Bridges into the future - The Cafe Culture journey.

Adam Tindale (Editor and contributor to the CoffeeCrew website) and I sat in Discovery Coffee this afternoon and had a conversation about specialty coffee (in Victoria and North America) - where it has been recently, where it is today and where it is going. Additionally, we discussed at length our roles in the phenomenon known as cafe culture. It is only fitting that these conversations took place at Discovery Coffee. Disco, as it is referred to affectionately, is ground zero for the Victoria scene. And for good reason - they earned it.

It was only yesterday that my wife and I popped into Disco to catch a whiff of some ultra-exotic bean they are roasting - Esmerelda it is called... about 50$ for a 1/4 pound. We were sitting at one of the tables and I was just about to tuck into a fabulous looking Cafe Macchiato when co-owner John Riopka popped over with a 1/2 mug of the golden bean in hand - not to give me the whole mug, mind you, but a sip. So I had a sip. And my wife had a sip. And although there was not an accompanying choir of angels, there was something to this pricey brew that set it way ahead of the others. John knew it. And we knew it.

The three of us shared a coffee moment. One 1/2 mug of coffee. One precious mug of Clover coffee. Sips of wonderful, almost tea-like brew - and reflections on what it is to be a voice and a listener in this wonderful phenomenon called Specialty Coffee.

At some point yesterday, Logan joined my wife (she who is not to be named on my website!) and I for some additional discussion and reflection on the very nature of specialty coffee in Victoria in the summer of 2007. Logan is probably half my age and shares a fire in the belly and a passion for the bean not unlike many people I have seen in this business. His spark is genuine - and like his father John Riopka, it is a truly genuine and remarkable thing to see up close. John, like his son Logan, and Sam Jones (of 2% Jazz) and Shane Devereaux of Habit on Pandora are the new messengers of the cafe culture revolution.

Which brings us into todays Adam and Colin conversation...

As Adam and I sat and over a variety of signature drinks we mused on what it's like to witness this excitement from the front row seat. Adam and I, and the rest of the Coffeecrew team, are in the unusual position of being sought after for opinions and at the same time urged to quietly watch the proceedings to see how this mystical caffeinated drama plays out.

A little history thrown in perhaps would be a good idea.

When I started this web project in mid-1994, little did I know that I was walking into the early stages of yet another coffee renaissance. The specialty coffee groove had been building for a lot longer than this of course - this story is outside the context of this opinion piece - but suffice to say: In 1968 a gentleman by the name of Alfred Peet started a revolution in Berkeley California when he started roasting quality arabica coffee in a small storefront. His roast was different - not the milder light roasts typical of the Eastern America scene - but dark, nasty and downright intimidating. In 1971, Jerry Baldwin, Zev Seigl and Gordon Bowker introduced Seattle to the original Starbucks concept - high quality arabica coffees carefully roasted in small batches and sold near the Pike Place market. Their concept was loosely based on what was happening with Alfred Peet and Murchies on Vancouver. That original Starbucks is still there but the original energy and quality has long since left the building.

In 1974 I had my first encounter with whole bean coffee from (first) Murchies and then Cairo Coffee of Victoria - a roastery that has been in action here since 1913! My first trip to Seattle was in 1982 and I encountered the coffee - still in comparative infancy. By 1987 and several more trips to Seattle, it was clear that something very special was developing (or brewing) and I wanted to keep watch on this. Just a hunch mind you! By 1986 and with the hosting of the World Expo (Man in Motion) in Vancouver, I was ready for my first multi-Province 1000 mile coffee shop tour.

And what a wake up call!

Adam jumps in, interrupting my reverie... "Ten years ago the landscape for the specialty coffee fan would have been remarkably bare (as I illustrated in my much-talking) but today... well, look around you! The raw excitement, knowledge and sharing of knowledge is staggering... breathtaking... and we are on the leading edge of something."

"Take Victoria for instance - 50% of the population might drink passable coffee. 2% have discovered the good stuff - and that number can only grow!"

Adam continues, "There could be steady growth in this market for 20 years and it would not near saturation!"

I think to myself - this is a good thing. I mean, specialty coffee and cafe culture can be sustainable and green - good for the planet. Good for the millions of families that work in this business. People will keep enjoying better coffee and enhancing their base of knowledge - and giving back. "I mean, that is the whole point right?" I am talking to myself as Adam sips an 8-oz cappuccino... hang on, I am sipping an 8-oz cap to that has just been handed to me by Paul Reimer, one of Discovery Coffee's crack baristas. He wants our opinion. "This is perfect", I offer... "There is a linear gradient of flavor from the top of the cap to the bottom." Adam disagrees. "There is a taper in the milk texture top to bottom..."

Paul winces!

I remind the Barista Paul that Adam sniffs out truffles as a part time gig and will taste things that no mere mortal will detect.
"This is a fabulous sample of a plain 8-oz single cappuccino - the milk is perfect and the taste consistent based on how you described the blend," I genuflect.

We re-focus. "There is so much to do for so many... as specialty coffee messengers!" Adam tosses out.
"Consumer education is our thing and as messengers we have a life's work ahead of us - if we want it."

I wax eloquent - "Ten years ago, there were just a handful of us coffee geeks... voices in a seemingly infinite wilderness of crappy coffee. We truly felt that when we signed off our computers (on any given day)in 1996 that the voice of the future would be off-line till the next morning."

"That is not so anymore is it?" Adam introjects.

"No..." I offer. "It's not - and it is a beautiful thing. Look around the internet and there is a wealth of resources like nothing we have ever seen before. Very, very smart and passionate people taking it to the next level. JimSeven is good example of where the knowledge and passion is going."

I continue to babble: "At any given hour of the day or night there is a blogger out there preaching the gospel of sustainability and fairness in specialty coffee..."

"People that are shouldering a lot of what we used to do ten years ago..."

"And I sleep better now knowing that a little of this is going on... every minute and hour of every day."

Adam and I agreed that the coffeecrew could disappear tomorrow and the World would carry on - and the revolution would carry on.

But there is room for us. Today. Tomorrow. Ten, maybe twenty years from now.

Adam concludes, "This is just the beginning Man... The concert is just starting. Act one. Make yourself comfortable..."
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Adam Tindale is a Victoria resident (soon to be in Calgary, Alberta) and coffee expert. He writes for the CoffeeCrew and is our Bon Vivant, man-about-town guy. Colin Newell is the creator and senior editor of the CoffeeCrew.Com website - a celebration of cafe culture... today, tomorrow and forever.