh brew, that first burning sip. Now, with a growing number of rural Ontario coffee roasters, it’s easy to enjoy a cup of joe custom-blended to match the mood.
The surge in small coffee roasters is an offshoot of the local-foods movement, that trend aiming to combine great taste with a clear social and environmental conscience. Of course, all coffee beans accrue thousands of food miles en route to Canada, but the difference with ethical ones is in the way they’re sourced. Fair trade means honest wages for growers; coffees certified under programs such as Rainforest Alliance come from sustainable farms; and organic beans are raised without using any nasty chemicals.
Shane Hoffmann of St. Joseph Island Coffee Roasters says this all adds up to a better brew. Typical supermarket coffee may sit on warehouse and grocery store shelves for months. “It only takes a few weeks for coffee to lose its aroma and flavour characteristics,” he says.
How you brew your beans also makes a difference. Patricia Snell, president and co-founder of Huntsville-based Muskoka Roastery Coffee Company, recommends purging the air out of the bag the coffee beans came in or storing them in a Mason jar. Process beans into uniform grounds just before brewing, and, whether you prefer to use a French press or a percolator, make sure your coffee machine is clean and can heat the water to optimal brewing temperature (Hoffman recommends 94°C). Add a misty lake and calling loons, and the rest is easy.
Old Rock Roastery, Sudbury
The Bean: Sudbury natives Luc and Carole Roy began by selling their coffee to friends and at farmers’ markets. By 2007, they were roasting full time, and now produce 70 varieties. The Brew: The Great Outdoors, a full-bodied Vienna roast with a smoky flavour reminiscent of campfire-brewed coffee.
Ashanti Coffee Enterprises, Thornbury
The Bean: David Wilding-Davies farmed coffee in the east African highlands for 14 years. He moved back to Canada in 2005 and started his company a year later, making two roasts from Zimbabwean beans. The Brew: Ashanti’s dark roast employs washed arabica beans for a brew that’s less harsh than most bold-tasting coffees.
St. Joseph Island Coffee Roasters, St. Joseph Island
The Bean: Calgary “hobby roasters” Shane and Heather Hoffmann bought a homestead on Lake Huron’s North Channel and started selling their micro-roasted coffee in 2009. The Brew: A smooth, medium-dark roast of Central and South American beans, Ship & Anchor is named for the pub where the Hoffmanns met.
Muskoka Roastery Coffee Company, Huntsville
The Bean: Toronto IT specialist Patricia Snell and her scientist husband, Doug, returned to the Snell family roots on Muskoka’s Mary Lake. In 2000, they invested in a roaster, opened their Huntsville café, and started alchemizing. The Brew: One popular blend is Black Bear, a dark, French-style roast with kick.
Coutts & Company, Perth
The Bean: Since 2000, chemical engineer Al Teflissi has practised the “science and art” of selecting, blending, and roasting small batches of fair trade and organic arabica beans from seven countries. The Brew: One of Coutts’s bestsellers is a medium-dark Mexican coffee, which features earthy and nutty flavours.