One of the highlights of the Canadian Coffee and Tea Show for me was the chance to meet and speak with these two roasters from Calgary. With two competitors in the Canadian Barista competition that ended up taking the top two spots, it wasn’t surprising that my conversation with them was near the area overlooking the competition.
Before speaking with the two owners, my preconceptions came from Phil and Sebastian’s blog which I have followed for quite a while as well as a couple of bags of their coffee that I had tried. I mention their blog as I found their entries on their sourcing trips to be very genuine and insightful into the real challenges and issues that go into creating their focus and philosophy. As I spoke with them, this deep rooted belief in transparent sourcing and showcasing individuality of coffees based on their origin, definitely came through again as we discussed their decision to stay away from blends.
Why Not Blend Coffee?
In short, they viewed blending in conflict with their philosophy to highlight a coffee’s individuality, and that it would be a bit hypocritical with some of their beliefs in transparency. Instead, they view it as the roaster’s responsibility to excel at sourcing, profiling, and consistently executing as the ultimate solution to a great tasting cup, rather than to use blending as a method to achieve a better tasting cup.
Furthermore, their hands on experience with blending early on in their roasting revealed many limitations and compromises that blending creates. Since different coffees grind and extract differently based on things such as varietal, bean size, and bean density, blends often result in extractions that would favor one component over another, or extractions that do an equally poor job on the components. Even when the beans are blended in a way where the components extract similarly because of the varietals and growing altitudes, they find that some compromises have to be made.
After our discussion, Phil and Sebastian were kind enough to send me some of their coffees to try which I had the pleasure of sharing with some coffee friends. Overall impressions were very positive as we found the relatively lightly roasted coffees to be full flavored, generously aromatic, and well-balanced that were always clean without bitterness. We all agreed that the qualities and roast of these coffees were top tier, but what we couldn’t agree upon is which of the coffees we liked. The unique character of the coffees created different favorites among the group. In essence, their mission of creating individuality in each coffee was accomplished.
Like many top roasters, Phil and Sebastian develop different roast profiles specifically for espresso, and clearly promote them as such. I believe this enables them to push their roasts lighter on the coffees that are not intended for espresso, as well as develop flavors and complexities in the espresso that may not be otherwise apparent. During my recent tasting, I had the pleasure of trying two coffees from both types of profiles. For the Ethiopian Koke, I actually had the pleasure of trying both profiles.
Ethiopian Koke – The coffee that was used by Jeremy Ho to win the Canadian Barista Championship. Phil and Sebastian has this coffee in two different roast profiles. Both highlight an anchoring subtle black tea base with hints of caramel with light lemon acidity and peach sweetness. Both cups will be best appreciated by those who like these flavors in a delicate and clean cup that requires subtle discovery.
Panama Carmen Estate Espresso – The espresso roast seemed to easily produce cups that were enjoyed across the board, but the most rewarding cups were those that had very noticeable nougat notes in the cup. These cups had a tropical fruit nose with slight banana notes with a cup that started with a peach acidity on dark chocolate turning to the sweet nougat of brown sugar and roasted nuttiness ending in a medium chocolate finish.
Guatemala, Patricia Perez – Unique, polarizing, complex drip coffee. For those reading the label, roasted tomatoes was generally viewed skeptically, but the aroma and taste was definitely noticeable as in many Kenyan coffees with a big body and medium light acidity. If you weren’t thinking tomatoes, the layered caramel, blackberries, and red currant acidity could be conceived producing a very unique and full flavored clean cup.
In my mind, Phil and Sebastian have definitely been one of the top Canadian roasters to watch in the last few years, but limited exposure to them had left me without a strong opinion. Having tried these coffees, I feel strongly that the would be among the top three Canadian roasters that I would recommend for anyone to try. Having said that, I feel those who value individuality and uniqueness in coffee will be the biggest fans.