A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of participating in a tasting at the Phil and Sebastian (P& S) roastery in Calgary. The visit included a mini lesson from Chris Tellez, barista extraordinaire, on the coffee plant, the nature of the coffee industry, and Phil and Sebastian’s approach to acquiring quality coffee. From this I learned that coffee originated in Ethiopia and that any plant found outside of that country has been transplanted there. Some say, therefore, that some of the best coffee is from Ethiopia because the climate and minerals in the soil there lends itself to perfect coffee conditions. Chris went on to explain coffee grades and how P & S goes about selecting the coffee they use. Generally speaking, coffee buyers travel to individual countries to sample regional coffees from a coop. A coop is where local bean farmers can bring their beans and get the market price for coffee. This process works well for farmers and buyers because it guarantees that there will be coffee there for the buyers and a place to sell the beans for the farmer. The problem, Chris explained, is that coffee varies dramatically in flavour depending on the location it is grown. Coop blends, therefore, do not capture one specific flavour, rather all the flavours are mixed together. P & S pride themselves on high grade, quality coffee and therefore they go straight to the source. Buyers for P & S get their coffee beans directly off the farm. They work with local farmers and, pun intended, cultivate a relationship so that both parties benefit. Technically the process is not fair trade because there is not a third mediating party. But P & S ensures that the farmers get above market prices for their quality beans, as is to be expected. In the case or organic, Chris explained that growing coffee organically yet successfully is precarious. Oftentimes a farmer chooses to farm as organically as possible but, as the coffee plant is vulnerable to disease, he or she preemptively treats the disease rather than jeopardizing their income.
With pride Tim Houghton, Phil and Sebastians coffee roaster, explained how the German-made, Dutch-refurbished coffee roaster worked. The magnificent cast-iron contraption has a natural gas burner at its base which heats up the cast-iron drum. The raw coffee beans are poured in at the top, and the drum of the machine spins, much like a dryer. Unlike a dryer, the roaster roasts the coffee beans in about 10 minutes. Since Phil is an engineer, he produced a computer application that tracks the beans as they roast. The application also measures the humidity and the temperature inside the roaster. There was quite the science behind roasting the bean perfectly.
After the roasting I part-took in a coffee tasting where we ladled anonymous P & S coffees into our mouths and we asked to write down some adjectives that came to mind. As a noob to coffee culture my adjectives were full-bodied and fruity, which I’m pretty sure are primarily wine references. Chris was throwing out things like, citrousy, nutty, and earthy.