For the last year and a half or so, St. Margaret’s Anglican Church has been offering a Thursday Night Lecture Series. Some of the lectures focus on deep theological issues, such as next weeks lecture by David Widdicombe, the Rector, on Wars & Rumours of Wars. Other evenings have seen members of St. Margaret’s present on their art. Still others, such as last night’s lecture on Coffee Culture, by Thom Hiebert, of Thom Bargen Coffee & Tea, see members of the broader community of which the parish is part offer lectures on various topics.
Fresh Coffee Culture:
I guess I would have to consider myself as someone on the fringes of coffee culture. I visit coffee bars such as Thom Bargen on a semi-frequent basis. I also attended the Prairie Barista Championships in the hopes of learning more about the world of coffee. So, I’m always interested in hearing stories about why such places exist and what they mean to people.
Last night’s lecture started off with Thom giving a bit of his own story. He first talked about how coffee was an important ritual in his, and then how he came into being involved with fresh coffee. Fresh coffee, which places like Thom Bargen, and Parlour, etc. offer, is coffee that is fresh ground, and fresh poured on the spot. For Thom, although he didn’t know it at the time, his first cup of fresh coffee ruined him for all other coffee.
This is one aspect of fresh coffee culture that I’ve noticed as a recurring theme. You often hear people refer to these small shops as if they only exist for the coffee snob. Yet, what I’ve found, and Thom’s lecture confirmed is that such shops are filled with people who want to offer a new experience to people. The baristas tend to be people who have found something they really love, and hope to help other people love it as well.
I think this was summed up best in Thom’s comments when asked about people who like to add milk and sugar to their coffee. His response was, (and I’m giving the rough sense) I like to encourage people to try a sip without anything added, but once they’ve done that, they should do what ever they like, because coffee is a personal beverage and they should feel free to make it taste how they like.
This carried over into the second, although the last talked about, point in Thom’s lecture. Coffee Culture values the creation of community spaces. Thom talked about how in the time before opening up Thom Bargen’s he visited a variety of different coffee shops. In some the coffee was good, but the experience less so. In others the experience of being in the coffee shop was better, and the coffee less so.
While he prefers good coffee and a good experience, he noticed that the places where the experience was better than the coffee, were often the places he remembered most fondly. In the end it comes down to caring employees are more valuable in the long run than talented employees. I suspect that in part that’s because caring employees will also give their best efforts to serving a great cup of coffee.
At the heart of coffee culture is the creation of community. Thom talked about how he and his partner Graham Bargen (he at least deserves a mention) find themselves entering into and caring for the well-being of their customers. This goes beyond whether or not they had a good experience. This is also notable in Thom Bargen’s involvement in such community events as the Bell Tower Community Cafe.
Finally, this caring that marks so much of coffee culture, is played out in the way place like Thom Bargen’s approach their coffee buying. This was the middle section of the lecture. Buying and selling coffee in an ethical fashion as possible is deeply rooted in coffee culture. In order to do this Thom Bargen follows a Direct Trade approach to coffee. The desire, which they share with their roasters, Phil & Sebastian, is to benefit as much as possible everybody involved in the coffee process, from the grower to the cup. This is important, because as I was checking up, I read that coffee productions from planter to coffee drinker can involve up to 30 people in the chain.
The field of coffee production is quite complex. The website linked above will certainly give you more information and allow you to make more informed decisions regarding how you purchase your coffee.
One thing that made this lecture particularly enjoyable was that Thom was offering Pour Over samples as part of the lectures. Plus, once the lecture was over there were delicious brownies, made by a parishioner, to snack on as well. All in all it made for an informative and tasty evening learning about coffee culture.