But this is no wine tasting. The Boxcar Social co-owner is preparing a flight of lightly roasted coffees – an Ethiopian Borboya, Honduran Vallecillo and Kenyan Karinga – which is still several minutes away from being sampled at the seven-month-old café in Toronto's Summerhill neighbourhood.
The "pour-over" brewing method can't be rushed, Castellani explains, as he dribbles 96-degree water into steel drippers atop three glass carafes. The carafes, in turn, sit on digital scales that also track the time that has elapsed since the process began. This data, along with measurements of total dissolved solids – that is, the strength of the brew – are displayed on a bar-top iPad.
This elaborate, technical and time-consuming coffee experience is very different from the grab-and-go approach familiar to most Canadians. Yet it's being echoed in one form or another across the country.
From downtown Victoria's Hey Happy to Anchored Coffee in Dartmouth, N.S., dozens of boutique roasters and cafés are encouraging customers to drink curated coffees in much the same way as a wine connoisseur sips a fine vintage. Like Boxcar Social, most recommend that their offerings be taken black, with modern garnishes such as syrups, sprinkles and foams eschewed in favour of pure, unadulterated beans."We're not here to make people drink coffee a certain way, but ours are curated to be black," Castellani says, adding that staff "won't scoff if a customer orders a vanilla latte. We want to make sure our coffee program is spectacular, unique, challenging and cerebral, but at the same time, accessible."
Phil Robertson, co-founder of Phil & Sebastian Coffee Roasters in Calgary, compares coffee garnishes to ketchup. "When we add ketchup to food, it changes and conceals the flavour. Remove the ketchup – or in coffee's case, the cream and sugar – and you can taste the nuances."
The company roasts its beans lightly for the same reason. "People assume that dark roasts mean higher quality," Robertson says, adding that "corporate vendors" such as Starbucks, Tim Hortons and McDonald's base many of their offerings on this perception. "But in reality, this actually strips away a lot of the flavours."
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