Environmentalism is not just a catch phrase

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Powered by bio-diesel

Salt Spring Coffee is not just about organic or fair trade. It’s also about the choices made for the environment.

Point: they use Bio Diesel. Not an easy thing to get. And definitely not cheap. But it puts the point into practice.

Roasting for Social Change. Nice.

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Decaf coffee beans

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Had a brief glimpse of the difference between decaffeinated beans and regular beans. Both are still green beans - meaning they have not been roasted.

The darker bean is the one that is decaffeinated. The process of filters and swiss water decaffeination makes the beans much darker.

Caf vs Decaf

The glory of the roasting process

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Our hosts at Salt Spring Coffee invited us back to their facility to view the roasting process. They roast 5 days per week so one out of three of our vacation days was perfect to view the roasting. Good timing. So, I have to say it was a really amazing thing to witness. It was our first time seeing the roasting happen.

The smell of coffee was not even as strong as you would think it would be. I think the main smell of coffee came when they were grinding up the fresh beans for resale. Or maybe I just got used to it once we entered. Yummy though.

So, we came mid roast and then stayed up until another roast was completed. We were there for the Mexican roast, which is a medium roast. Light roasts are done first in the day, gradually going up to dark roasts. This is because the roaster continues to get hotter the more it is used. It was pretty cool to be there pretty well mid roasting for the day.

There is a really interesting process that happens during the roasting. First, when the beans are put in, the roaster (which is already warm/hot) cools off a bit because the beans are cooler. Then the temperature gradually spikes back up to over 200C (I don’t recall the exact temperature).

Roasting sample

What you see above is the green bean. It has been roasting for a little bit, but not very long. This is a little part of the roaster that lets you check on the beans during the roast. Just pulls out a bit. Very good control mechanism.

The beans are roasted for different lengths of time depending on the roast - a dark roast stays in longer. The roast is in usually between 10 to 15 minutes, I believe. Not as long as you would think, but you have to take into consideration that the machine is super hot.

As you can see below, the roaster is really quite impressive.


The topmost portion is where the beans tumble around during the roasting. They are constantly moving to make sure the roast is even for all the beans. Although you cannot see it in that picture, there is a set of tubing that dumps the raw beans (known as green beans) into the roaster. What you see above is the completion of the roasting when the beans are released into the cooling portion - it moves around until it comes to room temperature then it is put into a container. As you can see, the roast was very very even. It was a pro job.

It’s really quite efficient. While one set of beans is cooling, the other is released into the roaster to start all over again.

So, the roasting process is not just about making the beans darker, although you can see that process happening in the above to pictures. The roasting also makes the beans expand. That was the absolute best part of being there. The beans expand in what is called the “crack” - it sounds like popcorn popping. And that is kind of what it’s doing. The coffee is popping - getting bigger and losing weight. For a dark roast, there is actually two cracks. So, if you ever wonder why the packages for dark coffee are bigger it is simply because those beans expand more and weigh less. There is even some speculation that they eventually have less caffeine.

Great experience. Thanks again to Salt Spring Coffee!

One week, no dreck

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Well it’s been a week since the Blogaholics visited.  They brought me a French press, great coffee, and their super duper grinder.  I made one small pot of dreck while they were there.  Then, then I discovered what real coffee is supposed to taste like.  Yep, no going back for me.  Salt Spring Coffee all the way, or similar if in a pinch.  It does just taste better to have really good, fresh roasted-I don’t think I could’ve gotten my coffee much fresher-freshly ground, and immediately brewed.
So, while my coffee consumption quantity might be way down, the quality is way up.  I’ve also found that this Roaster’s Special I’m drinking has a serious kick.  One mug gets me going most mornings, two at most.  Three and I don’t need to touch the ground to move because I’m levitating.

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Tris Hussey is a professional blogger and blog consultant, the Chief Blogging Officer for Qumana Software, and Managing Director of Qumana Services.  He can be reached at tris AT qumana DOT com or tris AT trishussey DOT com.
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Roasting complete

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Can't get any more fresh

This is a picture taken the instant the roast is done and it is dumped out to be cooled. It was really amazing - all the steam just coming off it!

Roasting coffee

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Cooling the beans after roasting. From Salt Spring Coffee.

Salt Spring Island Coffee Cupping

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As Arieanna wrote earlier we did a cupping when we visited Salt Spring Coffee. We tried five of their roasts plus a “guest” roast. I wish I had taken notes about the experience, it is hard to remember now what they tasted like. At least you get to see pictures of them. So here they are from light to dark:



Canopy Bird
Canopy Bird

Ethiopian Yergacheffe
Ethiopian Yerga Cheffe

Roaster’s Special
Roaster's Special

It was great to try them in that order, to see how the acidity and flavour changed. And they were all pretty good, we took some Yergacheffe home and Tris got some Roaster’s Special.

The “guest” coffee I mentioned was a small sample of beans they had frm Japan. It was extremely nasty stuff, smelled like burnt rubber and tar and tasted horrible, the after-taste lasted for a while. Arieanna and Tris refused to try it after smelling it. You can see from the pictures below how uneven the roasting is, some beans where completely charred. I don’t know if this is typical of the stuff they get in Japan, but it was an interesting experience to compare a really bad roast with some pretty good ones.


Salt Spring Coffee and kids…gotta have the hot chocolate

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Here on Salt Spring we love our kids.  Not just our own kids, but everybody’s kids.   If a child falls in the park, several grownups will come to his/her aid…not just the parents.  So is it any wonder that our stores and business have, in general, a very kid-friendly atmosphere?
Salt Spring Coffee (aka Roasters which is how I refer to it) is absolutely no different.  I’ve lived on Salt Spring for almost 5 and a half years now, and Roasters has always had a little kids table with books and toys-thus letting the parents enjoy their coffee and sweets in, relative, peace.  Then there are the kid drinks.  All the kid drinks are $2.  That’s it, $2.  The best one by far is the hot chocolate.  This isn’t like the powdered stuff from the can, or even Hershey’s syrup, it’s really good, creamy, chocolatety hot chocolate.  The picture at the left says a lot, but doesn’t tell the whole story by far.
First, there is a high stool where the baristas are so the kids can watch their cocoa being made.  Then it’s topped with chocolate whipped cream,-real whipped cream-rainbow sprinkles, and best of all a gummi worm.
15178142_fda7c07636.jpg?v=0My son was offered the chance to put his gummi worm on his cocoa himself, but he ate it.  So the barista put another on top.  That’s cool.  This still isn’t the best part.  The best part is that the cocoa is served at kid drinkable temperature.  My kids-ages 3 and 7 and a half-could start sipping right away.  No burned tongues, lips, or mouths.  I mentioned this to Mickey McLeod this morning while getting the second tour of the roasting facility.  He said, “Well, we have a daughter…”  Exactly.  Parents neither want to see their kids getting scalded, nor is it fun having to say, no wait you can’t drink that yet.
So the next time you’re visiting Salt Spring Island, swing down McPhillips Ave and stop into Roasters for a cup-I’m now getting addicted to the Canadiano myself-and yes, grownups can get the cocoa too even with the gummi worm.
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Tris Hussey is a professional blogger, the Chief Blogging Officer for Qumana Software, and Managing Director of Qumana Services.  He can be reached at tris AT qumana DOT com or tris AT trishussey DOT com.
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Salt Spring Coffee crew

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Mickey and Robbyn from Salt Spring Coffee, during the cupping:


The chaff

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During the roasting process, the last “shell” or layer from the coffee comes off. This is the chaff. Like peanut skin.


The Cupping - Salt Spring Coffee gives us the cupping experience

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DSCN9297We had the absolute best first introduction to cupping thanks to Salt Spring Coffee. A cupping is the way you taste for quality in coffee. You’re looking for many things in taste, but also in smell. This way you can tell not only freshness and consistency in the beans, but also the quality, level and consistency of the roasting.

You grind up the beans and then pour over water that’s just before the boil (never at a full boil). You then let it steep for a couple of minutes. After that, you begin with the smelling stage. You break the top of the coffee with your spoon and mix around a bit with your nose right at the cup. You smell for many things. And, trust me, you can really smell differences. Seriously. You can actually smell bitterness or smell smoothness. It’s awesome. You’d never get this any other way. It’s all about lining them up. A really organized cupping will place many of the same coffee in a row to test the consistency thing. You simply spin the table around and keep on going.

After the smell stage is the taste stage. You don’t “drink” it, really. You suck it into your mouth really quickly so that it lands on the palate just so. Aerates. Then you swirl it and spit it back out. Waste, perhaps. But it matters when you try so many. I think my favourite was the Ethiopian Yergacheffe. It was a ton of fun! Lots of learning, but really amazing. You’d just really never get this depth of understanding of taste and smell unless you tried them all in this way.

Here is me doing the official cupping:

Arieanna slurping coffee

Here are some of the descriptive words to use when cupping (click through for larger):


My only addition was the term “buttery” for smell as well.

Salt Spring Coffee - the story

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So, we had a great opportunity, as previously noted, to speak with the owners of Salt Spring Coffee Co. Now, here’s their story.

Both Robbyn and Mickey have been coffee lovers for a long time. Their paths crossed in the early 70s, and they’ve been together since. Both share the dedication to organic and fair trade, in coffee and beyond. They were privileged to enjoy many great local roasters in San Francisco and in Oregon, but found the transition to BC rather difficult - where was all the quality coffee? So, when they made the transition to Salt Spring Island, they decided to take the leap. Salt Spring Island had two coffee shops with regular customers, but there wasn’t a local roaster. The quality and freshness was just not there.

So, Robbyn and Mickey came together to create a place where quality, freshness, and a consciousness of fair trade, organic coffee could be preserved. This is how Salt Spring Coffee evolved. And, to this day, they stand to these same commitments.

They began their cafe as a retail/roast establishment (it has since been separated). They started with good branding, which has since evolved quite substantially to what it is today. They chose the name as a way to represent the Island to others, and to effectively brand the coffee and its great roots. It has since included in the logo the all-important “Organic” marker. The community has embraced the company - as an establishment in the community, a local business, and an ethical one to boot.

They use one trader from California for all their coffee purchases. They roast 5 days per week and ship out to grocery and retail establishments five days per week (with their own Bio Diesel truck once per week). As a note, they were the first to pave the way in Vancouver as the only fair trade certified coffee available in grocery stores.

So, congratulations to both Mickey and Robbyn for creating a great establishment, for leading the way in organic free trade coffee, and for effectively marketing it abroad. Cheers!

Coffee Review: Salt Spring Coffee

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ssclogo We spent a really fabulous afternoon with the owners of Salt Spring Coffee. Since we went through quite a lot of ground within our time together, I’m going to do a series of posts about our experience. Tris has given a great brief to his experience and all we did.

First off, we started with a chat at the coffee shop, locally known simply as “Roasters.” Why? Because they were the first roasters on Salt Spring Island. Simple as that. But a great local flavour.

Mickey McLeod and Robbyn Scott sat down with us, and we all enjoyed some great coffees. Robbyn had a cappucino, while the rest of us simply enjoyed the “Canadianos.” I won’t say they were small, because they weren’t. I think we got the triple shot versions. Oh yes. But you cannot deny the presentation factor: pint glasses are a nice touch indeed.

So, this post will cover my general all round coffee review. Then I’ll do some story telling.

Salt Spring CoffeeOverall, I was more impressed with the cafe and with the coffee than expected. I’ve had the brew locally in Vancouver, but I am seriously doubting its freshness. This was just great. We were drinking the “metta espresso” - this coffee is named for their daughter, Metta, and it means “love and kindness.”

The coffee was dark but not bitter. Full bodied. Good crema. Really nice. Went down smooth. Tasted just as good as it looked. We have officially tried 6 Salt Spring Coffee varieties (including the cupping), and I liked them all. Very different, but very good each one. Plus, they are organic and fair trade.

On an off note, they were the first people in Canada to start using Java Jackets. That’s pretty cool, don’t you think? Now the jackets are branded, as they should be. As I found out last month, they also have cute little branded taster cups.

I was very impressed with the cafe. Great seating arrangement. Lovely murals. And, yes, good service. We’ve already been twice, so it was not just a fluke from being there with the owners.

Coffee: 91%
Service: 92%
Atmosphere: 90%

My first cupping and close to home!

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You know the great thing about writing for a coffee blog is getting to do coffee reviews.  I’ve drank coffee-granted mostly bad, generic coffee-since high school-strong and black at first, milk or cream now.  I’m lucky enough to live on a somewhere that not only has several wineries/vineyards and a brewery but also it’s own local coffee roaster. Salt Spring Coffee Co (aka Roasters and Salt Spring Roasting Company) has been roasting coffee for years now.  The esteemed CBC commentator, author, and Salt Spring resident Arthur Black has even commented on this noble establishment-in addition to being a regular.
So I not only got to experience my first cupping today, but I got to do it right in my own backyard-proverbially.  Arieanna is going to write up a great review of it, but I’d like to personally thank Robbyn and Mickey for telling us all about how they got started in the roasting business, roasting and brewing coffee, and most of all for the lovely gift of coffee we got to take home.
The Blogaholics and I are going to start the day with Ethiopian and followed by Roaster’s Special.  You know tasting five different coffees-five rather different coffees-was amazing.  You can really start to tell subtle differences.  Now I also know what I really like-medium/dark blend, heavier towards dark.
Robbyn and Mickey, thanks again and we’ll see you Monday morning for the view into the whole roasting process!
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Tris Hussey is the Chief Blogging Officer for Qumana Software and Managing Director of Qumana Services.  He can be reached at tris AT qumana DOT com or tris AT trishussey DOT com.
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Salt Spring Coffee branding

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Store FrontCoffee Origin Mural
Signage from the street.
Great interior mural for coffee regions.

Nice message
Delivery truck.

Good business planning, yes?

We had great conversations with the owners. Will be blogging them tomorrow. It will become clear why they brand their trucks with the Social Change copy.

Good news is, we’ll be going back to witness the roasting on Monday. I didn’t click in and realize to schedule the entire thing on Monday, but it means we can absorb and be ready for roasting without being overwhelmed by the whole cupping experience as well.

Thanks to both Robbyn and Mickey for a great tour!