The September 2011 issue of dandyhorse magazine will be our first Food Issue featuring guest editor Bob Blumer of the Food Network. In preparation for the Food Issue the dandyBLOG will be posting stories related to the important fuel all cyclists rely on, food.
By Carolyn Pioro
Photos by Christopher Kaiser
Coffee and cycling, coffeehouses and indie bike shops—concepts not quite as ubiquitous as, say, coffee and cigarettes. However, at Merchants of Green Coffee in Toronto's almost-east end these pairings couldn't be more perfectly matched.
To point: the shop has ample bike parking out front and still patrons are more than welcome to bring their bikes inside. Merchants of Green Coffee also provides bike storage for their employees and the other like-minded small business owners who work and rent the offices upstairs. And daily—by means of bike and trailer—they deliver their freshly roasted beans to local cafés and businesses, like the newly opened ING Direct Café on Yonge Street.
Morgan Yew, the company's Green Bean Manager, waxes philosophical about this coffee/cycling connection. “Independent coffeehouses, like bicycle shops, promote a thoughtfulness,” says Yew, “which can lead to best practices and meaningful community involvement.”
In 1994, Merchants of Green Coffee began importing fair trade and organically grown green coffee from small-scale farmer cooperatives and independent growers throughout Latin America. In the last 17 years they've expanded to not only import high-quality arabica coffee, but to roast the beans daily (hourly even) and run a thriving café and coffee-information-super-hub.
The space, outfitted by a tasteful tangle of reclaimed-wood tables and chairs, is warm and charming—it provides a refreshing contrast to many of the city's overly chromed and polished coffee shops.
The store acts as home base for Merchants of Green Coffee’s myriad community involvements: Yew updates the shop's engaging social media feeds; they host and organize events like music shows and book readings, ongoing coffee research and education, plus corporate and private tastings; Merchants also has a strong presence at many of the city's seasonal farmers markets. All of this outreach, all of the education, helps in communicating their mantra: Fresh Coffee, Fair Trade, Green Business. And in doing so, Yew describes how Merchants of Green Coffee's green business model and fair trade ethos speaks to a concept that many cyclists hold dear to their heart: sustainability.
Merchants of Green Coffee's practices and policies strive to balance the desires of coffee drinkers with the goal of not compromising the future needs of the farmers, other workers and the planet. “We hope to inform by example, asking people to slow down (as we do with our Steep & Filter Coffee) and consider their role in the coffee-chain and the city.”
Hand roasting coffee beans at Merchants of Green Coffee
As he demonstrates their Steep & Filter method of coffee preparation, it's a wonder that all it takes to turn earthy green coffee beans into aromatic splintered grinds is a small countertop roaster, a grinder, a reusable hemp and cotton filter, a subtly warmed glass carafe and a stainless steel pitcher of boiling water. This method seems alien in a world of steampunk-inspired espresso behemoths and over-packaged single cup systems. The Steep & Filter method borrows from countries with rich coffee cultures like Ethiopia and Costa Rica.
Many a cyclist starts or ends her ride with a cup of coffee. Caffeine is the only legal stimulant allowed in bike racing. Pro riders travel with their personal espresso machines, some cafés will sponsor whole teams and a recent article in Bicycling magazine talks about consuming five to six cups to recover from a long ride. What makes Merchants of Green Coffee a little different is that the end goal isn't just about a caffeine kick, the java jolt or sweet candy-like coffee concoctions, it's about being mindful about consumer culture and leaving the smallest footprint, bit of grind, tread of tire.
“By itself [coffee's] not a sustainable trade-good—what is?” Yew muses, “The real question is whether it is socially sustainable, from farm to cup or between point A & B. In addition, how long can any generation maintain best practices if there is no infrastructure to support it? We are all engaged in this struggle. I think it is our job to make it meaningful.”
Merchants of Green Coffee
2 Matilda Street
1-888-741-5369 (Toll Free)
dandyhorse magazine is proud to have Merchants of Green Coffee as a retail supporter. The Food Issue is currently for sale at the cafe and they also have copies of the Food Issue for sale at the weekly Evergreen Brick Works Farmers' Market, Saturdays from 8am to 1pm.