You know what I know about coffee? That I like it, and that’s pretty much it. When I had to chance to sit down in the newest StrangeLove coffee location (located in a tattoo parlour, no less! 627 Queen St W) I went for it! We got signed up for an hour long Coffee Sensory Tasting where we would learn to taste and evaluate a cup of coffee like a roaster would! It’s perfect if you’re a coffee lover and want to expand you knowledge and appreciation of tasting notes and unique regional characteristics of curated coffee.
Two girlfriends and I showed up to meet with Sairhei, who is pretty much a coffee aficionado. He quickly assembled little jars with ingredients (aka tasting notes) that would be present in each coffee we would be ‘cupping’ that day. We observed everything from walnuts to toffee to berries placed in front of empty, waiting cups.
Sairhei was quick to tell us that the quality of the water used in the coffee really matters. He motioned to a large filter that took up the back corner of the coffee bar. Everything from chlorine (strips away sweetness) and to minerals (reduce the coffee’s flavour) can really affect your brew! He told us about customers having the same cup of coffee but in different parts of the world and noticing a difference in taste simply due to the water quality in each country. “How our reverse osmosis unit works is it strips the water down, it creates a concentrate and then re-blends it, so essentially the blue part of it is the tank, inside the tank there’s a membrane that either contracts or expands letting certain nutrients but not others away and that creates the water that I essentially want”
StrangeLove looks for the best quality coffee beans from ‘craft farmers’. “The way the we make sure the coffee is great when it gets here is because we do it directly with the farmer, usually there is a name so if you look at this, the De Mello” Sairhei grabbed a bag of coffee beans “Juan Rodriguez, that’s the guy who grew the coffee. That’s the person who owns the land and usually works and usually processes the coffee, what that means is good roasters go to origin, they go to origin three, four times a year” he continued, referencing to unseen roasters named Phil and Sebastian. “ They go ten, twelve, fifteen times a year to make sure that the process of growing and processing and cleaning, sorting and storing coffee is properly done.” These guys are serious about coffee!
We were going to be sampling three cups of coffee from two different companies, De Mello Palheta, one of their local roasting partners, and Phil and Sebastian, which hails from Calgary. “So, Canada is fortunate, we have a lot of good roasters to work with and the industry has been developing in the last little bit’ Sairhei told us. We smelled the fragrant beans before the bags were whisked away to be ground for the cupping process.
Three small cups were placed in front of us with ground coffee sitting at the bottom. Sairhei poured boiling water from the kettle over them and set a time for twelve minutes ( the magic number for extracting coffee) and opened up to some Q&A while we waited for the coffee to brew. After a few minutes we were ready to break the coffee’s crust. This is the process of removing the floating grinds on top of the coffee, done by skimming two spoons gently over the surface and scooping them out. We weren’t as skilled as Sairhei but we got the job done after a few tries.
“The idea in a cupping is to just get a character of the coffee and hopefully I’ve picked very different coffee’s between themselves that you’re easily going to be able to pick up the big differences between” We were handed what looked like soup spoons, and were told to dip the spoons in on the surface and to ‘slurp’ to aerate and help taste the different flavours of each coffee.
I slurped from the three cups and really concentrated on each of the different tastes. I enjoyed two of them and the other I could live without (it was the more floral one). We all seemed to pick a different coffee as our favourite. Taste is subjective, Sairhei told us. He asked us to try one of the coffees once more and said it personally reminded him of roasted grape tomatoes. “I want you to picture roasted tomatoes when you sip it” he said as we dipped our spoons back in. To my surprise, I could see where he was coming from and pick up on the subtle tastes of what I could see would remind him of tomatoes. Coffee is crazy.
Sairhei also showed us an iced tea he made with casacara beans, aka dried coffee cherries. It’s the shell that holds the coffee bean itself and has a fruity, cranberry like taste to it. He had steeped the tea for sixteen hours and it was the perfect amount of sweetness for a warm spring day. I’m looking forward to having it again and it was interesting seeing different bars of the coffee fruit being used in different ways like that.
If you’re interested in trying out this class and learning a little more about one of the beverages you can’t live without, check out the Coffee Sensory Tasting on EventBrite.ca, it lasts about an hour and its $30 a person. When this location officially opens in a week or two, they’ll be serving pastries as well and you’ll be able to walk away with a beverage, we chose flat whites which were delicious. I definitely walked away with a new appreciation of the coffee farmers, roasters and shops like StrangeLove who strive to provide only the best and hire staff that has a passion for the job! Thanks for hosting us J
Hey! I'm Sarah! A 30 something living in downtown Toronto with a great guy and an OK dog. I love seeing what my city has to offer and try to hit up as many fun events or attractions as I can! I haven't slept since 2004.