Coffee is one of the most popular beverages consumed by Canadians, so it makes sense that Canada’s coffee scene is among the best in North America.
But it’s the roasters who have grown both their product offerings and social responsibility initiatives over time that stand out, and Salt Spring Island-born roaster, Salt Spring Coffee, is a case in point.
Mickey McLeod and Robbyn Scott, the husband and wife team behind Salt Spring Coffee, founded the company in 1996 on their shared love of coffee and desire to make sustainable change.
The independently owned roaster, a Certified B Corporation, was one of the first to sell organic, fair trade coffee in Canada. Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, Salt Spring Coffee has created a limited-edition collection of single-origin coffees.
I recently had the pleasure of visiting the tasting room at the roaster’s BC headquarters to get a first look and taste of this momentous collection.
The excitement around coffee roasting at Salt Spring Coffee is undeniable; it can be felt as soon as you enter through the front door, walk past the bustling production area, and into the tasting room where the team has their morning coffee.
Since McLeod and Scott first opened the doors to their Salt Spring Coffee Café & Kitchen 25 years ago, the company has grown substantially. To develop its purpose statement, McLeod completed a program with the Social Purpose Institute.
The environment and people have always been important to Salt Spring Coffee, and this led to the creation of the statement: “We flourish with our communities from crop to cup.”
Salt Spring Coffee sourced the beans for its anniversary collection from its long-time partner-producer and expert grower in Nicaragua, Byron Corrales, who has been using regenerative organic agricultural practices for over 25 years.
“What he’s doing is making sure everything that’s going into the coffee is coming from the land [and] from the mountain that the farm is on as opposed to pulling in fertilizers and soil from other places,” said Jessie Gullett, the roaster’s director of coffee quality.
Gullett said the process can get very fine-tuned as Byron cares deeply about soil health and believes that all of the organisms on the farm serve a purpose — from the cows whose manure is used as fertilizer to the bees that help pollinate the coffee trees and the other plants that are used as mulch.
Learning about the detailed approach that Corrales and Salt Spring Coffee take from the ground up made me even more excited to try the limited-edition collection. The beans used in each of the coffees are the same, but the processing methods allow novice and adventurous coffee drinkers to appreciate how this impacts flavour.
“We do a lot of tasting and test batches to make sure we’re hitting the mark with our roast profile,” said Margaret Stromberg, coffee quality manager at Salt Spring Coffee, “taking each [coffee] individually, figuring out the tasting notes, and trying to amplify them as much as possible.”
Each small-batch coffee in the anniversary collection has been named to reflect its Nicaraguan roots. The first one I tried was the Legado, which has been processed using a washed method — meaning that all of the coffee cherry is removed before the coffee is dried in the sun.
I was amazed at how clear the flavours were right off the bat. With subtle baking spices, orange blossom, brown sugar, and black tea notes all coming through, it was a fascinating sensory experience.
Gullett explained that as the coffee cools, the flavour will change and develop a little more. “Often, the more delicate notes will reveal themselves; we’ll start to pick up on acidity or floral notes.”
The next coffee lined up to taste was the honey-processed Porvenir. There’s slightly more richness and body to this coffee and it’s not as delicate as the Legado. Gullett said this is due to the mucilage (a sticky, sugary substance that surrounds the green coffee beans) that’s left on during the drying period in honey processing and infuses the coffee with a little more sugar.
For this one, I could get tasting notes of dried fig, dark chocolate, and roasted almond. It was more cocoa-forward, which I loved, complemented by notes of caramelized, stewed fruit — perfect for this time of the year.
When it came to the last coffee, Momento, which uses a natural processing method, I was pleasantly surprised at how fruit-forward it tasted. Notes of rose, black cherry, and cocoa lifted from the glass, with hibiscus and berries following.
For this processing method, the beans had their natural fruits left on, infusing the flavours as the coffee dried. Gullett mentioned that this coffee would be “super refreshing” iced with the “sweetness coming out in a really big way.”
One thing to note is that all of the coffees are medium roasts, and there’s no need to add any sweeteners (or milk) as the natural sweetness does all the work. What’s more, is that there’s no bitterness to them — something I really appreciated.
If you’re eager to try Salt Spring Coffee’s 25th-anniversary collection for yourself, head to saltspringcoffee.com. The roaster is currently running a contest to give away a $1,000 De’Longhi espresso machine and a $1,000 donation to a charity of the winner’s choosing, which you can enter here.