Awesome Specialty Coffee Roasters
In 1993 there were 37 independent roasters in Seattle. Independent coffee roasting in Canada was in its infancy. Vancouver was buzzing about two Starbucks stores on opposite corners on Robson St.
The market for awesome specialty coffee roasters was ready to explode.
The SCAA, Specialty Coffee Association of America, held its annual conference in Seattle that year. By now I was married, very pregnant and determined to attend. The west coast was known to be at the forefront of the coffee revolution. I needed to find out what they were doing and bring it home.
At The Coffee Tree in Toronto, we were basically the only kid on the playground. Our mission was to introduce the concept of fresh-roasted coffee beans to anyone who loved coffee and persuade them put our coffee beans in their cupboard at home on a weekly basis.
To gain attention, we hand-delivered samples of green coffee beans. No one knew coffee grew on a tree or that it needed roasting to become brown. Ground coffee gets stale much faster than whole beans and dark oily roasts break down even faster. It wasn’t common knowledge that roasted coffee beans have a short shelf life.
We printed a quarterly newsletter, the layout was type set and printed from film. The newsletter idea was copied by other people in the coffee business. People came to sit at our espresso bar and copy our menu ideas and coffee bean prices.
To add interest, we created a calendar with special drinks and events and mailed it out to Bloor West residents. Looking back, it is proof that Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator have completely changed the way we would later create promotions for our customers. All our promotions were direct mail outs through Canada Post with no way to measure the actual success of any campaign. Creating a monthly calendar was the right idea but not well executed!
Were you making a 10 cup pot of coffee every morning in your coffee maker?
Do you remember adding coffee beans to your shopping cart from the Supermarket or the St Lawrence Market. With every customer that came through the door, we started a conversation about the taste difference that drinking fresh coffee would deliver. Honestly, this conversation went on for years, with the coffee roaster churning and smoking at the front, drinks and pastries and sandwiches being made further back and seating at the very back of the store to allow people to sit, relax and enjoy.
The most effective form of persuasion was when a customer drank someone else’s coffee and suddenly realized they could appreciate the difference.
We needed the cash flow from food service to build our bean sales. What looks really obvious today was a journey for both our customers to learn to trust us and for us to learn from our mistakes and build integrity.
When did you switch to drinking specialty coffee and espresso?
In Seattle at the SCAA, I was awestruck. The place was bustling with vendors and buyers. My favourite discovery was an awesome specialty coffee roaster called Vivace Espresso Bar with the most delicious coffee I’d tasted. It was David Schomer who ran the Latte Art Workshops at the show and, in my opinion, vaulted the Barista Championships towards what they’ve become today. Being a Barista was fast becoming a respected role and not just a part-time job on your way to somewhere else.
I felt validated as an awesome specialty coffee roaster in Toronto, Canada but there was a long way to go to bring Toronto Coffee Culture up to Seattle Speed.
Next time I’ll talk about the Jabez Burns sample roaster that became the backbone of The Coffee Tree business.