In the bustling neighborhood of Roncesvalles, a primarily Polish community located in Toronto, Canada, Reunion Island Coffee Roasters opened their flagship location on a prime corner lot in July 2015. Reunion Island has been in wholesale operations for 20 years, but the company wanted its very own flagship to show new and old customers alike “just how great our coffee can be,” according to the company's Director of Relationships Adam Pesce, whose family started the business in 1995.
Everything about the cafe is minimal, bright, and inviting. From the moment coffee goers step foot into the cafe, each moment is striking. Customers are welcomed with a now internet-iconic black and white tile floor that spells out “COFFEE”. Pesce says, “Some people have ‘welcome’ mats, we have coffee.” The whole space seems thoughtful and, well, highly Instagrammable, with tables adorned with succulents and air plants, and stark white walls filled out by commissioned art pieces by longtime friend and artist Steph Hung, dedicated to the Roncesvalles neighborhood.
The minimal focus of the shop was something that was not lost on Pesce and his team. “We want to make it very clear, this is a place for coffee.” Inside the shop, General Manager Derek Hamers oversees the day-to-day of the coffee bar where guests can saddle up to the pour-over station at any time of day, or enjoy the latte art offerings from barista Yuna. The roasting side of the business stays heavily involved in every step in the chain, from the farm level to brewing parameters at the shop. Reunion Island wants to ensure that everyone gets a chance to drink their coffees at their best, and that care shows through in the cup.
Beyond the roasting, sourcing, and attention to brewing and presentation that are Reunion Island's visible focus, the company maintains a strong commitment to sustainability. The company is a certified B Corp, which Pesce says “is telling of who we are as a company.” The company's carbon-neutral operations are powered by renewable energy, and sourcing focuses on relationship-traded coffees with organic, Fair Trade, and/or Rainforest Alliance certifications.
For the espresso program, Reunion Island uses both a washed and a natural processed coffee–washed for espresso and Americanos, and natural for milk-based drinks made even sweeter with Harmony Organic whole milk. “It took a bit of explanation at first,” says Pesce, “but our customers have really taken to it and have totally come to accept and love the flavor of naturals.” Single-origin filter offerings—like a recent experimental coffee lot from Guatemala's Finca La Soledad—change regularly, every four to six weeks.
The coffee bar has become a bit of a testing ground of sorts for the roastery. Over the past year, they have started working hand-in-hand with their direct trade partners to do some mixed processing. Starting this May at the cafe, not only will Reunion Island offer two different processes of the same coffee but also from the same farm. “We’re hoping that’ll really give customers a wicked experience and the opportunity to taste what effect processing can have on coffee.”
Equipment-wise, the shop has found the Mythos Clima-Pro grinder keeps shots running smoothly on their two-group Modbar espresso system alongside a Mahlkönig EK 43 for their batch-brew and pour-over offerings, a Marco under-the-counter water boiler, and one of Canada’s first Marco Jet brewers.
Peeking out the gorgeous front window that opens out into the community and in turn keeps the staff cool during the summer months, the cafe staff has started thinking of some creative signature drinks to add to the warm-weather menu. Taking ordinary seasonal drinks known to be super sweet, they have created drinks such as the Dulce de Leche Flat White using ingredients made from scratch to create a balance of flavours while still offering something fun and irreverent. As Pesce tells me, “We enjoy taking the piss out of the larger coffee industry.”
Photos by Britney Townsend.