Fernwood Coffee Company is what happens when you take a former fine-dining chef and drop them into the specialty coffee world.
“I was working as a chef, I had my first child – he was still very young - and the hours were not working for being a parent; running a busy full scale restaurant. So my wife and I bought a little café that had a roaster on site,” shared Ben Cram, co-owner at Fernwood Coffee Company on their roasters’ origin story.
The past owners of the café weren’t overly concerned with roasting or sourcing their coffee properly, so with the culinary background, it was only natural for them to start making some changes. And fairly quickly there were noticeable results.
“Right away we started seeing the effects of people saying: ‘Can I buy?’ The odd bag started turning into 5 or 6 bags per day out of the store, turned into 10 bags, turned into wholesale inquiries.”
Whether it was the talent, effort or perhaps both, the culinary training from the fine-dining world clearly had a transferrable effect on their start in specialty coffee.
“Definitely there was less of a learning curve on the palate– I had done a lot of wine tasting and a lot of training in other areas,” explained Ben, whose trained palate was put to good use as a 2015 World Barista Championship Sensory Judge.
To share a few of the accolades that Fernwood Coffee Company has collected over the years:
2012 2nd Place Western Canadian Barista Championship
2013 2nd Place Western Canadian Barista Championship
2010 Western Canadian Barista Champion
2011 Western Canadian Barista Champion
2010 Canadian Barista Champion
2014 United States Barista Championship Sensory Judge Certification
2015 World Barista Championship Sensory Judge Certification
They’re not messing around.
To be one of the best is not an easy thing to accomplish. It’s a lot more than a feather in the cap, or something to brag about – it’s something that they can learn from to figure out how to make their coffee better.
“Specialty coffee is such a diverse and interesting industry to be involved in, I mean it sort of snowballs on itself – you want to be at these events and see what people are doing… It’s not like an industry where you go to a few seminars, learn a few things and go off on your own – definitely you want to keep that collaborative thing going,” shared Ben on the some of the motivation behind the pursuit – but there was another significantly less selfish reason: to uphold the work that the producer does.
“It is just a constant push to learn and improve and uphold or honor all the work that goes in on the growing and processing side when you’re buying quality coffees… and to be able to represent those coffees in a way that shows them at their best.”
Another facet of the fine dining world that was brought over to Fernwood Coffee was the thorough ingredient sourcing. For the coffees they roast, it is relentlessly searching for great green coffee – and a fantastic example is the Kenyan Kapsokisio featured in the November 2015 issue of The Roasters Pack.
“We blind tasted about 15 Kenyan coffees and 3 days in a row, that coffee was unanimously chosen by our staff – when something like that happens, it makes the decision really easy,” explained Ben on how they came to select the Kenyan for their menu.
Thorough sourcing wasn’t only for their coffee. When a café is run by a former chef, you know for certain that their food is going to be exceptional.
“With our restaurant and fine dining experience, we kind of brought that simple yet refined food to the café to go along with great coffee.”
“We like to source our ingredients for our food program as carefully as we do our coffee. We work with tonnes of local farmers… all produce is seasonal as to what’s growing locally, any cold cuts or salamis are all produced by a great friend of ours who is a super super talented butcher – like to the point that he was invited to speak in Italy on Salami. When the Italians are inviting a Canadian to come talk about Salami, that says something about his skill level.”
It was an interesting differentiating point – a lot of other cafes also focus mainly on high quality coffee because that is all they know, but for Fernwood, they had both the coffee & food. In fact this differentiating point was one of the reasons they were able to stand out at their barista competitions.
“Having some pastry background and molecular gastronomy background made the signature drink portion probably easier to tackle than maybe for someone who has maybe a pure coffee background.”
Pastries, molecular gastronomy & quality coffee.