I started to work grand cru type coffees around 2007.
At that time, I was still locked in a demand for black roast coffee while I was desperately trying to get my customers to another type of coffee experience.
This duality still remains today among my customers, but I have stopped judging our customers who preferred dark cafes, with a more aggressive profile, since a long time, because the tastes are indisputable and if our coffees make them happy, I am happy.
And they participate, by their choice, in our adventure, and thanks to them, we are today a well positioned company with an exceptional offer of great coffee (Collection Reserve Select).
With the years that have passed, and almost one customer at a time, I managed to convert several to taste my private imports, must also say that the entire industry was changing and participated, with the arrival of what has been called the 3rd wave. For my part, we pushed the process further than what proposes the third wave, whose codes and business model tend to limit the quality (still respectable) to the detriment of marketing sometimes pompous and caricatural .
So we can find in our offer third wave type of coffee, especially in our Prestige collection, without snobbery and without the overbidding hidden by a tidal wave of information, but I wanted more. I wanted even better.
It has even become a real quest to taste and offer my customers the best coffees in the world.
So, over time, I discovered how to get hold of the best of them. First, through the Cup of Excellence, then, as I made contacts, from private auctions of exceptional farms that sell only to select groups of buyers and finally directly to farms.
There is a whole world to discover, almost hidden, and inaccessible to the majority of us in terms of the best coffee in the world. Coffee is an agricultural product and produces, like wine, great wines.
And I'm talking about true real top quality, the best of the best coffee, not coffee digested by squirrels, civets or other exotic rodents, elephants or hippopotamuses, no, real good coffees, evaluated by external and independent audits, and put in auction to be purchase by connoisseur. Those grand crus, tasted by experts, noted, and sold according to the quality and not of its folklore.
It is on this exciting road that I started to walk several years ago.
And without abandoning my customers who have adopted us for more standard coffee, I confess to dedicate to coffee tasting a real obsession.
What is a good coffee?
What is an extraordinary coffee?
Given that we are in a subjective world and I did not want to rely too much on my personal preferences, I started by relying on the cupping score that came out of the independent auction.
When 1200 people, following the same protocol, who do not know each other, taste a coffee without knowing more information than a simple number and give this coffee an average score, say 89 points, we can trust this score.
So I started to buy, to collect lots that had scored more than 88 points. Of course, my budget remained a major constraint and I had to choose my coffees wisely.
The first lots I bought, which go into what I call a grand cru, were difficult to sell.
In 2011, I bought part of lot # 1 of the Colombia Cup of Excellence Arnulfo Leguizamo, from the Primavera farm. This lot had reached the extraordinary score of 94 points.
We could call this kind of coffee a unicorn.
It was wonderful, fruity, balanced, my brain still remembers it. This lot was expansive, but it was worth it. However, in 2011, my network was not ready for this type of coffee, and probably my reputation was not big enough to claim to offer this type of coffee. The patience was put in, and I continued to offee my purchases of great coffees to customers who often became followers of filter coffee well prepared to showcase this type of coffee.
I must tell you that in 2011, only one person allowed to pass through the 60kg of Primavera, that is to say, me. Not that I want to look like a victim, I was more than happy to enjoy this coffee, but say that financially, for the company, it was not my best shot. 60kg at 150 $ / kg ...
So I officially marked the beginning of my work with great coffee by this purchase in 2011. And today, 8 years later, I can assure you that my selections do not sleep on the shelves, my group of customers who follow me in my adventures is faithful and I am very grateful. I take my role as a coffee hunter very seriously. I am still responsible for the dose of happiness of many people.
This is a serious job.
And if 2011 marks this direction for the company, it is also the year of the appearance of a ghost that would haunt me for several years. It appeared occasionally since 2005 when I started the business with brief appearances, during coffee conversations, but nothing alarming.
From 2011, apparitions became more and more frequent. Not necessarily scary, but rather irritating. Disturbing.
From the point of view of the entrepreneur that I am, I was in "lean" mode as they say in the business world.
I bootstrapped the company. In real world language, I lived as humbly as possible in order to put the maximum amount of money aside to buy lots of coffee. Because one of the difficulties of this type of work is the money necessary to take in inventory the coffees that I wanted. We can count on excellent brokers who have a respectable inventory and who can help us, finance us, etc., but you have to buy what the selected. If you really want to have a unique offer, you have to take out your wallet. No producer or organization, co-op or exporter will agree to fund a lot to a young entrepreneur who makes coffee in a cabin at the seaside 1000km from Montreal. And as for the banks, they are more interested today than they were at the beginning.
So I saved and made the purchase of lots that I wanted. Year after year, if we managed properly, our purchasing budget increased and I could choose. It's an entrepreneur luxury!
We started to buy coffee on the Cup of Excellence coffee compettion, we were now present on auctions that reached astronomical highs like Best of Panama, we could buy lots of prestigious farms by contacting them directly, in short, I reached a very pleasant stage of my career. And talking about my imports was for me an inexhaustible pleasure.
But it was not counting this ghost that landed without warning and that made me lose my mojo almost every time. I would say that in the last 3 years it has become almost an aggression.
Let me tell you how the ghost appeared, since if I cannot predict when it will appear, I can say, when the conditions are gathered, that there is a good chance of seeing his nose.
As if I was saying that it only appears when the tide is at its highest point, that it is starting to go down with full moon. At this point, if you look on the shore, near the gull tower, you will have a good chances to see the ghost. But it may not appear either. It’s hard to predict.
My ghost is a different.
Let me tell you in what context the appearance happen.
I am at my office, around 14h, time of my daily double espresso shot. So I go to the coffeeshop area to prepare my dose. When passing the big black door that separates the production universe from the coffeeshop space, I know that sometimes the return to my office will be delayed by exciting discussions with customers who will meet me.
When I get to the side of the espresso machine, I am then exposed to various discussions, the Canadian hockey team last game, the Liberal Party, the date of installation of the winter tires, the work of the dock that look late, and everything depending on my schedule, I will let myself go, or not, in conversations.
This is one of my little pleasures, and I like to provoke polemics within my regular customers.
- - Did you vote for the Liberals?
- -Me, voted for this gang of thief are you crazy?
- -You don’t have to be shy, we know you always voted for them.
I start fire in the conversation, I put more gas on it and I return to my occupations. That’s fun.
But I never miss an opportunity to discuss coffee. Especially when I notice that hooked atoms appear in the thread of the coffee discussion.
And if I see an interest in quality coffees, manual brewing method, pour over or questions about our imports, our ways of working, the payment methods of producers, the management of customs, or whatever, I forget everythng I had to do in my office.
And there we talk.
And in the discussion, I have some important points to communicate, such as:
- -Free shipping anywhere in Canada with an order of $ 25 +
- -Three coffee collections based on quality levels: Classic, Prestige and Reserve Select
And often, when I mention our prestigious Reserve Select collection, the curiosity of my interlocutors is piqued.
Then I explain to them the contents of our collection, with a pride equivalent to the difficulty that I had to put all that in place. It’s a long way to the top if you want to offer great coffee.
- -A bourbon from Rwanda, which came in 6th in the country's Cup of Excellence with a 89-point cupping, dominant aroma of caramel and raspberry, a crowd pleaser, excellent. It’s our 4th importation from Rwanda, here on the wall, it’s a picture I took when I was on the Kivu lake.
- -This one is a natural pulped from Brazil, which made the top 3 in the Cup of Excellence Brazil, a cupping score of 90.8 points! Coffees up to 90 points is very rare, this one comes from an extremely prosperous pool, Brazil. It is one of the largest producers in the world, so came 3rd with so much competition, it's incredible. And we have this on the shelf.
- -Just beside, this dark bottle is from the prestigious farm La Esmeralda in Panama, it is the botanical variety gesha, one of the most famous in the world. This farm has produced for many years the best coffees in the world and has reached astronomical prices at auction and buyers from around the world are pulling their production. We this right there.
I am in a trance, prancing and empowered by hearing my own words when my customer interrupts me by asking:
It's nice, but do you know the Blue Mountains coffee?
And it's the same thing every time.
- -You have good coffee, but do you have Blue Mountains coffee?
- -You should buy Blue Mountains, it's the best coffee in the world.
And now, for 15 years, I'm haunted. And despite all the energy I put into it, independent audits, Cup of Excellence auctions, coffees used by barista competitio’s winners, in spite of all the evolution of the coffee market, improved processes on the producers' side, a large portion of my clients tell me about the Blue Mountains.
And even though my Reserve Select collection works well, as coffee maniacs from across Canada, United States and even a few in Europe have embraced us, some of my clients were reluctant to give credibility to my collection.
You don’t have Blue Mountains coffee?
And this is the ghost I’m talking about, coming back according to the discussions.
- -Have you ever tasted the Blue Mountains coffee?
After 15 years, I swear to you that this ghost was starting to irritate me.
And of course I had tasted at the famous Blue Mountains coffee. I even bought some bags from several roasters, several times, and some customers brought me regularly when they go in Jamaica for vacation. They are there, in vacation, with all their luggage to come back, they bring gift for their kids, loved one, and they think about their coffee roaster who don’t have Blue Mountain coffee in there offer.
- -Hey Dany, we're coming back from Jamaica, we've brought you a gift, a bag of Blue Mountains coffee.
And I tasted, and I tasted, and I did not hang on. In short, nothing to excite me and to make a place in my Reserve Select collection.
However, I have always remained open, especially since the coffees i’ve got were almost, always too much or badly roasted. And even sometimes, I doubted it was really the coffee it was supposed to be. Because the dark stories of mixing different coffee, in the back of the warehouse, when nobody is looking, is running.
You buy a bag of good coffee and sell the equivalent of 3 ... A part of this here, three parts of this here… It's so easy to cheat, and to do like drug dealers, you cut the merchandise with a little crap to increase margin. And your roast it darker to hide the difference. The dark side of the coffee business.
And one day, I told myself that I would have to understand. I will have to go there and resolve this case. Exorcise or welcome this ghost that haunts the most heavenly, tasty, delightful coffee collection we have.
What's all about this buzz around this coffee, is it real or genius marketing strategy?
I had to settle this file.
So I flew in early July this year, heading to Kingston, Jamaica, for 3 full weeks on the island.
If you are not yet aware, I finally made a place in Blue Mountain in my collection. I welcomed the ghost. The famous barrels of 70kg of coffee are already in our workshop, and available in presale.
So here I am, at the beginning of July, landing at Kingston airport like a tourist without knowing where to go.
How could I satisfy my curiosity?
It was without knowing that I was going to find a person who would allow me to go around the question. And much more.
More details in the next episode.