Photo: Tristan Bacon
If you’re a coffee lover in Victoria, you’ve likely heard of 2% Jazz coffee and probably enjoyed a delicious brew in one of their cafes. In fact, with 2% Jazz now acting as a wholesaler to other coffee shops and restaurants around town, there’s a good chance you’ve sampled their delightful beans without even realizing it.
Recently, Tasting Victoria sat down with 2% Jazz founder and owner Sam Jones to hear all about his journey through the coffee industry, what he’s learned, and where he hopes to go next.
The early days
Jones started 2% Jazz in 1996 as a simple espresso cart. And 25 years later it’s still going strong, now with multiple cafes around the city. This kind of longevity in a saturated coffee market like Victoria is testament to the team’s hard work and great quality coffee.
Jones worked in the hospitality industry from the age of 14, in restaurants, cafes, and bars. His decision to open 2% Jazz came as much from a passion for service as a love of coffee, and that balance continues to this day. The name 2% Jazz itself, which comes from a song by one of his favourite artists, Maceo Parker, is reflective of this ethos.
“It’s not about Jazz,” Jones says. “It’s about the feeling you get when you listen to happy music or when you are coming into one of my cafes.”
He loves providing customers with what he terms a holistic experience. As he explains it, anyone can go into a cafe knowing what they want to order. Serving them that order with a smile is basic customer service. But true hospitality occurs when someone doesn’t know what they want, when you engage with them to discover their perfect drink. That’s what 2% Jazz strives to provide. And after 25 years in business, it’s safe to say they’re doing it very well.
Jones’s entrypoint into the coffee industry came as a young man on a trip to Guatemala. Like so many free-spirited young people, he found himself in the country for no reason other than it had the cheapest flight. But once there, he was struck by both the coffee and the men and women growing it.
Photo: Sam Jones
A desire to give back
As the business grew, it evolved from a simple coffee cart to a roastery, which requires sourcing high-quality green coffee beans. Over the years, Jones and his team have developed close relationships with growers in Nicaragua, to their point where he is now shifting his business model to better provide for the families producing his coffee.
As he explains it, he wants to treat his suppliers like customers, with that same holistic hospitality experience. That means paying fair prices for crops, maintaining long-term relationships to ensure a steady income, and supporting access to education.
There is a great dichotomy in the coffee industry in which crops tend to be grown and processed in the poorest nations and roasted and consumed in the richest. 2% Jazz is doing their part to bring this more into balance.
A changing business model for a changing world
If you’re a longtime fan of 2% Jazz, you’ve likely noticed an updated business model. Their priorities have shifted from selling drinks in cafes to selling coffee beans online and in store. This is no accident. It’s a direct result of Jones’s desire to treat his suppliers as well as his customers.
He tells Tasting Victoria that if every person in the coffee supply chain was paid the US minimum wage, a cup of coffee would cost $25!
Would you pay $25 for a cup of coffee? Probably not. And that’s why so many in the chain are woefully underpaid, particularly the farmers at origin.
2% Jazz has two solutions. First, they minimize the number of middlemen in the supply chain by traveling to origin and working with producers and exporters directly. Second, they are now prioritizing selling coffee beans over coffee shop service. You might not pay $25 for a cup of coffee, but $25 for a bag of beans isn’t unreasonable. And without the overhead for big cafes, takeout cups, baristas, and so on, a lot more of that $25 ends up in the hands of Nicaraguan coffee growers.
Don’t worry, 2% Jazz cafes will continue to pepper Victoria’s coffee scene. They play the important role of introducing new and exciting coffee. But Jones’s vision for the future of the company is in roasting and selling bags of beans, so expect the cafes to remain small and focused.
Photo: Sam Jones
Tell me more about these new and exciting coffees
The name of the game at 2% Jazz seems to be innovation. Yes, their espresso blend is incredible, with all the flavour profiles you know and expect. But it’s their more unique offerings that really inspire.
For example, consider their single origin Nicaraguan decaf. If you’re a decaf lover, no doubt you’re often frustrated by its lack of complexity. Unfortunately, it’s just hard to remove the caffeine from a coffee without also removing some of its subtle flavours. But 2% Jazz has a coffee that actually grows without caffeine. It’s not de-caffeinated; it’s never-caffeinated. So it is as wonderfully rich and flavourful as any of its peppier counterparts.
Then there’s the upcoming Nicaraguan Java, which Jones is quick to mention, his excitement palpable. Beans from Java, Indonesia, have a unique profile. They’re earthy in flavour, with a heavy body and creamy mouthfeel, making them ideal in espresso blends. But Jones prefers to have a personal relationship when sourcing coffee, which is more difficult to establish in Indonesia due to the distance and language barrier. The solution? He found a farmer to grow Java coffee in Nicaragua, and rumour has it the results are incredible. Stay tuned!
To try these and the rest of the 2% Jazz line up, visit one of their cafes or check out their online store. They’re now offering free shipping across Canada on any order over five pounds, even if you want to mix and match different beans. Locals can also enjoy affordable flat rate shipping around town, if you’d prefer to buy in smaller quantities.
Coffee is a craft
Jones describes coffee as a craft, which he clarifies to mean part art and part science. To make great coffee, you need to work within certain parameters. But keeping to those rules still provides a lot of room for creativity.
If you’re training to be a barista at 2% Jazz, count on learning to do everything manually, by feel. This is no Starbucks. Jones says that if the power goes out while roasting, he can yield perfect results with no more than a stopwatch and his sense of smell.
So, how should you craft your 2% Jazz beans? When asked, Jones recommends the decidedly un-snobby French press as his method of choice. This comes as no surprise as he also declares “approachability” as one of the most important concepts behind his business.
A French Press is easy, inexpensive, and works with any roast of coffee. It’s portable enough to enjoy in the great outdoors, perfect for one of Vancouver Island’s many incredible camping destinations. Because a French press uses a metal rather than paper filter, all of the coffee oils stay in the cup. It delivers coffee at its most coffee, one might say.
Hopefully this profile has inspired you to pick up some 2% Jazz coffee. By doing so, you’re not only supporting a local business and long-standing member of Victoria’s amazing coffee scene, but you’re also giving back to growers and their families at origin. Plus, you’ll get to enjoy a delicious and innovative brew. That’s a win-win-win!
Shop online for your favourite coffee or get a coffee subscription! Free shipping on 5lbs order—anywhere in Canada
Address: 1701 Douglas St. and 740 Hillside Ave., Victoria
Photo: Sam Jones