Chances are, there’s someone on your list this year that loves coffee. Whether they are a full-fledged micro-lot aficionado, or someone who is just beginning to explore the world of finer coffees, a coffee subscription from a high-quality specialty roaster is the perfect gift. Here’s why.
When grown by a farmer who takes extra care and attention to harvesting and processing, and roasted by experts, coffee can be a taste experience to rival fine wines, whiskey or craft beer for complexity and nuance of flavour.
When your loved one opens that new package that just arrived, and grinds those wonderfully aromatic beans every morning, they’re reminded of how thoughtful your gift was.
Let’s face it, most of us that drink coffee, NEED to drink coffee. Caffeine helps us stay focused and gives us energy to get through the hectic pace of life.
Tasting a different high-end coffee every month can help your aspiring coffee geek train their coffee palate. Soon they’ll be waxing poetic about acidity, body, sweetness, mouthfeel and subtle fruit notes.
They don’t have to think about when to order more, where or which kind to buy. Beautiful, delicious coffee just shows up, automagically.
There’s no need to battle the mall parking lots and crowds. A coffee subscription is unique, tasty and personal. And in a couple of clicks, you’re done! In fact, you could buy a subscription right now.
"Get a good grinder, which is to say, get a burr grinder, which will improve the quality of the coffee you drink at home more than any other single piece of equipment."
The above was written by Oliver Strand in the New York Times in April 2012. Mr. Strand is a widely respected food and coffee journalist and every coffee expert I've met agrees with him. Consistent grinding is the best thing you can do to improve your coffee brewing.
Mr. Strand's article makes a great case for a good grinder. I urge you to head over to the Times and read it.
If, after you read the article, you find yourself in the market for a grinder for yourself, or as a gift for a loved one this holiday season, we just happen to have a few excellent choices.
The Encore This is the grinder Mr. Strand mentions in his article as an excellent entry-level burr grinder. It has 40 individual grind settings, a good burr set and Baratza's updated gearbox.
At $149, with free shipping included, it makes a great gift for someone wanting to make better coffee at home.
For those that want to take their grinding up another notch, there's the Virtuoso. This grinder has an amazing burr set that delivers a very consistent grind. The grind range achievable from the 40 setting dial ranges from 250 to 1200 microns.
The Preciso is the grinder in our catalogue that's best suited for home espresso and precision brewing. Baratza has added a micro adjustment dial (pictured left) that splits each of the 40 macro settings a further 11 ways, giving incredible control over dialling in espresso grinds. The high torque motor allows for lower speed, quieter, low-temperature grinding, which is better for your coffee.
Human-powered grinders are great for the office, the dorm room or when you're traveling. The ever-popular Hario Mini Mill (pictured left) is certainly the most affordable way to get a quality grind. The Porlex is even slim enough to fit right inside an AeroPress tube, making it a very attractive travel kit.
Transcend Coffee and Mark Connolly and the crew at CBC Edmonton AM are co-sponsoring an entry into the Winter City Drink Contest. There are two categories and we are entering both. The alcoholic drink category and the non-alcoholic category. While you can try these drinks at home, as we have provided the recipes below. You can also try either of these entries at our Transcend Garneau location beginning Monday, November 18th until the contest closes on December 8th.
The Alcoholic drink the "Birkie Break" inspired by the Birkebeiner Race is a 5oz drink and will sell for $8
The non-alcoholic drink (still awaiting a name) is also an outdoor winter activity drink and will sell for $5
Please drop and and try them out. If you like them, we ask that you vote via the links above, but more than that, tweet about it and include @MarkConnollyCBB and @TrasnscendCoffee in the tweet, and if you have room, #yegwinterdrink. Regardless, let's celebrate the fact that winter is upon us and enjoy all this season has to offer.
The "Birkie Break" served warm, inspired by the Birkebeiner cross country ski race, as a drink to enjoy at the 30km point to warm and relax.
To make the spiced syrup follow these directions:
The non-alcoholic hot chocolate drink
While simple to prepare, this drink is luxurious, rich, creamy and nuanced. It is reminiscent of the days of our youth when we would come in from playing outside in the cold and drink hot chocolate with marshmallows - grown-up style.
Poul goes on location to Eddies Mens Wear to talk about the concept of sustainability in the market place.
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"Where does your coffee come from?" It's a question we hear a lot. There is a growing trend within the hospitality industry to know who supplies the ingredients for the products served to customers. In fact, I often ask the same question of the wait staff I encounter at reputable dining establishments. Essentially I am probing for information concerning how much they support local producers, and moreover, if they even know what the ingredients the chef uses and where they come from.
As has been said before in this blog and in our youtube video series, we can't provide the Edmonton, Alberta or broader community with a completely local product, for the simple reason that coffee doesn't grow north of the 49th parallel. With that said, we can and have made it one of our tenants to ensure that the coffee we do buy is sustainable. What do we mean by this?
When we talk about sustainability we are not using CSR (corporate social responsibility) speak. We are talking about having a clear understanding of what we pay our partner producers, effects their business and ultimately their standard of living.
On the whole, we are told that the cost of production for growing a pound of quality coffee in Central America is around two dollars. This factors in the cost of fertilizer, any treatment to the coffee trees, pruning, picking, etc. What producers get actually paid for their work, depends ultimately on the type of customer to whom they sell their coffee. If a producer is simply providing a large mill with cherries, they will receive far less for their coffee than if they are in control of their product through more of the export preparation process. All coffee needs to be processed prior to export. In simple terms the coffee cherries need to be picked and delivered to a wet mill. At the wet mill the skin of the cherries are removed, along with the mucilage (sticky fruity coating around the coffee seed). After the mucilage is removed the coffee seed needs to be dried to between 9.5 - 11.5% percent moisture content. After the coffee is dried, it is usually left to rest within its protective paper-like shell for 60 - 90 days. If a producer maintains control of their coffee through this part of the process, both their costs and their selling price goes up. Some producers in Central America are going so far as to control the final export preparation of their coffee where the parchment is removed and the coffee seeds are sorted by size, weight and density. During this export preparation process, many (ideally all) defective seeds are removed via hand sorting, before being bagged and loaded into a container for export. Producers like Ricardo Perez (Santa Lucia) and Carlos Batallia (Terra Bella) are now equipped to do export preparations at their own small facilities in Costa Rica.
As I write this post, the "c-market" has fallen to its lowest point in over seven years ($US 1.06). This is the price quoted to buy commercial grade coffee. Depending on the quality of the coffee a roaster buys, they will pay a certain premium above the c-market price. While the prices have not dipped down anywhere near the all time low of $US 0.425 per pound, it is a long way from its record high of $US 3.40 in 1977. As stated in a recent article about Transcend Coffee which ran nationally, our average price per pound this year is over $US 4.80.
Looking at the graph above, it is easy to see the volatility in the coffee market over the past forty years. When analyzing the last four decades of world coffee prices, it is difficult for me to understand how many producers have been able to stay in business. When I have talked to producers, they tell me that most years are financed by debt. Talking to some producers in Central America I was told that 1977, when coffee reached its all-time high, was the year when their fathers finally paid off the family debt and enabled the family to own their farm outright. Since 1977, the price of coffee has continued its volatility, but rarely has it been at a level which I would deem sustainable.
Why should you care? I think that knowing where the coffee you drink comes from is as important as knowing where the food you eat comes from. Knowing, in my opinion, is always better than not knowing. I know that being an informed consumer is important to me. But more than that, having confidence that the products you buy and consume are working towards promoting a sustainable global economy, rather than against it, should matter too. Regardless of where you buy your coffee, don't you want to know that the people who grow it and rely on it for their livelihood are not being exploited? So if after reading this you are left with the nagging question of not knowing, why not find out? Ask your coffee provider to explain to you where their coffee comes from and whether the prices they pay for it are sustainable.
"It's not rocket science, but almost"
This is a great little video about how Swiss Water goes about decaffeinating the coffee that you have grown to love.
For more information please visit the Swiss Water website.
Transcend Coffee has recently released a brand new tea collection, curated by Jagasilk.
We've had the chance to get to know Jared Nyberg co-founder of Jagasilk as we've been building the relationship and the partnership with Transcend. We asked him a number of questions, and wanted to share his answers with you all so that can get to know him a little bit too and hopefully discover why the partnership between Transcend and Jagasilk has made so much sense.
Jared Nyberg: Neither my wife (Jagasilk co-founder Miyuki Nyberg) nor I were "tea experts", per se, but just like anyone can tell when bread is stale, we had a frustrating time finding green tea that was not stale when we moved here (Victoria, BC). Japan has a culture of drinking tea throughout the day (5-6 cups in some households per day) so after a year of trying and failing, we explored bringing some Japanese greens to Canada so we would have tea to drink.
Both my wife and I are also fascinated by the healing properties of plants, a big factor in our decision to focus on maccha green tea for the first four years of our business.
We were also inspired by the slow food movement, the developments of the wine, cheese, chocolate and specialty coffee industries, and saw a big similarity in terms of tea crafted and sourced this way.
Perhaps our lack of credentials has kept us humble in that we always choose to understand by keeping things really simple and asking lots of questions. This perspective has been a lifesaving force in that we don't feel any need to put on a false front. We are still learning. We will always be learning. Even the same tea from the same farm, but a different year, is such an amazing new learning experience.
So to answer the question, I guess we are at the eight year mark. Still a very young company. But we are still here and plan to stick around for the long haul. We are interested in tea because it is a very complex and fascinating member of any flavour and/or health enthusiasts journey.
It is really important that we have a connection to the farm, first and foremost. We have found over the years that to maintain a sense of learning, quality control, and to access the stories we need to understand our teas better, a direct connection to the farm is crucial.
Next is quality. The good thing is, when you are dealing with tea gardens that have been around for seven or more generations, they generally have a full spectrum of quality, making it a question of how high can you go, rather than a question of whether or not a quality selection is available.
Of equal importance to us is transparency. We love it when we can access cultivar information, harvester names, harvest dates, storage conditions, etc. This really enhances the relationship we build with the teas that we bring in. Understanding the work that goes into the tea, right from when the seed was selected, or the soil mixed, helps to connect even deeper to the whole process. This is part of what makes this line of work so interesting and helps to educate us and our customers on just how much effort goes into the selections.
Most important is how the farmers treat their land and workers. We are therefore much more interested in working with small operations where the technique has been handed down over hundreds of years. We feel the type of person we work with is just as important as the quality of the tea.
Ask me this question again in five years. :)
We have unfortunately only been to visit the farms in person for our Japanese tea gardens we work with.
Those in India are relationships we have built through the owner of the Giddappahar Estate in Darjeeling. He cups 100 teas for us and sends us his 10 favourites. We then choose our favourite from his 10 and then ask a million questions. He is very patient with us.
The model we have followed in India has helped us gain access to some fantastic Chinese, Taiwanese and Korean selections.
That being said, the connection to the farm we hold so dear is made that much stronger when we can meet physically face to face, shake hands, and walk the land together. This is the direction we wish to grow.
We had a pair of Quebecois gentlemen in our shop in 2010 that answered that question with hilarious but so very accurate hyperbole. I asked them why they love tea so much (this after they displayed absolute passion for the beverage). He responded in his slight French accent, "It is because in tea, you can taste every flavour in the universe."
What a great response! It made me laugh.
For me, though, it sure is nice to have something similar to specialty coffee and craft alcohol, with so much artisan flavour potential, and to not have to constantly worry about drinking too much. To in fact feel it is healing and improving my body on a very real level is great. Tea is so wonderfully passive, yet complex and absorbing.
My wife is fascinated by the incredibly long histories of tea and the way in which it weaves itself into the fabric of so many ancient and modern cultures. She feels that drinking tea connects her to this.
We focus on a simple yet quality-driven system of curating seasonal teas. We feel having 6-9 teas at any given time on our menu maintains freshness and an ability to really get to know each tea intimately. We are very concerned about storage conditions and pack everything down into heat-sealed, 20g pouches, so that even far down the chain, the teas are protected.
We date the packages with the harvest date and year (a surprising rarity in the industry) and put a lot of effort into exploring brew settings that draw out the terroir and interesting flavours of that particular selection.
We feel that a commitment to education and transparency helps to build the industry and grows the community.
What really attracted us to Transcend has been a very clear commitment to quality and precision, coupled with a disarming sincerity. We find where JagaSilk and Transcend meet is in our commitment to education, seasonality, transparency, and building a craft.
As for your other question, I think I spend more time being impressed by the similarities between tea and coffee than analyzing the differences. The wealth of knowledge that can be gained from perceiving wine, coffee, chocolate and tea as similar industries is incredible. Many tools for extraction, aerating, decanting, etc, can be employed across industries.
That being said, where there is infinite variety in red and white wines, natural and washed coffees, the spectrum of flavour available in green (steamed, parched, baked), white, black (lightly withered and fully withered), oolong (green oolong to black oolong), yellow, and dark teas (both shou and sheng) is both intimidating and wondrous.
Most people who do not enjoy coffee have never had a really well crafted, solidly selected coffee. I think the same can be said for tea.
The potential for beautiful and interesting flavours is so immense that just keep trying different teas as they come out. You are bound to find some really memorable and beautiful selections.
Also, I really feel there is no need to draw a line. "I'm a coffee person" or "I'm a tea person" is a woefully sad condition to put oneself in. I love coffee. I love tea. I see no reason to make a choice. Be a "flavour person" and enjoy what the universe has to offer!
At Transcend, we love to drink things that taste and smell delicious. Coffee, wine, beer, whiskey. Tea. Truly amazing tea is one of the most intoxicating taste and aroma experiences one can have. But we are not experts at sourcing, importing and blending tea. We are coffee experts. That's what we're good at, that's what we know. Coffee is our wheelhouse.
Yet... coffee and tea make so much sense together. They occupy a similar place in many people's minds. They are often enjoyed at similar occasions. We have long offered brewed teas at our cafes, occasionally offered teas in Christmas gift boxes, even toyed with the idea of sourcing tea ourselves. But nothing fit quite right. Until now.
We are thrilled to announce our partnership with Jagasilk, a small company based in Victoria BC that will be sourcing and curating a small, but comprehensive collection of fine teas for Transcend.
Jagasilk is run by husband and wife team Jared and Miyuki Nyberg who are committed to sourcing only high-quality teas in the most ethical, transparent way possible, ensuring that the farmers and producers are rewarded for their hard work. It is this common philosophy and approach to sourcing that has made the partnership between Transcend and Jagasilk such a perfect fit.
Jared explains it this way: "What really attracted us to Transcend has been a very clear commitment to quality and precision, coupled with a disarming sincerity. We find where JagaSilk and Transcend meet is in our commitment to education, seasonality, transparency, and building a craft."
Jared and Miyuki's curated collection of fine loose teas is now available for purchase in Transcend's online store. Like our coffees, different teas will be added and removed from the collection based on seasonality and availability. Also, check out our in-depth interview with Jared.
Last Saturday (August 24) the 2013 Prairie Regional Barista Competition was hosted in Red Deer Alberta. This year, we decided to not stream the event live as has been the case in past years. We opted instead to record the video and upload later, which gave us the ability to get much nicer HD video online. Those videos are now available below, in order of competitor placing. The top four competitors advance to compete in the National Barista Competition in Vancouver this October.
Cole's microphone was malfunctioning the day of the performance so his audio cuts out part way through. Our apologies for the technical difficulties.