Hale Coffee wants a piece of Toronto's roasting scene
There is a subtle cacophony in the Hale Coffee Co. headquarters. Khaldoun and Ramzi, two of the four business partners (missing are Adel and Khaled), are leading me through a typical roasting in their operation. Big burlap bags full of green beans sit in the corner, stacked bins of the roasted sit high on a shelf. Various coffee machines line the walls, and at the centre of the room is a table and chairs, the table full of trays of various bean types for me to sniff and try. My senses are piqued.
"Coffee roasting is a mix of the creative and the scientific," remarks Khal, as he pours a bucket of Ethiopian Harrar beans into the top of the Diedrich IR 2.5 machine. In the little window you can see the beans dancing round and round like customers at a Boxing Day sale. Over the whir of the machine, Khal takes readings, calling out numbers to Ramzi to later cross-reference with the computer data that runs straight from the roaster to a nearby Mac.
Soon aromas of light caramel and roasted chestnuts fill the room. They keep taking samples of the beans at various roasting times to test in a cupping tomorrow. For now, Hale Coffee only sells single origin beans - Ethiopian Harrar, Guatemalan Antigua, Costa Rican Tarrazu, Brazilian Cerrado, Colombian Supremo - though they are at work on custom blends.
Before they started up the roasting, we do a series of espresso shots. Using their La Marzocco machine Khal pulled a shot of their Guatemalan. It displayed a lovely tiger-skinned pattern crema, and tasted just as it should - sour notes at the first sip, but upon the second it opens up with balanced and rich chocolately notes.
He adjusted and ground another type of bean, this time the rare Yemeni. The Yemeni bean is one I've never tried. The near drought conditions, old seed stock and traditional harvesting and drying techniques results in smaller, tighter, uneven beans and the flavour is fruity and acidic.
Yemeni beans seem to me to be to coffee culture a loose equivalent of what Georgian orange wine is to oenology and viticulture. Due to (western) isolation and political instability, their products are steeped in history, retain a comparative unprocessed or rustic quality, and are hard to come by. They remind us of the roots.
After they roasting we share a final cup, this time a Costa Rican brewed in a Chemex. It's lighter, fruity and a little sour, a delicate finish to the day. We talk about the roots of their business. They all previously came from disparate careers (banking, sales etc.), but together got hooked onto the idea of coffee roasting as interest for local roasting grew in Toronto.
They saw a gap in the market, a need for fine roasted coffee distributed to mid-range businesses; bars, restaurants and coffee shops to be consumed on site or taken home as whole beans by customers who don't roast their own but care about a good cup. After some roasting and barista training, they began experimenting in October 2012.
What they lack in experience, they have ten-fold in enthusiasm. Khal and Ramzi stress Hale's interest in ethical beans, eschewing brand labels like fair trade, and highlight their business interest in coffee and food pairings.
The beans are done, tawny, bright smelling and just a little warm to the touch. Talk has switched to the future. Long-term plans involve a flagship storefront, but for now they roast and distribute to a number of Toronto locations. I like that their initial take on coffee has been focused and simple, but I am encouraged by their motto - "keep exploring" - it belies roots and wings. It also leaves them room to grow, and I believe, with their energy, they will.