Teri Heck is on a mission to rid the world of bad coffee.
“I grew up on the farm where we had terrible water and even worse coffee,” said the owner of Profound Coffee, a micro-roaster in Cremona.
“Life is just too short to drink bad coffee.”
Heck was always a double-double girl in the early years of her career at United Grain Growers, where she would brew big urns of cheap coffee for farmer meetings. It didn’t take long before she graduated to big chain lattes, but when that got too expensive, she bought herself one of those instant coffee makers that brew single cups from pods.
The convenience was great. The quality of the coffee, not so much.
But five years ago, that all changed when Heck, her partner Trevor, and their two kids discovered good black coffee during their travels across Europe.
“We were getting back to coffee,” said Heck.
Pretty soon, they started playing around with roasting their own coffee at home on the stove. Those successful early experiments in micro-roasting soon led to a bigger home roaster, and when friends and family started asking for Heck’s fresh-roasted beans, she knew she was on to something.
Heck bought her first industrial roaster, a 12.5-kilogram machine named Mona (after Cremona), and in August 2017, Profound Coffee was born.
Today, their company roasts small batches of specialty coffee from Guatemala, Costa Rica, Brazil, Ethiopia, and Colombia — and ships it from coast to coast (to restaurants, cafés, and home-brewers). These small batches mean the coffee is always fresh and allows customers to explore different coffees from around the world.
“Coffee really has moved from a general commodity to a more specialty product,” said Heck, adding prices can range from $3.50 to $60 a pound, depending on where the coffee is from.
“It’s an affordable luxury. Everybody can play around with specialty coffee.”
The price of convenience
And like the drink itself, micro-roasting coffee can be addictive.
“Introducing a customer to these exotic coffees and seeing the look on their face when they taste it is fantastic,” said Heck.
“They realize coffee doesn’t have to be this bitter thing that they have every morning.
“Once you get going (with micro-roasts), it’s hard to stop.”
Micro-roasted specialty coffees are a relatively new trend in Canada, where java is the most consumed beverage among adults — ahead of even tap water. But the tradition of coffee dates back to the 1800s, when the first wave of mass coffee consumption began.
“Up until the 1850s, if you wanted to have coffee, you had to have access to the beans and the ability to roast it, grind it, and brew it yourself,” said Heck.
Then convenient coffee took off with the rise of giants such as Maxwell House and Folgers, that offered ground coffee for home brewing — sparking a global industry worth $100 billion today ($6.2 billion in Canada alone).
But that ‘first wave’ coffee had its faults.
“Convenience is awesome, but coffee is all aromatic,” said Heck. “Once you grind it, within 15 minutes it loses a big chunk of what makes it special.”
In the 1960s, coffee drinkers began to revolt against the poor quality of that ‘first wave’ coffee. Amidst the growing demand for better quality, companies such as Starbucks and Peet’s Coffee sprang up in the States and started to treat coffee “more like an experience.”
‘Third wave’ coffee
But it wasn’t long before the coffee industry shifted again in reaction to the “uniformity” that companies like Starbucks offers.
“Most people want a consistent product year round,” said Heck. “But in order to get that consistency, you have to go from single origin to more regional coffees and blends to make sure that any variety in the crop isn’t going to find its way into the cup.”
In this more recent ‘third wave,’ micro-roasters (both hobbyists and commercial roasters) are starting to explore the nuances between coffees produced in different growing conditions.
“People want to get back to the real product of coffee,” said Heck. “It’s about the craft of coffee.”
Traceability has allowed that to happen, she added.
“Nowadays, you’ll pick up a bag of coffee from a micro-roaster and you’ll find out information about where it’s from, at what elevation it was grown, even what farm it can be traced back to,” said Heck.
“Coffee is very different from one region to another. How you grew it and how you grind it can have a tremendous impact.”
And her customers are starting to realize that, too. It’s been a “long sales cycle” since Profound Coffee opened its doors last summer, but as consumers become more familiar with these exotic specialty coffees, demand has grown both among retail customers and direct-marketed consumers.
“Coffee’s a habit. It’s such a deeply intense, personal experience,” said Heck. “So getting people to try something new can be a bit of a challenge. But once you get in there and they can see the quality that you offer, you get their loyalty.
“It’s a good industry to be in.”