On Wednesday, May 10th, Minneapolis-based green coffee importing company Cafe Imports kicked off their 2017 Legendary Coffee Tour with a stop in Toronto at Boxcar Social’s Harbourfront location. The event, hosted by Cafe Imports’ very own Adrienne Blasky and Sally Rivera, began in the afternoon with a cupping and rolled into the early evening with an engaging panel discussion called “Stump the Roaster” featuring six Ontario-based coffee roasters.
The cupping attracted a solid crowd of industry professionals and local coffee enthusiasts. In total there were 10 coffees to taste on the table—all of which were roasted in the Cafe Imports lab. The first few passes of the cupping were blind and left the coffee tasters in anticipation for the big reveal of coffee origin as well as processing method.
In true Cafe Imports fashion, the format of Stump the Roaster panel had a creative structure that paralleled the phases of coffee roasting. The so-called First Crack consisted of panelist introductions and questions from emcee Blasky. During the Second Crack the audience was invited to ask the roasters questions. The panel then wrapped up with The Drop—or a round of rapid fire questions from Blasky. Afterwards, Cafe Imports invited everyone to stay for conversation as well as refreshments and food, which were sponsored by Mill City Roasters and La Marzocco, respectively. This part of the event was referred to as the Cool Down.
The Stump the Roaster panel of guests included Jonathan Cox of Propeller Coffee Company, Anna Porretta of Bona Fide Bean Coffee Company, Lee Knuttila of Cut Coffee, Cliff Hansen of Cut Coffee, Geoff Woodley of Detour Coffee Inc., and Steven Souphanthong of Social Coffee Co. These roasters had anywhere from under three years to over seven years experience and used roasters ranging from a 3-kilo Diedrich to a 60-kilo Probat. “As you can see we’ve got a lot of variety on roast experience, current roast times, and sizes of roaster, so I think we’ve got a really good panel to answer your questions,” said Blasky.
During First Crack the conversation covered the challenges experienced when starting out as a roaster as well as some useful coffee roasting resources. Blasky also asked the roasters about how they calibrate and collaborate. Overall the consensus seemed to be that tasting a lot of coffee in collaboration with a large variety of people was the best way for these roasters to calibrate. “For me personally, I have a Q Grader license…and I have to renew that every three years—just to ensure my sensory acuity or my coffee knowledge is up to par,” said Anna Porretta, who roasts in Vaughan, Ontario for Bona Fide Bean Coffee. Cliff Hansen of Bridgehead also added, “Even if you don’t roast you can still taste. I’ve got tons of friends in coffee and I always ask them, ‘What does this taste like to you? What are you getting out of this?’” Bridgehead is a coffee company with twenty retail locations in and around Ottawa.
Second crack inspired mostly technical questions from the audience. One guest asked the roasters specifically how they roast for acidity, which prompted some insightful responses from the panel. “Roasting for sweetness unlocks the window into origin… all fruit notes usually have acidity—a really sweet peach, cherry, grapes. If you roast for sweetness acidity will be there—not eliminated—and will actually be showcased,” said Lee Knuttila of Toronto’s Cut Coffee. Geoff Woodley from Hamilton-based Detour Coffee agreed. “We have to roast for the water most of our customers are using so that really affects how we roast for acidity as well,” said Woodley. “Acidity is so influenced by the brewing water it’s amazing.”
Cafe Imports has been doing business in Canada for roughly a decade and this isn’t the first time they have put a Canadian stop on their tour schedule. Back in 2015 the Legendary Cupping Tour visited Vancouver at Elysian Coffee Roasters. Still, we had to ask the Cafe Imports team—why did they choose to bring their 2017 Legendary Coffee Tour to Toronto? “A major goal of the tour is to reach places we wouldn’t normally be traveling to for industry related events. We have a number of customers in Toronto, so using them as a barometer we knew it would be a great place to put on such an event. We wanted to give some coffee love to Toronto,” said Cafe Imports’ creative director, Andy Reiland. Indeed, the Legendary Coffee Tour was just the kind of event—and coffee love—our local coffee community needs.