Central Saanich coffee company gets greener

Central Saanich’s Level Ground introduces compostable packaging.

Level Ground founder Stacey Toews gives a tour to a group of coffee enthusiasts.

Level Ground Trading in Central Saanich held a tour of its facility and introduced its new, compostable coffee package.

Starting off in the coffee room, Roast Master and Quality Control Specialist, Josh del Sol, made everyone a cup as they socialized with staff.

As guests finished their coffee they were led in a discussion by one of the co-founders, Stacey Toews on the history of Level Ground Trading and the introduction of the 100 per cent compostable coffee package.

The business started out 18 years ago in the founder’s basement with Fair Trade and no waste business practices as the focus. Since then, they have grown, with more than 5,000 farm suppliers from 10 countries. Their products range from heirloom rice, dried fruit, spices to, of course, coffee.

Toews and his wife Laurie Klassen, another co-founder, have created a relationship with farmers along with their coffee champion and business partner, Hugo Ciro (co-founder and CEO), who grew up in Colombia.

“We’re right now roasting our 95th shipping container of coffee from Columbia and I think we’ve purchased (100) and every one of those is 20 tonnes of coffee, so it represents a lot of employment and a lot of people’s hands busy,” said Toews.

Another deeper concept that Toews discussed, was that Level Trade is also in business to get rid of poverty. Oct. 17 was the International Day of the Eradication of Poverty and Toews said he thought it tied in nicely to the introduction of their compostable packaging.

“It’s kind of cool for us because we’re talking about launching a compostable package which is all about selling better this great product from these awesome farmer partnerships that we have, and that’s why we’re in business.”

Toews said their business model starts with everyday behaviours. Since mortgages and clothing and food are where the bulk of the money goes, he said, Level Ground will look to leverage all consumer habits together to make the most impact on addressing poverty issues. One example, he said, is that last year, Level Ground saw 44,000 empty coffee packages retrned by customers. Toews said it’s a real vote from a lot of customers that they don’t want the product going in the landfill.

“Food packaging is a big issue in terms of environmental sustainability and certainly because of our fair trades roots, our customers have always been pressing us for an environmentally appropriate package,” said Klassen.

And so years ago they introduced up-cycling at the company, realizing the package just wasn’t sustainable.

“Many times over the last decade, people have been phoning us up saying, ‘I love your package, I love your product, I  wish I could recycle it, what can I do with it?’” said Klassen.

With the certified one hundred per cent compostable package being new in the industry, it boasts many benefits. Klassen said once people are done with the package, it can go into a composting facility and break down in 180 days, the carbon footprint then being reduced.

 

Cupping at Level Ground

At the end of the tour, history and introduction of their compostable packages, came the cupping process at Level Ground.

Guests were able to smell and slurp different types of coffee — not unlike a typical wine tasting.

A long table was lined with small cups of coffee and Roast Master and Quality Control Specialist, Josh del Sol gave a short lesson on the formalized tasting process known as cupping.

“It’s seen as sort of a higher end type of tasting but it really is the most basic level of tasting that you can encounter,” he said to the group of observers.

All it takes, he explained, is hot water, coffee, a bowl and a spoon to taste it with.

He said that when it comes to cupping with the team at Level Ground, there are two main purposes.

The first is that they are roasting a small batch of grain coffee to make sure it tastes a certain way.

The secondary cupping is post roasting, like a post production roast where they make sure they have their flavour profile on track.

“We use the word profile a lot but it’s really just an expression of taste,” he said.

Similar to wine tasting, the process is straightforward — sniffing the dry grounds after letting the hot water be poured in and steeped for four minutes or so.

Klassen said that cupping has become a lot more transparent, saying that companies do this in order to evaluate.

“When you’re buying an entire container that’s $100,000 worth of coffee, you need to know what you’re buying,” she told the PNR.