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Monday, 18 April 2011

Transcending the Ordinary

The evolution of coffee is a complex, multi-stage and ongoing event.  This evolution may be divided into three main waves. The first wave entailed the industrialization of coffee production, the second (which is widely known as "The Starbucks Effect") ushered in Italian-style beverages such as espresso and cappuccino, and the third revolves around fair trade and sustainability.  Edmonton's own Transcend is juggernaut in the city's coffee world and has been instrumental in raising awareness of coffee's third wave.

I recently spoke with James Schutz, Transcend's Director of Marketing, at their recently-opened Jasper Avenue location.  "We work on a small scale with co-ops and individual farmers," he explains.  "There are multiple growing seasons, but usually only one harvest that occurs over the span of several weeks," Schutz adds.  "We have coffees in from Africa right now, but Costa Rica isn't yet in season."

Schutz remarks that Transcend Jasper will soon include Latin American street food and waffles from Eva Sweet. "There are many places to get sweet things, but we wanted to include foods that we encounter when visiting the coffee farms down south," he reveals.  Schutz notes that Transcend recently acquired a 1950s-era German-built roaster, the Probat UG-22.  The Probat is a boon, for Schutz explains, "We've found that our coffees have a brand new flavour when roasted in the Probat.  The machine has great flavour control, brings out new nuances and balances acidity."

Schutz generously provides me with two bags of beans.  Kiamabara hails from the Mugaba Co-op Society in Kenya, while Sertão is grown in Brazil.  I set about testing each variety to determine which brewing method best suits the beans.  First up: drip.  This is the go-to coffee brewing method for many, but I find the resultant brew a bit anemic.  Second up: espresso made in my stove-tip Bialetti Brikka.  The Sertão makes a fine espresso, providing the tastebuds with a decent - but never bitter - slap.  

French press, the third method, works beautifully for both varieties.  The French press method allows the water to circulate among every tiny coffee ground, allowing the tiniest flavour nuances to shine.  Kiamabara is bright and citrusy with a muted undertone of purple berries.  Sertão is lusciously dark, veleveteen and earthy.  They are markedly different; these differences highlight the diversity of flavour notes present in each varietal.  It is certainly worth the time and money to seek out high quality, single origin coffee beans; for those wishing to expand their java horizons, Transcend is an ideal launch point.

Transcend Coffee (Jasper Avenue) on Urbanspoon


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