Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Tim Horton's Introduces New Single Origin Coffee in Select Markets

I am sure you have heard about the latest addition to the Tim Horton's coffee line-up. It's a medium roast, single-source coffee from Cauca, Colombia. The region and the flavour of its coffee is defined by the three mountain ranges that meet there, thus the name Three Peaks Columbian. The high altitude and particular soil and climate conditions result in a brew with a hint of caramel and a lovely, smooth finish.

For now, the Three Peaks Columbian is available in just five markets: Saint John, NB; Moncton, NB; Abitibi, QC; Sudbury, ON; and North Bay, ON. If you live in one of these areas, I encourage you to try it out, and come back to let me know what you think. Let Timmies know as well! I had a chance to try it, and could definitely taste a caramel sweetness. I hope it catches on and moves out to more restaurants after this test run. The Dark Roast has been doing well, with more than 85 million cups sold since its launch, and I think variety and options are always great to have.

In conjunction with the new release, and to show how they select, test, and prepare their coffees, Tim Horton's invited me to their roasting facility in Ancaster, ON, last week. It was a bit of a "pinch me" moment for me to be able to tour behind the scenes where my favourite coffee is brought to life. I was surrounded by the raw and roasted beans and all the machinery that makes the magic happen.

It was pretty cool :)
Sacks upon sacks of green coffee beans, ready to be quality tested, measured, roasted, ground and packed. The facility can hold approximately 10,000 bags of beans at one time.
We were a small group, which included my friend Craig from Big Daddy Kreativ, so we had a wonderfully informative and intimate tour with our guides Lyle Fleetham - Senior Manager, Plant, Maidstone Coffee Canada, and Kevin West – Senior Director, Coffee Operations, Tim Hortons. The Maidstone plant is the sole distributor for all of the coffee brewed in-restaurant across Canada. A plant in Rochester, NY, does the same for the American Tim Horton's locations.

And of course, we looked AH-Mazing in our hair (and beard) nets.
I won't get into all the small details of the process, but there are just so many steps involved in the selection, quality control, measuring, roasting and packaging of Tim's coffee. For instance, taste testing actually begins in the country of origin, and then again at 5 other stages of production. Tim Horton's rejects about 10-15 per cent of the thousands of bags of coffee beans it receives each day because they don’t meet Tim Horton's standards.

We were able to view the whole production process, from emptying the bags of beans into the sorter, through roasting, grinding, packaging and boxing up for shipment. The Ancaster facility processes 930 packets of coffee per minute during a regular day. It's pretty amazing. Also amazing? Only three people in the world know the exact blend and roasting "fingerprint" of Tim Horton's coffee. Only three.  The specifications for the correct mix of beans and specific roasting recipe are coded into the machines and monitored constantly. Production staff know which coded recipe to run for Original, Decaf, Dark Roast or Three Peaks, but don't actually know any of the details of that recipe. Wow.

To ensure that the beans and the recipes are meeting quality and consistency standards, Tim Horton's team of coffee masters taste test – or “cup” – more than 225,000 cups of coffee annually. This was something else we got to experience, as we were led through a guided tasting of a variety of different beans and then the three Timmie's coffees.

The process takes about 10 minutes:

Step 1: Pour seven grams of ground coffee into a porcelain cup and inhale fragrance to determine aroma “notes” such as spicy, nutty or fruity, or to detect defects
Step 2: Pour seven ounces of 205F water into cups and steep for five minutes, where a "crust" will form
Step 3: "Break the crust" and inhale again to determine aroma “notes” or defects
Step 4: Clean the "crema" or surface foam, and any floating grinds
Step 5: Take a spoon of coffee and slurp, ensuring you are spraying all over the tongue (the slurping will draw more air and accentuate the flavour, similar to wine tasting)
Step 6: While you are slurping, note the sweetness, body and aroma of the coffee

I've done wine tastings and beer tastings before, but never coffee, so this was an interesting experience. My palate isn't as sensitive or trained as the masters' but I enjoyed learning about the beans from different regions and hearing them describe the different flavours we were experiencing in each. And the slurping definitely caused a few giggles.

A couple of other things we learned that stood out for me - Tim Horton's still uses the same coffee taste profile for their Original roast as the first cup served, back in 1964. This is a taste that has truly stood the test of time. And from an environmental perspective I was very happy to learn that the roasting facility is aiming for zero waste from the production process by the end of this year. Currently they are recycling more than 300,000 burlap coffee sacks each year. The sacks are 
used by gardening nurseries and agricultural outlets for various purposes, keeping them out of landfills.

When I pull up to the drive-thru and order my medium-black-two sugar, I don't put a lot of thought into how that cup of goodness got from a farmer's field to my hand. It was eye-opening to see the care and consideration, the time and focus, that go into every cup of Tim Horton's coffee. And having seen the lengths they go to to ensure quality and consistency, I now understand how I can get that perfect cup at any Tim Horton's across the country. Cheers to that!

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