Though Santiago Lopez left Colombia when he was eight years old, his ties to his home country have always been strong. So, when an uncle gave Lopez a call right around the time he was feeling burned out from construction work and really wanting to do something different in life, the timing was perfect. “He took over a coffee farm [in Colombia], and asked me to help bring the coffee into Canada. We looked at the different ways, approached a few coffee roasters, but no one was really interested in learning more,” Lopez says. He wasn’t deterred – he discussed the situation with his partner, Kristin Panylyk de Lopez, and they floated the idea of opening their own roaster. After some training and trips to Colombia, that’s exactly what they did.
The Colombian started solely as a roastery, selling beans at the farmers’ markets and roasting out of a tiny 300 square-foot space in an industrial area on the west end. Santiago and Kristin soon realized that his uncle’s farm alone couldn’t produce as much variety of coffee as they needed to meet the demand in the market, so Santiago flew to Colombia and spent 10 days touring upwards of 40 farms throughout the country, tasting coffee and meeting with roasters. “Colombia is actually very diverse, the flavour profiles throughout are different,” says Santiago. “At the end we tried all the coffee from the farms and there were a few that were good, and we liked their stories. I selected guys who had smaller operations, where the coffee is more carefully tended to and we could make an impact by helping them out.”
Though Colombian beans make up the majority of its offerings, the roastery has sourced from a few other areas in the world, such as Ethiopia and Central America. However, it always make sure two tenets are met – the coffee must be delicious, and the roastery must work with importers who have direct-trade and fair-trade relationships with the producers so that the coffee can be traced to its source. “For example, the Ethiopian we have right now is from a single state in the Shakiso region…I can actually tell someone the story about the farm it comes from and why it’s produced the way it is,” says Santiago.
Santiago and Kristin dreamed of potentially opening a cafe at some point to complement their roastery, but ended up reaching that point far sooner than they anticipated. While they were running the roastery, Santiago was working in construction, and Kristin was a full-time teacher. “We had a plan for a coffee business to become full time for him a few years down the road, but we eventually realized this is where our passion lies, and to grow our business and expand it and do all the things we wanted, one of us needed to jump into it full-time,” says Kristin. So, while she kept her position as a full-time teacher, Santiago jumped in, and they soon found a space – which he renovated himself. Kristin is planning to flex her muscles as an educator and coffee lover by leading workshops in the cafe, where people can learn about
the crop-to-cup process, taste different brews, and even learn how to identify different tasting notes.
“Our vision, our mission, as a business is that we really want to bring community together. A coffee shop is a very connective experience,” says Santiago. “We really want to create community using coffee as our catalyst.”
1-10340 134 St., 780-757-9195, the-colombian-mountain-coffee.myshopify.com
The Process: Crop to Cup
Santiago’s uncle’s farm is located at 1,600 metres above sea level in a small town called Chinchina and produces washed coffees.
Step 1: The steepness of the farm means the workers must collect the coffee cherries by hand; they go up and down the hills picking, eventually bringing their bags of cherries down to the farm to be weighed, as they are paid per kilogram picked.
Step 2: The cherries go into a holding device, where water is added and all the defective cherries are skimmed out. Then, they are transferred into a wet mill, then a big tank where they ferment for about 18 hours to let the mucilage (the fruit covering the coffee bean) break down.
Step 3: The cherries go into a machine where the mucilage is washed off, then they’re placed on drying beds in a type of greenhouse structure to dry in the sun all day. Three to four times a day, a worker must agitate the beans so they dry evenly.
Step 4: Once the beans have dried to 10-12% per cent humidity, they are taken to the dry mill where the parchment is removed and the green, usable coffee beans are revealed.
Step 5: The green beans go through a sorting process where any stones, debris or defects are removed, then they are packed into 70 kilogram bags and transported to Canada through a network of ships, planes and trucks.
Step 6: The beans arrive at The Colombian, and are roasted. Once roasted, the beans must sit for three days to degasify, then can be ground and brewed.