Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Reviving Haiti

Hi friends,
A good friend of ours Aubrey Kirkpatrick, asked me the other day if I had been thinking about Haiti. It so happened that that very day I was going through some news updates on Haiti, more specifically: Relief funds. There was an unprecedented level of support for our friends in Haiti ths winter after the terrible earthquake. Unfortunately, the pledges have been slow to come in to this devastated country.
So, our good friend Aubrey Kirlpatrick and I are going to rekindle the awareness for Haiti relief here in Metro. Aubrey works with District 2 and played a large roll in steering the school and district level fundraising for Haiti this past winter. District 2 raised nearly $90,000. At the cafe, we were a part of Mission Possible: Haiti, a Greater Moncton Chamber of Commerce awareness and fundraising campaign - we raised $20,000.
Aubrey and I have set a goal of raising another $10,000 for specific project(s) in Haiti. We are in preliminary talks with a mission lead by a former Monctonian and a native Haitian who live in Haiti fulltime. They know what the needs are for their people much better than we do. As we await direction from Carl and Maya in Haiti, would you help us come up with some fundraising ideas? Send your ideas via email or better yet, come in and see us so we can have a chat.
Very best,
Kevin Steen
Chief Serving Officer
Damascus Coffee

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

New Coffee

By Kevin Steen
Chief Serving Officer
On a warm and sunny
Feb 10, 2010

Over the last 2 years we have been aggressive on listening to our customers. We depend on their feedback, their praise and criticism. It was probably a 2 month adventure with many phone calls, logged plenty of google time and made a historical trek to Halifax to seal the deal.

What has not changed with our coffee:
1. Fairtraded and Organic
2. Local Coffee Roaster
3. High quality beans and no corners cut in the brewing methods.

What has improved:
1. Variety of beans
2. Quality has IMPROVED from what we thought was the best coffee we could offer in our region
3. A deeper connection with our roaster and their staff.

If there is one thing that I have learned in this entrepreneurial adventure is this: Do your research, Be at peace in your soul and MAKE the Decision! So much is lost when we suffer from paralysis by analysis. How many opportunities have passed us by because we could not make up our minds or did not take the disciplined step to inform ourselves in order to make the best decision?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Japanese Coffee is a Canny Idea

Japanese coffee is a canny idea
By Kevin Steen

Tea has been an icon of Japanese culture since the ninth century, consumed daily for medicinal, ceremonial and social purposes.
Though tea may never fall out of favor, young and fashionable Japanese consumers are willing to try new Western-style products, including coffee.
In the last couple of decades, Japan has become one of the largest super-premium coffee markets in the world, buying single-origin specialty coffees from countries like Burundi, Ethiopia, Haiti, Indonesia, Jamaica (Japan buys 90 percent of Jamaica’s famed Blue Mountain coffee,) Puerto Rico, Peru, the island of St. Helena, Tanzania…if it’s unusual and expensive, there’s a market for it in Japan.

On the other hand, the Japanese by far consume more hot or cold canned coffee than any other country…that’s right, I said canned. It’s available through vending machines which sit on every street corner. More than two million of them, in fact, dispensing 9 billion cans of liquid coffee annually, equaling an average of 75 cans per person. Sales in Japan account for three-fourths of the roughly $17.4 billion market for ready-to-drink coffee beverages around the world.
Ready-to-drink packaged coffee is to Japan what soda pop is to North America, and American companies like Coca-Cola have been selling canned coffee in Japan since the 1970’s, when hot and cold vending machines were invented.

These high-tech vending machines serve each can of coffee hot or cold, just as you like, and in just about any combination: black or with milk, sweetened or unsweetened.
This vending-machine mentality suits the fast-paced Japanese, with their stressful lifestyles and high regard for technology. Food products (along with everything else) are marketed on the basis of convenience, practicality and enjoyment.

But is it any good?

I suspect Canadians have been spoiled by the convenience of drive-thru windows serving fresh coffee and our custom-made espresso drinks offered in comfort by Yours Truly. I also suspect people drink them purely for the caffeine, and not necessarily for a taste sensation.
Unless you’ve been lucky enough to travel about in Japan, Taiwan or South Korea, you’ll have to visit a local Asian food market to find a sample here in Canada. If any readers are familiar with this product, I would love to hear your review! Better yet, the next time you’re back from Asia, could you bring me a sample of canned coffee? I’m just too busy to get away.

Kevin Steen is a true coffee lover and proprietor of Damascus Coffee House in Riverview. Do you have a coffee question for Kevin? Visit him at the shop, or call him at 855-4646.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


A quick but important summer update for all of our Damascus friends. We have revamped our lunch menu and are very pleased! We introduced lunch in our newly renovated kitchen area last week - Tuesday actually. Our faithful customers were lined up @ 11 to be the first customers, it was a great time and everyone was very satisfied.

On our panini grill, we have 4 fresh choices. First, we have a flavourful chicken pesto panini. Second, we have an old faithful, a slightly spicy and grilled to perfection chipotle chicken. Third, a local black forest ham on swiss. Last but not least, we have a freshly cooked turkey club with a twist from the usual - we added chipotle sauce instead of mayo. All of our fresh sandwiches are prepared on either white or wheat whole bread from right next door @ Walton's bakery. We have added a side order of kettle chips with your meal as well. All of our panini sandwiches can be served as a combo with freshly prepared soups or you may choose the soup with grilled focaccia bread instead.

It is our pleasure to continue to serve you and offer you new and flavourful food and drinks.

See you soon,

Kevin Steen

Chief Serving Officer

P.S. While I am writing this post it is nearly 30 degrees out and sunny! Did I mention we have the best iced coffee and iced mochas in the city? Maybe you would like a frappaccino with cold whipped cream and chocolate drizzle instead?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Earthy Sumatra

Sumatran coffee has distinctive flavour
By Kevin Steen

Equatorial islands enjoy a tropical climate perfect for growing coffee, but they are also the places most easily devastated by natural disasters.
Sri Lanka and Indonesia took the brunt of the 2004 tsunami created by an earthquake off the Sumatran coast. The tsunami devastated coastal regions of Asia and Africa.
This traumatic event caused coffee prices to go up in Indonesia and availability to go down. Even though the tsunami didn’t touch the higher altitude coffee-growing regions of Sumatra, the deaths of least 180,000 people created a labour shortage, while roads, bridges and infrastructure were destroyed. Organizations like USAid and many others have spent the last few years assisting farmer-based cooperatives to restore production of internationally certified, high-grade, organic Arabica coffees.
Indonesia is the world’s fourth-largest producer of coffee (after Brazil, Vietnam and Colombia), producing 370,732 metric tons of coffee in the 2004 calendar year. Experts wondered if Indonesian coffee prices would soar the following year because of the disaster, and they were right. By May of 2005, Mandheling arabica was worth $3,800-4,000 per ton, compared with $1,900-2,000 per ton the year before.
Sumatra’s two main growing regions are Mandheling around the high mountain basin of Lake Toba in North Sumatra province, and the Gayo Mountain Region of Lake Tawar near the northern tip of Sumatra in Aceh province. Sumatra’s peaks rise to 3,650 m (12,000 feet.) This elevation combined with heavy rainfall, high humidity, high temperatures and low winds, provides ideal growing conditions. More than 100 active and inactive volcanoes dot the Indonesian islands, their contents spilling down to enrich the soil in the plains and lowlands.
Sumatran coffee has a distinctive, pungent top note that is absent from other coffees. Cream and sugar doesn’t cover it up, either. That musty top note gives way to a rich, heavy-bodied flavor that lingers on the tongue. Our Down East version of organic, fair trade Sumatra is soft, and silky with low acidity, unlike coffee from neighboring Java (remember, the term acidity does not refer to actual acid content but to the sensation of brightness or sparkle on the tongue.) The darker it is roasted, the richer and more syrupy it becomes. Sumatra is ideal to savour after dinner, with or without dessert!
As I finish today’s column, I’m looking at my steaming hot mug of Sumatran coffee and wondering at the bravery of the people who grew it.
Kevin Steen is a true coffee lover and proprietor of Damascus Coffee House in Riverview. Do you have a coffee question for Kevin? Visit him at the shop, or call him at 855-4646.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Celebrating our 1st Anniversary

Reality is better than romantic visions
By Kevin Steen

These days, the media is obsessed with the fate of monolithic companies like Chrysler and General Motors, and questions the stability of the world’s banks.

Little do the decision-makers know the best solutions for the world’s economic and political problems are being solved here at Damascus, over a cup of coffee and an oat cake.

March 31 marked our first birthday here at Damascus. Eight years ago, we had romantic visions of a Central Perk-like coffee house (from TV sitcom Friends) but this challenging year has surpassed that vision: instead, we’ve built real, solid relationships.

Together we’ve chatted about our spouses, our kids, our pets and the weather. We’ve learned your name, your favourite drink and all the sleepless nights you’ve spent with your sick child. (We know you’re stopping by in the morning for that aromatic boost of java because the kids have kept you up most of the night!)

Some of you are residents commuting to work, but some of you are out-of-towners, kicking-off your regular Saturday shopping trips at 7:30 am.

My vision has also been replaced by the harsh realities of entrepreneurship and the uncertainties of an economic downturn. “How do I draw more customers in this week, so revenue can go up and debt can go down?” I ask myself. “Will my patrons like the new products I’ve added to the menu? How do I find time to promote my business while I’m running my business? When will I have time to spend with my family? When can I stop thinking about Damascus...it seems to need me 24-7?”

The fact is, running a coffee house has been more like raising an infant than owning a cultural icon. Parents are always worried about the babysitter when they’re away, wondering whether their child is being cared for properly. My background is in marketing but there was very little time to use my skill set until I learned to delegate the inventory management of toilet paper, cups and baklava.

Recession or no recession, the concerns of small business people like me are pretty much the same: How do I make it work?

Well, the answer is you. You make it work, the customers, vendors and neighbours with whom we’ve formed valuable friendships. We wouldn’t trade you for all the money in the world. To be a continuing part of your lives is a tremendous blessing. Thank you.