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Seeking out a good cup of coffee

Regan Zink and Edward Denyer of the EcoCafe in St. Jacobs are heading to Rwanda in a couple of weeks on a quest to expand their knowledge of coffee. The insight they gain will be incorporated into the café’s operation when they return in late-June. [Veronica Reiner / The Observer]

A local café has its sights set on expanding its knowledge and insight into the surprisingly vast world of coffee.

That mission will take Edward Denyer and Regan Zink of EcoCafe to a coffee conference right in the heart of bean country, in this case Rwanda, East Africa. Denyer said a big inspiration behind the trek is expanding the “bubble” beyond the village of St. Jacobs, offering to gain insight into some fresh perspectives.

“It’s an opportunity – we live in a bubble in what we do in the business. So our bubble is roastery café experience,” explained Denyer. “When you go to coffee shows, it opens up your mind: at some point in the show, all of a sudden you realize you’re with 10,000 other people thinking about coffee and how they fit into that world.”

This is not their first time travelling for their passion, as Zink, Denyer, and another EcoCafe employee, Sylvia Bauman, recently made the trip to Boston, for the Specialty Coffee Expo. Zink said the experience opened her eyes as to how much goes into that morning cup of joe.

“In my mind, the main part is having the learning opportunity. When we were in Boston, I remember saying there are so many people thinking about coffee and I had never really thought of that before this,” said Zink. “There are researchers, and there are growers – there’s this huge world of coffee.”

The pair will attend the Let’s Talk Coffee conference powered by Sustainable Harvest in Kigali on June 14. They were invited to the meeting by a former employee of the St. Jacobs EcoCafe who currently works in Rwanda.

The conference has been taking place for more than a decade, bringing together specialty coffee stakeholders from across the globe. There will be opening ceremony activities, two days of conference events – interspersed with coffee breaks, naturally –  along with a field trip of the attendees’ choice, a chance to spend some time where the coffee process gets started, as it were.

It will unite producers with specialty-coffee buyers, government officials, and other industry stakeholders, offering up a chance for the disparate participants to meet, network, and discuss issues in the traded. Denyer added it would be a chance to engage with other “bubbles” of the coffee industry.

“This is a conference thing – the growers will be in one chair and the sellers of the end product in another. And an opportunity to communicate, whether it be trends, best practices, quality, taste – all these things are discussed, but face-to-face,” said Denyer.

“Out of that, lots of things will be born – we’ll come back with ideas that we haven’t even thought of yet. Because you’re engaging with a whole different set of perspectives, you get to jump into their bubble and think ‘wow, look at how it looks from in here.’”

Attendees will learn from top producers from Rwanda and Congo, learn from expert speakers in TED-style talks, forge new business partnerships, explore Rwanda’s coffee lands, and enjoy cups of exquisite coffees. Both Denyer and Zink are confident that it will be an enlightening experience, and potentially bring back new ideas to implement into the St. Jacobs café.

“Part of our mission is also to go there and see their end of the business,” said Denyer. “So we may come back with a lot of questions, but we may come back with a lot of insight as to how we can do things differently, or better. There definitely will be stories and learning opportunities.”

“People can expect stories from Ed though, I’m confident that there will be stories,” added Zink with a laugh.

They depart on June 14 and come back on June 26. They hope to use the knowledge and implement it into the EcoCafe, which has served up countless varieties of globally sourced certified organic, Fair Trade, Direct Trade, and Rainforest Alliance coffee beans for more than a decade.


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