*edit, July 20, 2011 – A reader has pointed out to me that I got Sameer’s coffee supplier wrong. Forgive me. The supplier is another fine local outfit named Te Aro.
Okay. Stuff has accumulated. I’ve been to another coffee roastery and not just any coffee roastery. I don’t think there’s another roastery like John Rufino’s, on his scale, in the world. (See my earlier post titled “Sun Grown Coffee Exposed.”) There’s someone in B.C. doing something like John but on a much smaller scale. John Rufino is the president and owner of Classic Gourmet Coffee in Concord, north of Toronto. And I heard a rumour that John was changing the name of his company to Rufino Coffee, but I didn’t get around to confirming that.
This operation is just so awesome! It’s clean and super efficient and what will strike any visitor as unusual right away, besides the Doctor Who appearance of the equipment, is the dearth of worker bees! The operation is very lean production driven, a term that, rightly, has negative connotations. In this case, it’s okay. Classic doesn’t force shop owners to sign contracts that tie them to Classic’s coffee for longer periods than they want to be using it. Their philosophy is that shop owners should be free. Buy as ‘much’ coffee from Classic ‘when’ you want. I like that user-friendliness myself.
Notice the gleaming steel tubes everywhere? The beans are processed and moved around through the various stages of the operation by a super efficient steel tube and vacuum system. And at certain points there are magnets in place to capture the bits of metal that invariably get shipped with the beans. In one compartment (or maybe more than one), the beans are gently vacuumed over a compartment into which heavier elements, like rocks, will drop.
The steel used is surgical grade! Not food grade (which, apparently, the literature I received, written by a well intentioned journalist, got wrong), which would be awesome, but surgical grade. Which means that your beans are clean, not picking up anything left behind by previous roasts, which surfaces made out of materials other than steel will capture. Also, the painting of the outside of roasting equipment used in other roasteries causes problems. I forget the details (having to do, I think, with condensation and the potential for moulds to be created), but the painted equipment must also be painted again once the paint wears away, which is a cost that John avoids. Because of the unique way he recirculates gasses formed in the roasting process, John also reduces his energy consumption considerably while burning away noxious compounds. And it produces almost no CO2. Other roasters have to resort to costly energy sucking afterburners and dirty, waste producing scrubbers in order to deal with the noxious smoke roasting produces. Not John’s operation.
Classic Gourmet is always open to visitors. If you can’t just walk in and get a tour, I’m sure you can just walk in a get some literature and set up a tour. These are very nice people who take a lot of pride in what they are doing and they don’t mind if others know about it. They don’t loudly proclaim their green credentials to everyone all the time because they believe in doing as opposed to talking. They believe, as do I, in content over form. I have always held the view that you don’t need to fret about form, or the way things look ‘if’ you’re taking care of business. Worry first, and mainly, about what you’re doing. How it appears will take care of itself with little or no intervention necessary and usually it does so quite nicely.
Above is a pic of John’s nerve center, where he uses a computer to help design his bean profiles prior to applying them. He has incredible control over the flame, which, if I recall, has about a thousand settings. Each bean is expressed best in a certain roasting profile that can only be known through experimenting with smaller batches. The master roaster, which is also John’s position in Classic Gourmet, determines how many seconds a certain temperature is maintained at certain points in the roast, such as just after first crack for example. Very fine adjustments are made in temperature and timing until just the right profile for that bean is achieved, after which it’s a simple matter of programming the computer with the accepted profiles which then allows for the automation of the roasting process.
That is what a cupping table looks like, often. Do you want to know what’s involved in cupping? You can Google it. But I would also recommend that you check out some YouTube videos. Sweet Maria, a U.S. based coffee supplier, has some good videos up. The thing is, ‘Regular’ consumers don’t drink coffee the way experts cup it prior to selecting and rejecting various coffee samples.
And there is a new indie coffee shop in downtown Oshawa, where I’m temporarily trapped. Mad Cafe had me excited, but that positive excitement has ebbed now that I’ve been in a few times and have taken the measure of what’s on offer there. I feel bad about expressing disappointment in Madeleine’s operation because I told her I wouldn’t say anything bad about the shop. I have to learn to not be so nice that I put myself in that position. I initially intended to say only positive things. Then I had a closer look. I didn’t care for my pricey cupcake either.
While the wooden table against the wall at the back of the shop is perfect, lighting-wise, height-wise and due to the existence of wall outlets, the same can’t be said for most of the rest of the store. I’d say that about half the store is laptop friendly. That’s better than nothing. And the wifi, so far, works flawlessly, which I’m sure those U of O students will be happy about.
Madeleine Kassinger is not paying a lot of attention to the coffee side of her operation, although she took advice about that from the expert who trained her with the result that her machines and coffee are top notch…
…Her baristas, while nice enough, are not at all trained to make specialty coffee drinks properly. In fact, they seem terrified when I ask for an espresso, making me feel like I just ruined their day. I don’t enjoy that. Also, There isn’t the kind of communication from these girls that you’d normally get from baristas in an indie shop. In indie coffee shops, the baristas are knowledgeable and always ready, willing and able to talk about coffee to their customers.
The coffee used is Reunion Island, which I like. Even when the barista gets it wrong, the coffee is tasty. But, My pleasure, I’m sorry to report, is damped by having my espresso served to me in what must be the ugliest green coffee cup in the universe. Wherever that cavalier attitude toward the bean happens – and it happens a lot in TO, where I closely follow the specialty coffee scene – things can still go swimmingly if the public is not critical. More and more people all the time are learning what specialty coffee means. But they are still in a tiny minority. In Oshawa, They wouldn’t know properly presented specialty coffee if it bit them on their noses. So…
The maddening thing about Mad – which name is taken from Madeleine, the owner’s name – is that all the components for a good indie shop are there, except for the one major thing, namely a shop owner who wants to do specialty coffee right. Madeleine is a fine lady who’s actually been trained by someone (Sameer Mohamed of Fahrenheit in Toronto) who I know. Sameer’s a craftsman, although his taste in coffee may be different than mine. (He uses Classic, but the bean he’s using is radically different from any Classic I’ve ever tasted. I didn’t take notes and can’t remember what it was. I only know that it was not something that I look for in a cup.) Madeleine seems more interested in baking cupcakes than in doing specialty coffee. Which is perfectly fine. I just happen to be much more interested in specialty coffee than cupcakes.
As for having an indie shop in downtown Oshawa that can serve as a respite from the redneck city outside, They play tunes a little too loudly (but not crazy loud) and it’s nothing I like. It appears to be someone’s Ipod. I’m not sure why the volume goes up and down. Anyway… I HATE country! The player, thankfully, isn’t loaded with only country tunes.
What else is there? Oh yes, I stopped into Old Bleu at Queen St E & Church in downtown Toronto. The day that I discovered Old Bleu I had actually targetted the McDonald’s next door. I had learned that MD is now serving espressos, and while I didn’t believe that I’d be wowed by their coffee, in any form, As a coffee geek I had to check it out. And I did. It’s not much worse than Starbucks. The price is right! If you’re stuck and hanging for a coffee fix and there’s only MD around, you can survive on an espresso – you’ll at least taste caffeine in the coffee – and an apple pie. In my case anyway, since I don’t eat any meat but seafood and I don’t eat crap as long as I have any choice.
When I came out of MD’s and crossed the street (going west, south side of Queen), to the streetcar stop on the corner, I noticed Old Bleu right behind me. And I noticed that they had a Saeco and were set up like an indie shop. I stopped in and chatted with the very amiable Gong Zan and his wife and boy. They are too small to be anything but a take away spot. The coffee is not going to be the physical core of this biz, which is what I’d say about Mad Cafe in Oshawa. But Old Bleu has plenty of charm and it ‘does’ have something of an indie vibe to it. The machine is fine, but fully automatic as befits a high volume foot traffic/ take away operation. So it can never be a proper indie coffee shop for that reason. But this is a nice spot and I will have to visit again.
A shop is more than any one thing, and as long as there aren’t serious negatives – overly loud music, baristas talking like toilets, staff wearing perfumes or colognes or taking smoke breaks – there are a number of things that draw you to a place. The staff are a big factor. You’ll get great attention and service at Old Bleu, I’m sure. The products are another thing that can make the operation stronger or weaker. I take into account the eats where I’m going. The location and the physical space inside the shop are other factors. Old Bleu isn’t in a trendy, happening spot by any stretch. But it’s in the downtown core, which mitigates the negative of being in a nasty nabe. A two minute walk south or west from OB and you’re… okay.
Another new indie shop I’ve discovered recently is Mad Dog and I really like Mad Dog, despite the nasty nabe it’s nestled in. And the locals are liking it too, let me tell you. Mad Dog has the potential to begin a change for the better at this bleak intersection. There’s some strong positives about this place, such as the Gerrard streetcar that rolls right past it.
I was delighted to learn that an old friend worked here. Hayly (spelling?) has looked after me now, as a barista, through 4 different coffee shops. Johnson has also wisely hired a professional barista, a woman who’s name I forget (You’ll notice that I get around. I am going to forget stuff, especially as I have no more short term memory.) Anyway, this girl really knows her stuff and, so far, is passionate about coffee. If I recall, She got her chops at an indie shop in Halifax! (I could be misremembering that.) Johnson is outstanding and I think he’s going to make this operation work. I’ve really enjoyed the coffee here. They are using Detour coffee, another local outfit whose coffee I like. The eats are happening and Johnson’s shop is set up really well for doing everything he wants to do. The space is warm and inviting, cool and comfortable and it just works. And Johnson’s washrooms are amazing. You’ll see. No, There’s no nudes on the walls. You can’t have everything!