Mike Gatopoulos went from world travel in international electronics sales to local roasting of coffee beans.
The story behind the story is in the name.
This story has a double entendre- two meanings that relate to each other. On the one hand there’s a private entrepreneur that has built the only business of it’s kind in Brantford and on the other hand the owner has built a life around his wholesale coffee specialty to reflect his commitment to to his son.
Mike Gatopoulos loves his coffee, but he loves his son Jack even more! Jack was born with Williams syndrome, also known as 7th Chromosome deficiency:
- Williams syndrome is a rare genetic disorder that is caused by the deletion of genetic material on chromosome 7. Some need lifelong care.
- Characteristics include various degrees of distinctive facial features, mild intellectual disability and an overly sociable personality to hyper sensitivity to sound, cardiovascular problems, muscle and joint problems, and ADHD.
- There is currently no cure. About one in every 10,000 babies is born with Williams syndrome. Males and females are equally affected, and the condition is found across all races and countries.
It also changes the priorities of the family. Mike had that conversation many families face when caregiving takes a dramatic new turn. Accommodating every child’s needs requires a shift of duties and particularly when presented with a permanent disability. Daily routines often simply go out the window.
Up to this point, Mike had been a senior executive, travelling the globe in the consumer electronics sector, gone for weeks at a time and working in several time zones all at once.
As Mike describes it,
“We sat down one day and suddenly realized what this all meant. It was a devastating moment. It was like grieving for this new baby in our family. We loved Jack but knew, he’d possibly never have a graduation, a job, get married or play competitive sports. And we had to reconsider our plans, goals or commitments and bring all of our family into a new life..”
Simultaneously, the family researched support and treatment and discovered Lansdowne Children’s Centre to help Jack’s development. Mike became a family contributor to Lansdowne, grew into a position on the Centre’s Board of Directors, advocating #4TheKids with disabilities and spokesperson in other community forums like the Grand Erie District School Board and presentations to municipal and provincial levels of government. Now he’s the Chair of both the Lansdowne’s Program Advisory Committee and the Capital Steering Committee advocating for a new multimillion dollar facility to address the waiting list for other equally needy families.
And hence Mike created a new career direction. His partnership discovered a new approach that reflected skills from his past global experiences. It was international sourcing of coffee beans, training in the art of roasting and blending beans to create intriguing flavours with superior product. The research exposed why commercial coffees offered on store shelves was lacking in robust flavour and how consumers were largely unaware of how to get the most variety and diversity. Appropriately, his location is at the Brantford Artisan Village in the Cordage Heritage District, 111 Sherwood Drive.
Back to the Coffee Guy…
It helps to understand the centuries-old artisan nature of coffee with some background and the current approach. Here is Mike’s shared experience.
“Post roast blend is when you roast each kind of bean separately and blend certain percentages after to achieve different flavours like Columbia or Costa Rica and create individual tastes. For example I know Costa Rica has more density so I have to roast it longer or hotter or shorter to get the maximum flavour. (like a stir fry that certain vegetables require different cooking time. ed.)
Pre roast blend is when I know the beans respond to roasting similarly. The advantage is I can prepare more quickly and package faster. I could blend a Honduras, Costa Rica, Brazil or instead El Salvador, Honduras and Brazil to create variety in flavour. Some times the beans are coming from farms where different farmers use a cooperative, whereas more wealthy farmers store wash and package their specialty beans. coffee grows as a cherry and the beans grow as seeds inside. Much like wine grapes, the beans from certain regions have recognizable flavours. The cherry and the pulp are removed from the bean and washed for distribution. As a matter of fact, sometimes, using the cherry itself acts like a product to make a tea instead of coffee, which I am producing now.
Quality standards are international. The coffee bean manufacturers work through an international market, called the ‘C Market’ using a coffee futures trade much like the oil trades, essentially a stock market for coffee. Pricing is determined by a number of factors like geo-political issues, the cost of fertilizer, and Q Graders that score the quality of each source of beans out of a 100. The higher the number the greater the value. Around 60 is the lowest acceptable score. Anything over and 80-82 is considered a specialty coffee. So the Maxwell House’s, Folger’s retailer’s select really really cheap beans so they can sell it on a mass market. Anything we sell at 7th Coffee Co., is never less than an 84. Beans graded over 90 are the coffees that sell for $20-$30 a pound, basically reserved for wealthy aficionados, more likely sold in dedicated cafes for around $30 a cup. The ultimate score determination is primarily based on taste and aroma, certain criteria like: acidity; balance (acidity vs sweetness) ; aroma; body (fullness); consistency; any defects in the beans; aftertaste; flavour. I buy from about a dozen countries through trusted importers as direct purchases from certain renowned farmers require each order to be in the thousands of pounds.
The biggest concern in the industry is traceability because of illegitimate suppliers, so I include the actual farm on my labels. 7th Coffee Co selects from about a dozen recognized countries. Some retailers use a label as ‘Arabica’ which is like saying ‘sports’, a generic term. ‘Dark roast’ as a marketing term, refers to the colour of the bean indicating simply it has roasted longer but there is no acceptable universal standard to compare how long they mean. Coffee was originally a dark roast as the first wave of home-made brew from beans. The second wave of coffee, was higher quality but still dark roasted, like a Starbucks. The third wave, about 10 years ago was lighter roasted, more flavourful, focused on the origins and a more varied array of flavours. Coffee doesn’t go bad, the taste varies over time on the shelf or at home. Someone like me can taste the difference in a few weeks but the average consumer can usually taste the difference around 3-4 months after opening. The dark roasted ‘bold’ coffees on the grocery shelf can claim it doesn’t go bad for two years, but the taste is substantially degraded and you are really tasting the result of the roasting process, the smoke. And in fact, ‘light roasted’ is better and has a ton of flavour to it.
In an ideal world you use the beans you have ground in 15 minutes. The oxygen in the air degrades the oils, which is why some coffee users do a coffee press or barista-like machine to capture the best experience and keep the beans in vacuum sealed packages. Surprisingly, people have discovered it works out to be more economical and no wastage. (Depending on frequency, a couple could get 60 cups per pound at a $1.25 per cup. ed.)
7th Coffee Company focuses 50% on wholesale, supplying niche retailers, restaurants, cafes and catering needs. The rest of the clients are over the counter sales at 7th Coffee Co for individuals who are more foodie, looking for new adventures in coffee.
You will not be disappointed… And Jack thanks you…”