Fair Trade Coffee

New innovations in coffee add choices in a country fuelled by double-doubles

(December 19, 2011) The latest caffeine-fuelled trends are cheering the country’s retailers, only too happy to serve a range of enthusiasts, from fast-brew to DIY home roasters. Canada’s largest online retailer of coffee and coffee equipment, Green Beanery – whose operations support the work of Probe International –  is one coffee source catering to an extensive palette, with an emphasis on freshness. According to founder, Lawrence Solomon, the niche coffee market Green Beanery supports, opens up a world of taste that allows small, independent coffee farmers around the globe to flourish, which, in turn, ensures genetic diversity in the Earth’s store of coffee – otherwise lost to crop mainstreaming. But is home roasting hard? About as complicated as toasting bread, he says.

By Patti Tasko, The Canadian Press, published by Brandon Sun

In a country where it is almost an act of patriotism to fuel every day with a double-double from Tim Hortons, can people be encouraged to vary their coffee habit?

Retailers hope so. Coffee is hot and there’s a range of new brew options to choose from, depending on whether you want to spend two minutes or much longer getting your daily dose.

For the make-it-simple crowd, home machines that make one cup at a time are likely to be popular choices under the Christmas tree this year. At the other end of the spectrum, roasting your own beans is becoming increasingly popular among coffee purists.

For the middle-ground coffee drinker, grocery stores are focusing on premium varieties to compete with Starbucks, Second Cup and Tims. Tims has jumped into the specialty coffee business with “value-priced” espresso-based drinks such as lattes. And fast-food chains such as McDonald’s and Wendy’s are putting a new emphasis on coffee.

Such a fuss for a beverage that has been brewed for more than 1,000 years.

Here’s a look at three caffeine-fuelled trends:

Custom cups, made at home

Two main developments in coffee-maker technology in the past few years have “grown the category,” says Daryl Katzenberg, a buyer for Kitchen Stuff Plus, a 10-store discount kitchenwares store in the Toronto area.

Single-serve makers, which use a sealed “pod” or tiny cup, are appealing to customers who like the convenience and variety they offer. The coffee does not go stale quickly, meaning you can keep a lot of varieties on hand.

At the other end of the coffee-maker market, fancy espresso machines are increasingly popular, thanks to new technology that makes them easy to operate and also can brew multiple cups quickly.

“The computer chips that come in them could drive your car,” says Katzenberg.

Keurig is the market leader in the single-cup server, and many coffee-maker manufacturers make servers, under licence, that use their “K-Cups.” It also offers the most coffee options in its K-Cups, from well-known chains like Timothy’s to more niche brands such as Emeril, as well as its own brand, Green Mountain. Another leading single-cup manufacturer is Tassimo.

No matter what model you buy, you have to get it — and the coffee — through the manufacturer or a company licensed by the manufacturer, says Katzenberg. “Coffee companies win big time.”

Katzenberg, a tea drinker who thinks coffee “is absolutely foul,” is quick to list the disadvantages of the pod machine. For one, each cup can cost $1, whereas buying coffee by the pound and making a pot costs pennies a cup. That’s why he doesn’t think drip coffee-makers will lose market share.

He also thinks most households will still need a drip coffee-maker. In his house, his wife uses a single-cup maker on a daily basis. “But when we entertain, we have to bring out the drip coffee-maker.”

The technology behind the pods, which have to be able to withstand the force of water being pushed through them, is impressive, he says. “It’s a very complicated little design.”

He thinks a good chunk of the coffee-drinking population will never opt for the pods because they are not recyclable or biodegradable. “It’s a horror show when you look at how many pods are going into the garbage.”

You can buy reusable pods that can be filled with your own grind — but that negates the convenience angle that attracts most people to the product.

Keurig says it is working to improve the “environmental efficiency” of the K-Cup.

Coffee School: Educate your coffee palate

Loblaw is banking on selling coffee for its quality, not just price, and is trying to sway people toward new higher-end products in their house brands.

“People are eager to drink better quality coffee,” maintains Laura Sliapnic, who is the chain’s product developer for coffee.

Sliapnic, whose mother is Colombian, is passionate about coffee. “We always had really good coffee at home.”

Coffee comes in countless varieties and each has its own signature flavour profile, says Sliapnic. “It’s very similar to tasting wine.”

Loblaw, which has almost 30 varieties of President’s Choice coffee, has added in-store displays designed to educate shoppers on their coffee options, grouping beans into four flavour profiles: smooth and full-bodied (Colombian, Guatemalan), bold and intense (Sumatran), light and lively (Ethiopian, Kenyan), and medium and balanced (Hawaiian, Costa Rican), as well as suggestions on what desserts go well with different flavours.

It is also proud of its quality-control process, called “cupping,” where testers such as Sliapnic taste coffee repeatedly and randomly throughout the manufacturing process to check its quality.

But no matter the quality of the beans, a good cup of coffee is dependent on how you make it, she says. “It’s almost 75 per cent water.”

And the way you use your coffee maker also affects the quality, as well as how quickly it is drunk and how the beans are stored. She does not recommend freezing ground beans.

Roast your own: it’s just like toasting bread

Dedicated coffee purists are increasingly buying green beans and roasting their own.

“We sell more unroasted coffee than roasted coffee,” says Larry Solomon, president of Green Beanery, which bills itself as Canada’s largest online retailer of coffee and coffee equipment.

Solomon says the difference between regular coffee and that made with freshly roasted beans is like “the difference between freshly squeezed orange juice and the canned juice we used to drink.”

Is it hard to roast beans?

“It’s as complicated as toasting bread,” he maintains.

A typical roast takes about 12 minutes and most people will roast two or three times a week. Green Beanery sells a large lineup of roasters starting at around $100.

Roasting your own offers several taste advantages over buying roasted coffee, says Solomon.

Green beans keep much longer because once a bean is roasted the oils turn rancid more quickly.

As well, big manufacturers tend to under-roast their beans so they keep longer. “If you roast it at home you can let the oils come out.”

In Solomon’s view, the best part of roasting your own beans is the world of coffee options it opens up. Like wine regions, every coffee-growing valley will have its own flavour and varieties, he says.

Big manufacturers blend their beans so the taste is consistent. They don’t want this variety. The niche bean market, however, has allowed micro coffee growers to flourish and continue to produce their traditional varieties.

“Once people start roasting their own, they develop their own favourites.”

But if you are imagining the lovely smell that must permeate the house during the roasting process, don’t. Solomon says it’s more like the smell from a fire — and not everyone enjoys it.

Read this story in the Winnipeg Free Press.

Further Reading

Fair-trade coffee producers often end up poorer

Boycott Burundi

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