Here at Green Beanery, we carry the world's largest selection of roasted and unroasted coffee. But it's not just our beans that come from all parts of the planet, the Green Beanery team is a reflection of that geographical reach, too. Most of us are from elsewhere, in some cases, the same countries we source our beans from.
Although coffee is a currency we have in common, it certainly isn't a standardized experience - a coffee is a coffee is sometimes a Türk kahvesi or a café cubano or an Americano but with ice cubes. And just as coffee culture differs from one place to the next, our coffee worldview likewise varies across location.
This inspired us to introduce our very own Coffee World, a new feature that aims to explore the global phenomenon of coffee in snapshot, and, today, we're training our lens on our very own beans inventory manager, Maria Hinojosa Leyva [pictured on the right alongside Priscila Fonseca - the creator of two of our new in-house blends].
Maria comes to us from Mexico with beans in her blood. In 1880, her great-grandfather bought a coffee farm in Pluma Hidalgo, a small, mountainous village in the south of Oaxaca, known for its organic coffee. Passed from great-grandfather to grandfather, the farm is now run by Maria's uncle, Carlos Leyva - and the coffee sure must be good there. Swimming in beans though she may be at Green Beanery, Maria favours her coffee homegrown prepared in the traditional Mexican way as café de olla, a "delicious pot coffee" infused with cinnamon.
It has become a tradition in Maria's family to visit her uncle's farm every December, which coincides with the month of harvest.
Q: Maria, can you tell us more about your family farm?
A: My grandfather took over the farm from his father when he was 40 years old. Production from 1940 to 1980 was very good and profitable, with export markets in Japan and Switzerland. My mother grew up on the farm and we return there at least once a year. As kids, we would swim in the fermentation tanks [used to loosen up the mucilage that remains on coffee beans after the cherry pulp is removed]. I should add, there was no coffee in them at the time! I remember playing on top of bagged coffee stored in tall stacks in the barn. Nowadays, production isn't what it used to be due to an ongoing issue with coffee rust and other reasons, more to do with economics. My uncle and cousin have had some success with their own artisanal blend, Nube Pluma, which they sell to coffee shops and small businesses in the city. [The farm's drying patio appears below. Visit the farm website here: https://www.nubeplumacafe.com/.]
Q: Do people drink more domestic coffee than imported?
A: Before I came to Canada, I thought all the good coffee that existed in the world was Mexican! Most people do drink Mexican coffee from the various major growing regions like Veracruz, Oaxaca and Chiapas. But one Colombian brand does come to mind: Juan Valdez, but it's still relatively new to us. Coffee from Costa Rica also has a presence in Mexico. Something I've discovered is that there is little economic support available to small farmers from the government. The lack of investment means these farmers don't realize their production potential and a lot of very good coffee never leaves the farm or winds up in blends with low quality beans.
Q: Has Starbucks infiltrated the market?
A: Oh yes. Mexicans adore Starbucks! But people aren't looking for a "good coffee" per se; they're more interested in brands. Most of the coffee sold by Starbucks is a dark roast, which is too bitter for me.
Q: You're not a fan of dark roast which is a roast profile you've had to endure too much of in Canada by the sounds of it ...
A: Dark roast! I still can't get used to it. That's the main difference between how we drink coffee in Mexico and here. When I first saw dark roasted beans at Green Beanery, I thought: Oh my, God! These will be burnt! They'll taste terrible. My mom thought the same thing when she visited me here at the store.
Q: You like café de olla. What's that like?
A: Café de olla can be found in the little towns around Mexico City. It's made in a pot, which is what olla means. You pour ground coffee into water before it boils and then add sugar and cinnamon. It's usually served at breakfast. The taste is sweet and delicate and really smooth. It doesn't require good coffee to make it either; people living in the countryside use just any beans and it's still good. My grandmother used to roast coffee beans in a comal, which is a flat griddle made of clay, and my family outside of the city still make their coffee that way. This is a photograph of café de olla I took in summer at my aunt's house made with comal-roasted beans. Weirdly, it tastes delicious! I realized last year that people living in the countryside don't know any other type of coffee! I think families that live close to the coffee plantations still use the comal to roast their beans.
Q: Is there a city mouse, country mouse divide when it comes to coffee?
A: A lot of people living in the city have never been to the countryside. The way people prepare their food, including their coffee, in the countryside is very different. In Mexico City, like any big city, people follow trends.
Q: Describe the quality of coffee in Mexico?
A: We're experimenting with washing and drying coffee in different ways; for instance, honey-processed beans are more common now. More and more baristas are learning new techniques for serving coffee. Even so, specialty coffee lovers face a hard time trying to find good coffee.
Q: Why is that?
A: Restaurants and coffee shops don't really care about the quality of their coffee. Ordering a coffee at a restaurant in Mexico is too risky if you care about good coffee. Coffee tastes burnt because it sits in thermal carafes for several hours (and the beans are usually months old). But here's a tip: If you do dare to order a coffee at a restaurant, check to see if they have an espresso machine; if they have one, order "an americano from the espresso machine, please." That might sound redundant, but, in Mexico, we don't necessarily know the difference between americano and drip. If there is no espresso machine, you will probably be given a cup of overheated, drip coffee.
Q: What do you think of the way we consume coffee in Canada compared to Mexico?
A: I don't think we drink as much coffee on average. We worry about the effects of caffeine on sleep - a widespread concern in Mexico. Work commutes usually take longer than an hour and workers leave their homes very early in the morning so they prefer a corn drink [aka atole - a thick, hearty, maize-based beverage] with their breakfast to go from a street vendor. Also, coffee is expensive compared to the minimum wage in Mexico City.
Our new featured coffee for the last week of January is a very special one for us. Fonseca Fine is a blend especially created for the plunger and drip brew method by our in-house coffee master, Priscila Fonseca [pictured alongside her favourite companion, the French press]. This is the second blend Priscila has made for us; the first, Le Réveillon, debuted during Christmas week.
Priscila's coffee pedigree is an impressive one. Originally from Brazil, Priscila grew up on a coffee farm and began drinking the family brew at the age of 10 and "never stopped". Last year, Priscila also certified as a Q grader - a professional cupper accredited by the international non-profit, Coffee Quality Institute (CQI), to score and grade coffee through sensory analysis; launched in 2004 with the aim of improving the quality of coffee produced globally. Priscila is now one of more than 4,000 Q graders worldwide, and one of 38 in Canada.
Watching Priscila sample coffee is something of an education in itself. At many a taste testing, the rest of us will try a new offering, and, after much swilling and swirling, we might manage the following: "Yup. This is definitely a coffee." The same cup, however, can transport Priscila into realms of sensation and illumination only another schooled and nuanced palate could appreciate. She is able to identify taste notes we would rarely associate with a cup of joe, like mango, and can pick out similarities between beans from across the coffee growing world. Quite a remarkable thing when your own palate is telling you so very little.
We sat down for a Q&A with Priscila to explore some of the quirks we've noticed about her at our in-house taste testings, such as Priscila's penchant for American (lighter) roasts.
Q: Priscila, what is it with you and American roasts?
A: Well, despite the fact Brazil is the largest producer of coffee in the world, we keep mostly the "bad" and sell the good. Sadly, Brazilians are used to drinking sub-par coffee. It's common for the bigger brands to roast beans mixed with chaff [the thin skin beans throw off during the roasting process] and other things to save money and increase volume. I came to associate dark roasts with bad coffee because that's how they hide serious defects, by roasting very dark and grinding the coffee thin. The flaws can't be seen but they're felt. The coffee tastes awful!
Q: How does that experience compare to coffee in North America?
A: After coming to, first the U.S., and then Canada, I began to notice that coffee could express itself in a rich and flavourful way at a darker roast. For example, the Starbucks experience isn't a specialty coffee experience but it's still a clean coffee without defects (and other things that are not coffee!) and it's a lot better than the coffee typically consumed on average in Brazil. I've come to appreciate the pleasant and bold mouthfeel of a darker roast, but the body gained comes at a high cost to flavour and complexity. Dark roasts tend to give the same characteristics to different coffees and I think it's important to preserve the unique characteristics that each one has.
Q: And is this the advantage of a lighter roast?
A: I think, most of the time, coffees show their attributes better at a light roast. I'm a big fan of African coffees, especially Ethiopian Yirgacheffe and Kenya. Both are very floral with a bright, fruity acidity that hides itself at a dark roast. My penchant for the American roast is due to my own preference for bright, complex and fruity coffees.
Q: What could we learn in North America from other countries and how they experience coffee?
A: Having access to so many different coffees already gives North Americans a great advantage. People pay more attention to flavour, like they do with wine, and that takes the experience to another level. As a Brazilian, if I didn't travel, I would never have been able to drink coffee from all over the world. Brazil has a law that prohibits green coffee from outside the country to enter Brazil, as a way to protect its own production. I really disagree with this. It keeps people from amazing experiences and from knowing the different varieties, climates and cultures that make up the world of coffee.
Q: What do you think Green Beanery has to offer in that regard?
A: Green Beanery offers a whole host of coffees I have never seen before. Customers can experience this through the Daily Roast with a coffee each day from a different country. This is incredible. The possibility to access so many coffees and fast. And being able to see the coffee freshly roasted is something I haven't come across in a coffee shop before.
Q: Why do professional cuppers identify notes in coffee the average person does not?
A: Coffee tasting is training. Training your palate to distinguish and recognize the different flavour notes. Having a good palate memory is a bonus. But most of all: practice. The more coffees you sample, the more your memory develops and your ability to distinguish flavours and aromas increases. The Q grader program helps a lot, of course!
Q: What can you reveal about your own blend, and our new Coffee of the Week: Fonseca Fine?
A: In this blend, we combined a bean offering an earthy flavour with the sweetness and great body of another bean and a third bean known for its bright acidity. That brightness, we agreed, produced a "fancy coffee" taste and a pleasant mouthfeel.
Q: Were any of those mystery beans from Brazil?
For more information about Q graders, what they do, and the intricacies of cupping coffee, see:
To join our Coffee of the Week $5-off deal on the world of coffees, sign up here.
Join us for our final Grounds for Thought discussion night of the year on Tuesday, November 28. As always, the start time is 8PM and the venue: Green Beanery, 565 Bloor St. West.
Our last Grounds for Thought for 2017 will look at the use of deferred prosecution agreements to settle corporate crime cases.
The Trudeau administration is currently considering introducing a deferred prosecution agreement regime to address corporate wrongdoing.
Virtually unheard of in business settings prior to 2004, they're now the latest Big Thing to counter corporate crime, and, at first blush, they make a lot of sense. Rather than completely shut down a company, squander its expertise and take down its employees, DPAs allow companies to pay a penalty and promise not to transgress again. What's not to like? Well, lots.
For one thing, when corporations commit serious crimes, they should be punished by the criminal justice system and not through a closed-door deal with the government and Justice Department. DPAs don't even prevent further transgressions.
We get to the root of the problem on Tuesday, November 28 @8PM. Join us for a discussion and Q&A with presenter Patricia Adams, executive director of Probe International.
Read Patricia Adams' new article on DPAs published today (Nov. 28): Canada could be about to make corporate 'crime' less criminal — and more lucrative.
Hosted by David Cayley, author and broadcaster.
Venue: Green Beanery, 565 Bloor Street West (at Bathurst).
Time: 8 PM
Enjoy $5 beer and wine servings prior to the event kick-off between 5:30 and 7:30 PM. Admission is free. Complimentary coffee served to event guests.
China's impressively long history of many things does not include coffee and it represents a new adventure for us, and for you, to introduce our Yunnan Coffee from China.
Filling in some of this wonder with fact, is a backgrounder written especially for us by environmental consultant Sun Shan, now based in Canada, who visited our Yunnan Coffee supplier, the Xinzhai Coffee Co-op, and Xinzhai village where our new coffee is sourced from.
The end result is "China's remarkable coffee" - Sun Shan's findings published by Probe International (Green Beanery's sister organization). Sun writes Xinzhai Village, where the co-op is based, is not even identified on Google Maps, which isn't uncommon for rural places in China's top-down system of governance. The closest location Google Maps provides is one administrative level up. But just because Xinzhai Village isn't on Google Maps doesn't mean it isn't something, sloping as it does toward a famed mountain range designated as a national nature reserve known for its unique biodiversity. Xinzhai is located within Yunnan, the country's southwestern-most province, bordering Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam, a popular tourist destination noted for its spectacular scenery and range of animal and plant life. Yunnan is also one of only two provinces in China growing coffee: the other being the tropical Province of Hainan Island.
The founder of Xinzhai Village Coffee Co-op, Xie Xianwen [pictured], first sampled coffee travelling for work and was shocked by how much a cafe in Yunnan's capital city charged - a cup of jolt in more ways than one and enough, writes Sun, to buy a family of five food for a meal at the time. Sensing opportunity in the liquid gold before him, Xie returned home and convinced his mother to convert some of the family's land to growing coffee.
Now 15 years later, and 10 years after Xie founded Xinzhai's coffee co-op, he and his colleagues are expert growers, comparing their most prized bean to the best gourmet coffee in the world and have just inked a deal they hope will promote their coffee through specialty tours to the area.
Within China, however, Xinzhai struggles for a share of the market. Many Chinese, Sun is told, purchase coffee online from all over the world for cheaper. Mr. Xie tells Sun he will not compromise his harvest and pay workers on a pay-per-pound system that would encourage them to rush and jeopardize the quality of the beans.
"The enterprise is obviously worth it," concludes Sun. "Today, most of Xinzhai’s 500 families grow coffee. It’s an impressive scene to drive up to the mountain-side village. The coffee plantation dominates the landscape, and the village’s income landscape as well these days. Thanks to their rising incomes, many village growers have rebuilt their homes using better materials and improved insulation."
To read Sun Shan's account in full, see China's remarkable coffee.
To sample this assertion for yourself, browse our selection of Yunnan Coffee here.
Sun Shan is currently a market gardener, eco/agro-tourism leader and environmental consultant. She and her family started Chi Garden in 2015 in Inverhuron, Ontario. Prior to her Canadian life, Sun Shan was the executive director of Shan Shui Conservation Center, based in Beijing, and worked in the mountainous region of Yunnan, Sichuan, Qinghai and Tibet. She first visited Yunnan’s coffee-growing Xinzhai Village at the foot of the Gaoligongshan National Nature Reserve in 2007, and could not stop (and hasn’t stopped) telling people about it ever since. She returned to visit Xinzhai in October 2015.
In light of the upcoming Canada Day celebrations, we thought to ask: what would our coffee addiction have looked like then?
The good news: we absolutely would have been able to forage for wild coffee in various parts of Canada - Quebec, Ontario and the coastal regions. Oh, the savings! Once gathered, we would have had to set about removing the coffee beans from the coffee cherries. Do you know how to do that? Do you know what a cherry looks like? A coffee plant? Let's say we managed to dry some beans, how would we roast and grind them all by ourselves with nothing but a spoon and candle? And we'd still never arrive at a sugar-free, non-fat, vanilla soy, double shot, decaf, no foam, extra hot, peppermint white chocolate mocha with light whip and extra syryp, so what's the point?
Truly, things were different then in this part of the world. The standard rule of thumb for making coffee in the 1800s was to boil the coffee grounds in water - the exact opposite of our current wisdom on the subject. It is thought that this strategy was more to do with just surviving the drink because water was filthy with contaminants. Over time, taste became impossible to ignore any longer and coffee thought progressed to adding the coffee grounds to boiled water and the beverage grew in leaps and bounds in popularity.
There was more to contend with 150 years ago beyond foul taste and dangerous water, however. We could expect our coffee beans to be disgusting right from the get-go, having been changed for the worse by seawater in transit on sailing vessels. The resulting stench was often disguised by coffee merchants with dyes made from rust(!) and other concoctions such as beef blood caramelized in sulfuric acid.
The situation was not at all fresh.
Roasting equipment: let's call it a great lack and one that would most certainly have affected flavour.
Meanwhile, coffee grinders - not very precise instruments at this stage. We would have had to lower our sights from a fine grind to the adventure of zero expectations, and, knowing little else, we might possibly have liked our coffee excruciatingly bitter and without a pulse. "I'd like a short, flat, burnt cup of swill please. Full stench."
The reality of early coffee should have driven drinkers to give up altogether and focus on alcohol, twigs, elbows, anything else, but some coffee historians think that the smell of coffee when roasted (even this era of coffee) is so good, it spurred people to keep at it.
In short, we have much to be thankful for 150 years later.
Well, not quite a bottle - more of a cup. A KeepCup. Not many know this line of reusable takeout cups is from Australia, launched by brother-sister duo Jamie and Abigail Forsyth in 2009 as a solution to some of the excess packaging generated by their fresh food takeaway business.
The need for a reusable container struck Abigail one morning as she handed her toddler daughter warm milk in a sippy cup. "Imagine if I gave her milk in a disposable cup and then discarded it?" thought Abigail. "That idea seemed so wasteful, yet I did it with coffee twice a day! This moment was the call to action," she recounts in the story of how KeepCup came to be.
After two years of research and perfecting their original inspiration, Abigail and her brother unveiled the KeepCup at the 2009 Melbourne Design Market: they were mobbed. The Forsyths credit their cafe background with helping them to come up with a cup that suited both drinkers and baristas who needed a design that wouldn't ruin their crema on first shot.
The KeepCup is not only barista friendly but BPA/BPS free, lightweight, virtually unbreakable and adorable. They're also selling through the roof Down Under right now after the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's three-part War on Waste series finished its run earlier this month. The last episode looked at the life cycle of a disposable coffee cup and upended the popular misconception that the 1 billion cups sent to landfills each year were recyclable. As a result, a shocked nation has fuelled a 400% increase in KeepCup sales the Forsyth's warehouse business is working around the clock to satisfy.
The main revelation driving the demand has been the number of people who didn't realize disposable cups weren't recyclable, Abigail told SmartCompany, an Australian news outlet.
The same misconception flourishes here in Toronto, even though we're reminded on a regular basis by local news media that our so-called "disposable" coffee cups contain a plastic type lining that renders them unsuitable for recycling (according to the city's solid waste management division, they're "contaminants" that belong in the garbage, not the recycling container).
In 2009, the Toronto Star newspaper estimated Torontonians were throwing away around a million cups a day. A blue bin state of confusion finally prompted the city to launch the Bad Things Happen public education campaign in 2016 to help the public identify what and what not to recycle. Coffee cups were among the top five culprits in the What Not category.
Meanwhile, the KeepCup pictured belongs to the author and it's been a friend on the go since the beginning of this year when "a New Year's resolution I can keep" included this one entry: "use a KeepCup. Just do it." That's one big check (mate), thanks to Abigail and Jamie.
To consider a reusable option from our KeepCup selection for yourself, continue here. We carry the original line made from BPA-free, food grade thermal, recyclable polypropylene. The KeepCup Brew made from soda-lime, fully tempered glass with a redesigned hard lid and bigger mouth opening. A version sporting a cork grip band sourced from a sustainable cork forest in Portugal. And, lastly, the KeepCup Longplay, designed to extend heat retention and keep cold drinks cooler longer.
* In Australian slang, bottler is an expression of delight; a person or thing that excites admiration.
News that a cafe in Tokyo was offering snooze space to customers prompted, for us, a timely reminder about the benefits of coffee naps.
In the case of Nescafe Harajuku, with the purchase of at least one food item, customers were eligible to score a two-hour siesta on one of 10 customized beds designed to recline at any angle, complete with adjustable lighting and music to aid slumber [pictured below]. A complimentary decaf was served prior to. [See: Tokyo's new nap cafe is an actual dream come true]
As lovely as this sounds, Tokyo's Nescafe Harajuku wasn't maximizing the real buck-up potential of a hit of actual caffeine followed by a brief doze.
As it turns out, coffee naps are a thing and they can help to reinvigorate us more than just a coffee or a nap by itself, but the length of the wind down is everything. [See: Scientists agree: Coffee naps are better than coffee or naps alone]
Various studies show that consuming caffeine without dawdling - perhaps an espresso or iced-coffee - before settling in for a nap - timed to last no more than 20 minutes - can provide a significant energy boost.
The reason is, however, snooze-inducing sciencey.
Sleep is regulated by adenosine molecules in our brains. When these molecules bind to their specific receptors in the neural membrane, our brain wave activity slows down and we feel tired. Some substances can imitate these natural neurotransmitters like adenosine and help themselves to their receptors, which can't tell the difference. Caffeine is one such trickster.
The effect of caffeine on an awake subject is to steal some of the brain spots that belong to adenosine, blocking it from doing its job and curbing some of the drowsiness it would otherwise produce.
But just as the adenosine build-up which regulates sleep dissipates during rest, adenosine declines in our coffee nap also. With less adenosine to compete with in the battle over receptors, caffeine consumed prior to a 20-minute nap thus produces a greater effect. Our neural activity instead of slowing down, speeds up.
And there's another reason for that boost. A short nap is perfectly timed to benefit from a caffeine energy surge, which typically kicks in around 30 minutes after drinking.
Just be careful not to mistime your coffee nap. Wait too long after finishing your coffee and the caffeine will hit beforehand, leading to sleep disruption and poorer performance on waking.
Coffee naps won't resolve a sleep deficit either. But as a way to improve a power nap, they will leave you feeling full of beans.