By Patty Mintz
People are curious about the gleaming coffee bean roaster prominently displayed inside a new fair trade cafe on Central Avenue in Greenwood.
Made in Turkey, the machine gets a workout. “We’re roasting almost every other day, 10 kg per batch,” says the café’s owner/operator Tony Jordan, who notes that the premise behind frequent roasting is freshness. The longer coffee beans sit unused after roasting, the more flavour is lost, he says. The idea is similar to small bakeries; consumers buy more often in smaller amounts so the bread, or in this case coffee, doesn’t get stale.
After working as a printer for nearly 20 years for Acadia University and Gaspereau Press, Jordan moved on to become a roaster and buyer for a local fair trade coffee co-op.
Eventually, his path crossed with Lay Yong Tan of Wolfville, who recently founded The Alternate Network Fair Trade Products Limited. The talk strayed to coffee, then to Lay Yong’s plans for a network of micro roaster cafes. “I expressed my interest. I thought it was a great idea,” says Jordan. “I always wanted to have my own café when I retired. This came a lot sooner than I expected. I jumped into it and it has been a great, wild ride. We’ve made so many friends in Greenwood.”
Since opening in October he says the café has flourished. “The response has been phenomenal. It has really grown.”
Tan says his plan is to see other similar roaster cafes throughout Canada. “I’m very passionate about fair trade and coffee. The coffee business is so interesting, especially with organic coffee.”
So far, Tan has established local entrepreneurs in T.A.N. cafes in Greenwood and Coldbrook and another is in the works for Toronto. He also sells coffee at the Wolfville Farmers’ Market on Saturday and T.A.N. coffee beans are sold wholesale to local restaurants. “The network is created to help entrepreneurs, or just people who are interested in fair trade and coffee, to start their own business,” says Tan. “People like Barbara and Anthony Jordan and Kathryn Bishop who were always interested in owning their own business now have a chance to do it in a very secure way through the support of T.A.N. Fair Trade Products. The objective is to create a business in North America that will have direct relations with the producers in the south.”
Formerly a production manager, buyer and roaster for a local coffee co-op, Tan visited Guatemala, Mexico, Bolivia and other coffee-producing countries.
When the time came to strike out on his own, he launched The Alternative Network. His first purchase was a container packed with coffee -- 280 sacks each weighing 150-lbs. -- purchased directly from the Guatemalan farmers who grew it.
Last week at the T.A.N. café in Coldbrook, principal owner/operator Kathryn Bishop said she is excited to be part of such a progressive enterprise. “We can pool our purchasing power to buy together and organize group trips to visit farmers. We’re all like one team with one goal. The support mechanism is very important to me,” says Bishop. “We bounce ideas back and forth.”
Bishop, who runs a dog-grooming business from her home in Grand Pre, has always wanted to open a café. For her, the hook was more than fair trade and organics. “I tried the coffee and couldn’t believe it was so good. A lot say it’s the best coffee they ever tasted; they’re very enthusiastic about the flavour.”
Bishop and Jordan says the country of origin and the roasting process are crucial to the end result. “There’s a very complex chemistry to the beans. If you roast them too high or low it’s really going to show in your coffee in a bitter or baked taste.”
With a visible roaster, customers with good timing can drink in the sights, sounds and aromas of beans being roasted along with their coffee. “It’s a community café. We encourage people to stay around to meet and sip coffee,” says Tan.
Come September, Tan and the others will head to Peru for the first of what he hopes will be other such journeys to coffee-growing countries. “At this point, we’re still a very young company.”