Living in a small mountain town-which has drawn folks from all over the world seeking beauty, adventure and a lifestyle more in communion with what they aspire to- offers a unique opportunity to meet entrepreneurs, guides, artists and tradespeople, and discuss what makes them – and us – so keen to be in Canmore, Alberta. From here, we run all our Canadian Rockies Hiking trips.
Jennifer Webb, owner of a small coffee roasting business moved here because of the mountains. But she also needed to make money and raise her daughter. Coffee is something she is passionate about and coffee fuels many of Canmore’s citizens. With over 10 coffee shops in town, coffee is a big part of the social fabric of this mountain community but also in many parts of the world.
Voltaire once said, ” If coffee is a poison, it is a slow poison.” Poison it is not, for as many as 2.5 billion people on planet earth wake up thanks in part to a coffee. Banned by the Catholic Church in the 17th Century as the “bitter invention of Satan”, coffee nevertheless became one of the most popular drinks in the world, and around a tiny seed, multi-billion dollar industries have sprung up, from growers, distributers to the roasters and baristas, all have profited in some way from this amazing plant.
Most likely originally from the highlands of Ethiopia, Arabs were the first to cultivate and trade in coffee. Drunk in homes but also in public places, called “schools of the wise” due to the intense literary and cultural discussions taking place in them. Arabs met around a cup of coffee in order to watch plays and musical performances, discuss politics and just get out of the house in order to meet friends. Not unlike the modern coffee scene of literary cafes and acoustic evenings in your local shop.
As a pretty avid traveller, due to my job description as owner/operator and lead guide of a travel company, Alpine Interface, I drink a lot of coffee, mostly bad, bitter or insipid, often tepid, served by stressed staff in an airport terminal or busy bus station. But it does not have to be like that or does it? What exactly goes wrong or right when you purchase a cup of coffee? Isn’t making a good cup of coffee a no brainer? Not really if you listen to what Jennifer Webb has to say about coffee.
Jennifer Webb is the owner of Mountain Blends Coffee Roasters, a small, family-operated roasting facility in the heart of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. I spoke with Jennifer recently about her business, her passion for coffee and why she set up shop in a small mountain town. Here is part of that interview.
Jennifer, why did you choose Canmore, Alberta, a small mountain town for your business?
I chose Canmore, Alberta for obvious reasons; I love to play outdoors and is there a better playground?
What is Mountain Blends?
Mountain Blends is a small batch coffee roaster nestled in the town of Canmore, in the Rocky Mountains.We source and roast the best Fair Trade/Rainforest Alliance/Organic Certified and speciality green coffee beans from around the world. Our roasts are profiled to bring out the unique flavours inherent to the bean. All of our coffee is roasted and shipped within 24 to 48 hours.
Why a coffee business? Was it a simple business opportunity or was there something more? How many make up your team?
I love coffee! Everything about it is so complex and unique-I am so fortunate to enjoy my job as much as I do. It started out as a great business opportunity allowing me the freedom to raise my family and have a career at the same time. I currently employ two girls and myself. We are looking to expand
Do you drink coffee, I know a stupid question?
Yes, but not as much as people think.
What sort of business structure do you run, wholesale, retail, a mix of both? Do you sell paraphernalia for coffee? Machines, cups?
We are located at 11a-Bow Meadows Crescent, we recently moved here to expand from a wholesale business to a location where we can operate as both wholesale and retail. We have started carrying some of our favourite brewers, cups, teas and other coffee toys. Also our famous Mountain Blends coffee smothered in Le Chocolatier chocolate!
What are the struggles concerning a Bow Valley business? What are the strengths?
Small town and there are a lot of other roasters out there. We are fortunate enough to be operating out of a very popular destination for visitors. Also, one of Canmore’s biggest strengths is loyalty for other locals-keeping it in our community to keep it strong
Let’s talk coffee. What exactly is coffee?
Coffee beans are actually the two seeds of the cherry-like fruit of the coffee bush or tree. The timing of coffee bean picking is crucial; if they are picked prematurely, they will be of poor quality. If they are left too long, they are likely to be knocked off of the tree by rain. When the fruit turns bright red, it is picked by hand and then pulped, dried, sorted, roasted, ground and finally brewed into coffee.
What is roasting, what exactly are you doing to the bean?
Though grinding green coffee beans could be accomplished, the result would be pretty disappointing! It is amazing what an incredibly complex flavour is locked inside the green bean which only heat can release. Green coffee beans are loaded with carbohydrates that produce sweetness through caramelization, and some ‘toasted wheat’ flavours that occur when broken down by heat. As green coffee beans absorb the heat, they change colour from blue-green, to bright green to gold and eventually to dark brown with some oil to dark brown with more oil and eventually to black and very oily. They almost double in size releasing all sorts of flavour compounds. In fact, over 800 flavour compounds are found in fresh roasted coffee, making it the most complex beverage by far.
What type of beans are there? Why are some beans better for espresso or filter coffee or is that just a myth?
Any bean can be used for espresso or filtered coffee. However, the process of brewing the same coffee through a filter, French press, espresso machine changes the flavour components making them taste very different.
Do you practice Fair Trade? How can you be sure that Fair Trade is being enforced?
I do buy Fair Trade coffee, however, I am very proud supporter of Rain Forest Alliance coffees. The Rainforest Alliance works to conserve biodiversity and improve livelihoods by promoting and evaluating the most globally respected sustainability standards in a variety of fields.
How best to prepare an espresso?
Everyone who buys an espresso machine should take the time to learn about the techniques experienced baristas have perfected over the years on preparing an espresso. There is no science to it- just an art that takes time and patience to know when you got it right. There are so many factors to a great shot-from coarseness of the grind to the pressure un tamping, temperature of the water just to name a few.
What is your favourite coffee in your shop?
I am an espresso girl! I spent 8 months developing my espresso blend called Wholly Toledo, until one day I had finally found the perfect combination for our two stage roasting process. I love it strong!
If you come to Canmore, Alberta in order to ski, ice-climb, hike or simply take in the amazing beauty of the mountains, make sure to visit Jennifer and her coffee roasters just off of Elk Run Blvd. Here’s the link to their website.
You can get all the information you need to purchase coffee beans, coffee machines and discuss and taste a variety of beans, roasted weekly by Jennifer and her team.