Sunday, April 21, 2013

Espresso Tasting: Craft Coffee Roaster North Mountain (Hyper Eco & Local)

This morning, after we completed week 3 of couch to 5k, Andrew and I went to a (free) espresso tasting. Yes, espresso tasting- like wine tasting only with espresso. And actually, no, it wasn't as pretentious as you might think!

 (Yummy espresso waiting to be tasted!)

Hosted by Smiling Goat Espresso (my favourite coffee place in the city) and featuring a small craft coffee roaster: North Mountain Coffee, it was fun, entertaining and surprisingly extremely interesting.

Small craft coffee roasters are becoming increasingly popular in Canada and (unexpectedly) in Nova Scotia. As consumers are becoming hyper 'local' sensitized and wanting highly authentic experiences, the demand is enough to support smaller craft roasters. Despite the 'hipster' quotient, craft roasters often means that you are directly supporting a local business, usually assured shipping, processing and energy costs (and pollution) are low and said roaster likely practices Direct Trade (arguably even better than fair trade).

(The beautiful espresso tasting card and colourful flavour wheel!)

To be honest, Andrew and I approached this event with our fair share of trepidation. We had no idea what an 'espresso tasting' would look like. We managed to snag a few seats and were excited when we were handed beautifully printed 'Espresso Tasting' forms for feedback along with a Flavour Wheel.

(Austin Anderson, owner, being a good sport with my impromptu "Can I take your picture for my blog??" request :) )

Austin Anderson, the owner of North Mountain Coffee, began the tasting by giving a brief and interesting account of espresso's history. I learned that espresso's life started as a cheaper and faster alternative to coffee and it wasn't until Starbucks decided to price it as a specialty item that our culture shifted to expect espresso to cost more. He was approachable, well spoken and extremely down to earth. His passion for all things coffee was apparent with every word and it was obvious that he definitely walked the talk of directly connecting with the farmers.

Since I have never actually drank espresso (beyond a sip of Andrew's once) I was a little nervous about writing down my thoughts on the tasting card. Thankfully, Austin made it clear that the tasting was to share experiences, thoughts and develop our ability to perceive and analyze what we like about different flavours of espresso. So, there are no wrong 'tastes'. (phew!)

(Andrew, absorbing the smell before taking his first sip- serious business!)

Each espresso was brought out without a description to encourage a more personal experience. Guests were encouraged to chat about what they tasted, jot down notes and thoughts. Following each sample, Austin asked each group to share what they thought about the flavour profiles, the look and feel of the espresso, the smell and even the finish (just like wine!). Austin easily made each person's comments feel welcome and valid, which isn't easy with a group of strangers.
(Tasting my first espresso- unbeknownst to me at the time: the Ruli)

It was so neat to have to articulate not only what I liked and didn't like about the four espressos, but to hear my thoughts reflected in others, or even to hear completely different reactions to the same espresso.

What really surprised me, was that espresso can have so many different flavours, roasting styles and processing methods. It was fun to find out that typically smaller craft roasters tend to roast lighter and often from single origin farms.

Our favourites were:

  • Ruli (Gorilla) From Rwanda- where the farmers of these beans get around 6x more for their beans directly from roasters than 10 years ago. Taste: not at all what I think of as traditionally 'espresso'; bright and fruity but still rich feeling and delicious. These farmers recently won awards for their sustainable agriculture as well.
  • Yirgacheffé (Lion) From Ethiopia- where Austin shared that the coffee trees actually grow naturally and are the most authentic area for 'wild' coffee beans; the trees are organic and heirloom varieties! Taste: rich, dark and malt-y (from a single wash process) and made us think of a really great dark stout beer.
(our card with all my notes and ratings and BOTH coffees!)

Unexpectedly, not only did we get the entire experience for free, but Austin gifted each guest with substantial free samples of North Mountain coffee! AND because Andrew and I liked two kinds, he gave us both!

Where can you buy North Mountain Coffee? Here's a list!
You can explore North Mountain's facebook page OR contact them directly!


  1. I tried some North Mountain coffee at Smiling Goat on the recommendation of my barista friend. Truly awesome! Wish I was there!

    1. ah! having a barista friend would be pretty darn handy :)

  2. I'll admit that I am not educated enough about coffee to really tell all the amazing locally roasted coffees apart:) I do like the coffee I get at SteveOrenos when I can get there. I still have an issue with how much more expensive the Goat is than all the other local coffee shops that I occasionally go to. I'm boycotting Just Us products until they sort out their union busting issues:( There are even so many different places selling their coffee beans at the Farmer's markets in Halifax and Dartmouth. The expresso tasting sounds like it was really interesting. thanks for blogging about it. I admit I love that your blog is about the place I live:)

    1. oh yes, Smiling Goat is definitely a treat- they have my favourite mocha in the whole city.
      But the interesting thing is that there are all these small craft roasters popping up at the market, it was neat to do a tasting of one.
      We were lucky, the barista at SG mentioned the tasting the day before so that's how we knew about it. (and it was free!)

      I'm also steering clear of JustUs! until they sort out all that union stuff- it's just too tricky to know what's true and what's conjecture at this point...

      yay halifax blogs! :)

    2. That's a shame that people are boycotting Just Us. They are an amazing company and treat their employees really well. I don't think a union belongs in a co-op. Maybe talk to some employees and get the real story?

    3. yes it definitely is bad publicity for JustUs!. I will say that I'm not really equipped to have an opinion about whether a union should or should not be in a co-op, what bothered me was the allegations with how the employees were dismissed. That said- it's tricky when it's employee against employer for what actually transpired.

  3. I am somewhat loath to admit this, but I spent years slogging coffee at Starbucks. The best thing I took away from that job (aside from sweet stock options and health care... better than what I have now in my professional job) was the fine art of coffee tasting. I know it sounds pretentious but honestly, it amazing to learn and it's something that I've carried over to wine, other foods, and even scents to some extent.

    It makes me a bit picky about coffee (ie no Tim Hortons for this girl) but I'd be picky anyways because I like to support local and fair trade coffee suppliers. After working in the industry for 5 years, I learned my more than enough about why fair trade is so important for the farmers on the other end of the sale.

    1. oh, the time I spent in Montreal (and first drinking coffee experiences in my life) were spent at the local Café Dépot and Starbucks :)

      very interesting that they have nice health benefits!!!

  4. Very cool! I will have to try some! :)


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