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Coffee - Tea
September 09, 2010
Stumptown Comes to Gastown
Vancouver restaurateur Sean Heather has scored another coup for Gastown.
Two of his properties, The Everything Cafe (75 East Pender St.) and The Salty Tongue Deli (210 Carrall St.) will now be serving and selling Portland's famous Stumptown Coffee Roasters coffee, and they will be the only cafes in Western Canada to do so.
Despite no advertising, and little marketing outside of their own website, Stumptown has achieved cult status among coffee purists throughout North America. This is especially evident in the cities of Portland, Seattle, New York, (and temporarily even Amsterdam), where the coffee roasting company maintains its own branded cafes, and where appreciation for beans from single estates runs high. Fans even credit company founder Duane Sorenson as being on the forefront of a revolutionary "Third Wave" coffee movement.
One obvious reason for Stumptown's success lies in Sorenson's and his team's passionate devotion to quality, their craftsmanship in the art of blending, and the close relationships they maintain with their coffee growers. The company operates independently outside the international "Fair Trade" buying consortium, choosing to engage instead via their own "Direct Trade" system with approximately 100 coffee farms around the world -- some so small, they produce not much more than one or two sacks of beans per season. Stumptown buyers keep in constant contact with these farms, visiting each up to three times during the crop cycle in order to monitor how the coffee is grown, picked, separated and processed. Especially crucial to the livelihood of some of their smaller suppliers, they will pay well above market price for the beans they deem to be most worthy.
Another factor in the desirability of Stumptown coffees is their taste in the cup. The beans are so carefully selected and roasted, and blends so well balanced, they need no milk, cream, sugar or flavourings to offset their acidity. In fact, the flavour profiles are often described as "naturally sweet", with floral aromatics of jasmine and lavender, ripe fruit notes of cherry or citrus, along with a caramel- or milk chocolate-like body. True aficionados drink them only as espresso.
"Adding milk to a really high quality coffee is like dumping selzer in a glass of fine wine, or hot sauce on an oyster," says a barista we know. "Why would you want to mask all the wonderful subtle characteristics inherit in the thing itself?" (The man is Italian, of course, where milk is seldom added to coffee after the breakfast hours.)
Everything Cafe and The Salty Tongue will be starting off with Stumptown's most popular blend, a complex, fully washed mix of Latin American, African and Indonesian beans called "Hair Bender" (for their espresso), as well as "Holler Mountain", an organic blend of Indonesian and Latin American beans (for their drip coffees). Beans for these coffees will be roasted-to-order in Seattle and shipped to Vancouver the same day, so that cafe customers can be enjoying them within two days after roasting. After that, if the beans have not been sold, or ground and served within a two week period, they will be discarded.
The two cafes will also be selling the beans in their modestly packaged, recyclable brown paper bags -- complete with a "business card" slotted into a little pocket in the front which provides the history and geography of the beans and their growers. Working on the principle that customers should only be buying the coffee they intend to consume within the next few days, the bags are small, and it is notable that Stumptown does not use the standard, one-way air valves.
"We don't use them because we don't think the valves actually work", said company principal, Andrew Daday. "They also mislead the purchaser into believing that the beans exist in a state of stasis. That they will maintain their freshness if kept air-tight and carefully stored, and that is just not true. Once roasted, the vibrant essence of the beans have a shelf life of about 10 days, and after that they have peaked and are in decline."
Learning to appreciate coffee in this fashion means a change in buying habits for consumers who are accustomed to stocking up with one pound bags of beans and using them for months. When in fact, they should be treating them like an opened bottle of wine. Or to quote local expert and international coffee competition judge, Mark Prince, "You have to think of coffee beans like you do bananas. You bring bananas home from the store in prime condition, but you know you have to eat them within a week or they are going to turn black and mushy, and then the only thing they are good for is banana bread."
Stumptown not only prides itself on the support it provides its farmers, but also in the continual education and communication it provides to the staff of its cafes and licensed distributors. Which is why Daday and his associate Michael Horgan were in Vancouver yesterday to conduct a product familiarization seminar with Sean Heather's employees. The two men will also be working at Everything and Salty Tongue all day today (Thursday, September 9th), so if you have questions or an interest in the company, its products, or the Stumptown coffee philosophy, now is a good time to drop by.
The photos below were taken at the Stumptown Cafe (located within the Ace Hotel) in New York.