County Coffee has 'bean' around the world
By Angela Long
Published July 19, 2016
When the beans reach between 390 and 400 degrees Fahrenheit, they begin to pop.
“It sounds just like popcorn popping,” County Coffee co-owner David Patterson says. He watches the drum of the $5,500 “fluid bed roaster” carefully. Listens.
“You don’t need a PhD to roast coffee,” he says. “It’s simply a matter of heating green beans to a certain temperature.”
It’s so simple, says Patterson, you could do it at home in a $200 home roaster, or even in a popcorn maker. But then there’s the issue of the chaff, discarded by the bean as it heats, and the smoke, and the smell “like your house is burnt.”
Perhaps that’s why coffee roasting companies are doing so well in Haliburton. Since opening in May 2015, County Coffee has roasted more than 1,500 pounds of beans, delivering to customers such as Rhubarb, Bark Lake, Stouffer Mill, and selling retail from Abbey Gardens – the company’s home base.
A bean pops. Then another.
“Here we go,” says Patterson, noting the temperature, the time.
We’ve reached what’s known in coffee talk as the first crack, when the bean becomes drinkable and tastes “like grass,” according to Patterson.
Patterson and his business partner (and cousin) David Buwalda speak coffee talk fluently.
“My cousin can go to a cupping and taste the region the bean is from,” he says. “He talks about hints of blueberry, lemon, syrup.”
Cupping is the coffee connoisseur version of a wine tasting. Aficionados slurp coffee from a teaspoon (“the noisier the better, says Patterson”) and swirl the flavours around in their mouths. This was how Patterson and his cousin decided on their four main beans – Mexican Chiapas, Costa Rica Tarazu, Guatemala Santa Rosa, Sumatran.
County Coffee beans are Fair Trade Organic and Rainforest Alliance certified, meaning they are “sustainably grown and the farmers are treated respectfully,” says Patterson. These designations are important to Patterson. As the son of parents who worked for the non-profit organization Institute of Cultural Affairs for decades, Patterson grew up in the small villages of the developing world.
“I’ve seen how poorly people in those countries can be treated and how little they are paid,” he says.
Abbey Gardens, which hosts County Coffee as part of their “business incubator program,” espouses similar values. Into the Blue Bakery, Sin a Bit and Haliburton Highlands Brewing are also part of the incubator program which gives independent businesses an opportunity to grow in a supportive environment with resources such as an industrial kitchen at their disposal. It’s in this kitchen Patterson will roast 46 pounds of coffee tonight.
Patterson has close ties to Abbey Gardens. John Patterson, his father, was one of its founders in 2005. For many years, as the concept for the “local food hub” went from gravel pit to veggie garden to retail outlet, David was involved in a “loosey goosey” manner.
Now Patterson is roasting his way toward living here more permanently, juggling a life in Toronto with a wife and two young sons, and a job for a not-for-profit energy company. He and his cousin take turns travelling from the GTA to Abbey Gardens for the weekly roasting, and staying at the Pattersons’ property on Cranberry Lake.
The sound of beans popping fills the kitchen. Smoke funnels outside. Patterson keeps close watch on the temperature.
“Soon they’ll sound like Rice Krispies,” he says.
Soon they’ll reach the second crack – beloved by so many coffee drinkers – medium roast. This is the stage of “darker flavours and nuances,” says Patterson. “The best of both worlds.”
He turns off the roaster. Bean chaff floats in the air. Patterson transfers the shiny chocolate-coloured beans to a container for cooling, inhaling deeply.
Patterson never tires of this smell. He never tires of coffee.
“I thought I might get sick of doing this,” he says. “But I like it even more because it’s such good coffee.”
A cup of good coffee, for aficionados such as Patterson, depends on three things: choice of bean, fresh grind, proper brewing technique. Patterson recommends grinding your own coffee to ensure it’s fresh.
“99 per cent of the coffee we consume is stale,” he says.
The perfect cup takes time. Ten to 15 minutes to measure, grind, boil, brew. There are expensive gadgets for each step of the way, but Patterson doesn’t want people to think good coffee is something too fancy and expensive for the average person. A basic grinder, a basic French press, that’s all you need.
“Everybody used to do this in the ‘40s and ‘50s. It’s nothing new. We bought into convenience and have forgotten what true flavour really means,” he says.
Patterson begins to bag the beans.
“Eight more batches to go,” he says.