Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Classic Gourmet Coffee

In an infamous 1950s Folgers commercial a young man sips from his cup and then crying out ‘Oh, this coffee is criminal,’ tosses it over the flower bed as his wife shrieks, ‘Honey, you’ll kill the petunias.’ In order to save her  marriage and the defenseless petunias her grocer, Papa Eddie recommends she switch to mountain grown Folgers. 

But the race to maximize profits while selling the cheapest coffee, meant using inferior beans, and selling stale product. As the 60s arrived, corporate coffee was so bad not even marketing could save it. Coffee sales were plummeting. Fortunately, as consumers were beginning to wise up, a new breed of entrepreneur was emerging to serve them.

In 1964 Luigi Russignan opened a small cafe, roastery, Barzula Coffee, on College St. in downtown Toronto and began selling old world coffee to the locals. Alfred Peet, the son of a Dutch coffee roaster, couldn’t understand why people in as rich a country as the United States, drank such horrible coffee. Peet’s Coffee & Tea opened in Berkley, California in 1966, and became the original inspiration for Starbucks.

In 1971 John Rufino, an energetic, young man with  a passion for coffee, arrived in Canada eager to make a name for himself. Back home in Calabria, Italy, where John grew up, espresso bars were everywhere. 'They were a way of life.' Local roasters would blend beans from Africa with beans from Brazil to achieve the darker roast and complexity that Southern Italian espresso is noted for.

Barely 20 and still learning the language, Rufino opened a bakery in the Scarlett Rd., Eglinton area, and began roasting and selling his own coffee. His business grew rapidly to meet the overwhelming demand from his customers and eventually led to an exclusive focus on roasting.

Rufino acknowledges modestly, that he was blessed with an excellent palate. From the beginning he would spend long hours religiously cupping samples from importers, and then mixing roasted coffee in an obsessive search to re-create the rich espresso blend he remembered from his youth.

Over time, Rufino also realized that in order to produce a more consistent coffee he would need to reconsider the entire roasting process. Drawing on his background in electrical engineering, Rufino spent the better part of a decade researching and building his own roaster. The result, in 2002, was one of the most advanced systems in North America.

Profile roasting is key to the system, using technology to precisely control each step of the process. Once the ideal conditions for roasting a specific bean are determined, the exact parameters are locked in and can be meticulously repeated over and over, ensuring not only high quality but a consistent product where guess work has been eliminated.

Not only does the system offer precise roasting controls, it cut his gas consumption and therefore C02 emissions by 59%. The end result being a dramatic reduction in the company’s environmental impact. Further, the entire facility runs on renewable energy from Bullfrog Power.

Anyone in the GTA who has frequented a local café for an espresso has likely tasted Classic Gourmet Coffee, as their client base, including local restaurants and small grocers, numbers around 1000. But Classic does little in the way marketing with John and his son Pat relying on the quality of their product and word of mouth to grow their business.

Now one of the largest Specialty roasters in the country, Classic Gourmet Coffee offers it’s wholesale customers a choice of 7 different espresso blends under it's Rufino label, and a full selection of single origin coffee from around the world, including fair trade, organic and Rainforest Alliance.

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