Coffee beans and consistency: Victoria’s 2% Jazz celebrates ethical, farm-to-mug fare

Coffee beans and consistency: Victoria’s 2% Jazz celebrates ethical, farm-to-mug fare

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Originally published on Capital Daily

While many cafes and restaurants alternated throughout the pandemic between opening and closing indoor dining, 2% Jazz has kept their doors open but seats off-limits the whole time. 

“We decided on a strategy of staying just a little bit behind what was allowed to provide some consistency to our customers,” said Tristan Bacon, general manager of the local coffee franchise. 

Consistency is also a key part of Bacon’s philosophy when it comes to how he chooses which coffees to purchase and put on the menu. The goal, he says, is not to make people try new and unorthodox coffees, but rather to make sure their regular, go-to morning beverage remains familiar and dependable. 

“There are all sorts of weird [flavours] that you can get in coffee from processing it in different ways,” he said. “And I really want to support experimentation in processing all the way across, but you know, sometimes these aren’t what the average customer wants to drink.”

Having been at the company for nine years, Bacon works closely with owner Sam Jones who opened 2% Jazz in 1996. What was then a small kiosk outside the Times Colonist building on Douglas Street has now grown into two standalone cafes and wholesale partnerships with a number of local restaurants and cafes.

The majority of the coffee served at any of these locations come from farms, mostly in Central and South America, that Bacon has personally visited. 

He travels down to countries like Nicaragua, Colombia, and Brazil, meets the farmers, and checks out the mills where the coffee is processed. There, the beans are transformed into steaming cups of coffee for a taste-test process known as “cupping,” which Bacon uses to make sure the beans all have a consistent flavour. 

Once he selects a product, Bacon works with brokers to import the coffee in bulk and store it in a warehouse, from where the company can pull its stock. 

The whole process might take more time than enlisting the help of middlemen who are part of the typical coffee supply chain, but it’s part of a conscious shift in the company’s business model that began in 2018. 

Photos of the farms that supply 2% Jazz adorn the walls of their cafe. Photo: Brishti Basu

The decision to buy directly from farms and mills they’ve personally visited is an effort to make sure farmers get paid more for their work. 

“There’s a lot of hands that coffee goes through to get from the farm to the broker to the roaster, to the cup of coffee that you’re drinking,” Bacon said. “The more hands that it has to go through, the more the price that the actual producers—the farmers themselves—get [becomes] diluted.”

One of their biggest success stories, Bacon says, is their Nicaraguan coffee line, which comes from a producer whose photo—among others—is proudly displayed at the 2% Jazz cafe on Douglas Street.

“If you know that the guy serving your coffee has shaken the hand of the guy who’s growing that coffee, I think it just makes you feel better about purchasing something that comes from sometimes 4,000 kilometres away,” Bacon said.

Right now, the business still sells some blends that Bacon hasn’t hand picked himself, like beans from Indonesia. These will soon be replaced by their Nicaraguan coffee line. Bacon says the goal is to eventually only serve coffee they’ve personally traded, and flying to Indonesia would be a more arduous process.

2% Jazz’s business model has Bacon travelling to South America at least once a year to maintain their trade partnerships. Recently, like many businesses, Bacon says the company has been contending with the global supply chain crisis.

Still, his main concern is not for his own business, but for the people producing coffee on the ground in their countries of origin, some of which have been ravaged by violence and protests in recent months.

“When you’re afraid for your livelihood [and] concerned about your family’s well being, perhaps putting coffee in a container to go to Victoria isn’t your first thought,” he said.

“These are issues unique to our times that are really quite sobering but, you know, what are we going to do? Hopefully, our little business… can do a little bit of good by simply staying the course, maintaining our relationships, and continuing to further those relationships through the program that we’re running.”

Here in Victoria, Bacon says the company’s always looking for new wholesale partners to expand their sales. He and Jones are also looking for a commercial space to house a standalone roastery—at the moment, they roast their beans in-store at the Douglas Street cafe—and a cupping lab for Bacon. 

There’s no fixed timeline for when this roastery might open; it could be anywhere from weeks to years.  

“It’s the good-cheap-fast triangle,” Bacon explained. “We want it to be good and we want it to be affordable, which means it’s probably not going to be fast.”

When it does open up, customers can expect to find the sweet notes and balanced acidity that are characteristic of the coffee flavour profiles Bacon selects across the board, and maybe a few funkier flavours—he mentions key lime as one of his favourites—to sample. 

The Brief: Tristan Bacon

Capital Daily: What does Victoria need to make it easier to run a business here?

We need the community to continue to support small businesses. It’s not that they’re not doing it, they are out there doing it, for sure. But we need to keep doing it.

What worries you most about your business?

The ongoing pandemic and the global ramifications of that.

What other local company or business leader do you look to for guidance?

Other than my boss… we have a guy who’s been around the business for a long time, who’s done some consulting work for us. His name is Jeff George. Conversations with Jeff surrounding business have always been super enlightening, and I’m always really, really grateful for that guy’s insight.

And I actually think a lot about my dad. He moved here when he was really young and just wound up working his way up through a business until he owned part of it. As a guy with a hotel management schooling background, [he] got into the cleaning wholesaling business and did extremely well in that business. Thinking about what it must have taken and the grit that must have taken and seen him work long hours when I was a kid is really, you know, something I think about a lot.

If you had to run another business in town, what would it be and why?

I wanted to run—and actually did for 10 years, it was my own shop—but I wanted to run a theatre company for a long time. 

If I was doing something else in town, I would like to be running a green coffee brokerage for Vancouver Island. I don’t know how feasible that would actually be.

If you had $10,000 to invest, where would you invest it?

That’s like a personal versus business question. I’d probably put money in crypto because I think there’s gonna be a pretty good payoff from that. But, you know, I would also like to think I would invest in long term sustainability solutions. And I would do a lot more research to figure out what that would be before I put that money down.

How do you stay inspired to keep running your business?

I read a lot of news. And I talked to other people who are running businesses and I take a lot of inspiration from grit and determination in town. And I take a lot of inspiration by staying connected to a global network that makes me feel good about what we’re doing with our products.

What’s the first thing you’ll do when we can all stop with pandemic protocol?

See a concert. 

What do you consider your biggest failure and how did you overcome it?

When I shuttered my theatre company.  I’m fortunate that the theatre that I made tended to pay for itself in the long term. Shuttering that theater company felt really not good. It felt like a phenomenal personal failure. I’m sure a lot of business owners can relate to the fact that it feels like it’s all on your shoulders, regardless of whether it is or not. 

When I made the decision to stop producing theatre with that company, it felt like a devastating personal failure. And still does, in some ways. I don’t know how I can say I overcame it, because I think I continue to have to overcome it. 

What do you wish you knew before joining 2% Jazz?

I’ve learned a lot being here. I wish I knew how little I knew. The more you go down the rabbit hole of the coffee industry—and I suspect and you know, I’m reasonably sure that the more that you go down the rabbit hole on any industry—the more you realize you don’t know, and the more moving parts you find in it. 

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Written by

Brishti Basu

Guest Writer