If one month’s feature on a specialty coffee roaster showed how much I am impressed with the coffee culture in Quebec, how about two month’s straight?!
I mean it when I say that the province of Quebec, here in Canada, is doing game-changing work to grow the specialty coffee culture not only in their province, in this country, but globally as well. This month I want to introduce you to one of the pioneers of specialty coffee in Quebec–Saint Henri Micro Torréfacteur.
They were the very first micro roaster established in Quebec, and since then have continued to help grow this community, and they themselves have grown to be a well-known and well-loved cafe & roaster. So much so, that they got my attention a number of years ago, and I am so thrilled to finally get the chance to share their story as our Coffee Roaster of the Month for March! A huge thanks to Jean-Yves Beaudoin who graciously agreed to answer my questions.
So let’s get going and let me share their story with you.
Hey Saint-Henri, so great to get the chance to connect with you! Help our audience get to know you a bit better...who is the team behind Café Saint-Henri?
Hi Tyler, happy to give you some backstory on our amazing (yes, I’m biased) company. Saint-Henri was founded by Jean-François Leduc more than 12 years ago now, in Montreal. He sold the company in 2020, in the heart of the COVID pandemic to Sebastien Grenache, a passionate entrepreneur determined to pursue Jean-François’s dream of helping more people discover the world of specialty coffee.
As for myself, I’ve known Sebastien for years and I was a Saint-Henri fan since the beginning, being a regular at their first location, so it was a no-brainer to join the team when Sebastien asked me. I’m now in charge of marketing and customer experience.
How did you come to end up in Montreal?
Montreal was the perfect place to start the first micro roastery in Quebec over 10 years ago. It’s a buzzing city with a great culture of food and wine and some would say a little je-ne-sais-quoi. At the time, the world of wine was really evolving, and Quebecers were discovering all its different flavour profiles, terroirs, and learning about producers, so it just made sense to bring the same sense of discovery and passion in their coffee cup.
Can you tell us a bit about the history of Café Saint-Henri?
In terms of a name, we kept it pretty simple, Saint-Henri is the name of the neighbourhood where we opened our first location. We wanted our location to be a gathering place where people from the neighbourhood come to discover our world.
Our roaster was at the back of the location which was something people were not used to see, so they could really observe, smell, and taste the coffee while talking with our team of baristas. Even though we grew to 8 locations now, 7 in Montreal and 1 in Quebec City, and that we now roast in a separate warehouse, we still want our locations to be gathering places where people from the neighbourhood come to discover and taste exceptional coffees.
How did you fall in love with Specialty Coffee?
I think we could say it was love at first sip! I still remember going to the first Saint-Henri location and when the barista told me I could pick between two different coffee beans to go in my cortado, I was just so excited. I used to work in the beer industry and my sister is a sommelier, so I saw first-hand how those industries evolved and how they put more focus on the producers, the terroirs and all the craftsmanship that goes into making those products. When I started to learn about specialty coffee and all the artisans behind each cup, I was hooked and just wanted to learn more.
Café Saint-Henri has been a significant part of the Montreal coffee community since 2011. As the first micro-roaster established in Quebec, what changes have you noticed in that time? What do you like about the direction specialty coffee is going in your city & province?
A lot has changed in the past 12 years, that’s for sure. At first, nobody really knew what a micro-roaster was or even Specialty Coffee, so there was a lot of education to do. People were just surprised to see a roaster at the back of our first location. But right from the start, we saw that people were excited and wanted to learn more about specialty coffee. Nowadays, people know a lot more about our industry but the desire to learn and drink exceptional coffees is still there. They are also not as shocked when they see the price of our bags of coffee, because they understand all the work that went into it and that more of that money is going back to the producer.
Like you said, we were the first micro-roaster in the province, but in the past 10 years we saw so many new micro-roasters and specialty coffee shops open; that growth is very exciting. The thing I love most about the specialty coffee scene in Montreal is that it’s a real community. All the roasters are happy to work together and trade knowledge, we don’t see each other as competition, we’re all united by our desire to bring specialty coffee in the cups of more people.
At the end of the day, we’re all fighting against bad and cheap coffee. I know Canadians love Tim Hortons but if we could replace half of the Tims in Canada by a specialty coffee shops, I do think the world would be a better (and happier) place (please don’t take my Canadian passport from me for that opinion). 🙂
On your site you mention that your mission is “to share our passion and expertise around specialty coffee to help as many people as possible to discover this world, one cup at a time.” How have you gone about doing that over all these years?
For us it’s all about education. Since day one, we have held weekly coffee classes in our Coffee lab where we educate clients on how we source, roast and how to prepare a better cup at home. We also know that to reach more people, we have to go where they are, so be more present in the retail stores they visit and come up with new innovative products that will make it easier for them to drink our coffee.
I noticed on your website that beyond your whole-bean offerings, you also offer instant-coffee & capsules. For many people there is a stigma behind these types of brew-methods. What is it about them that you love?
This is one of the things I meant when I talked about innovative products. I know that capsules are a bit of a hot topic in the industry, but for us it all goes back to our mission of getting more people to discover specialty coffee. We know that millions of Canadians have Nespresso machines in their homes or offices, so if we want them to discover our world, it’s a lot easier for us to go to them versus asking them to change their equipment and routine. But right when we started working on that project, we made it clear that we didn’t want to compromise on quality or sourcing.
We worked for months with our partner here in Montreal to develop capsules that have the same rich and complex taste as our espresso, but using the Nespresso technology that makes it really easy to brew. We also wanted our capsules to be 100% compostable and biodegradable, since it’s a big issue with capsules. This product also allows us to have a bigger impact with our producing partners since we end up buy more coffee from them, it was another reason we wanted to do it.
The goal was the same with our instant coffee, it’s all to help us reach more people. And also, we were tired of having to bring a big coffee setup while going camping.
We always explore new ways to reach more people, that’s why we are very excited to be the first Canadian roaster to partner with the new xBloom coffee machine, designed to deliver a seamless pour-over workflow, with the touch of a button.
Since you’ve been roasting coffee in Montreal since 2011, maybe can you share a bit more with our readers about your philosophy/approach to roasting? What equipment do you roast on?
Our philosophy is pretty simple, we want to respect and honour the work of the farmers that went into getting these coffee beans to us. That’s why we don’t do any dark roast that kills some of the flavours, we want to make sure that our customers experience the different flavour profiles and terroirs of each coffee. We source some of the world’s best coffees and to help bring out the best flavours in the bean, we roast very specifically depending on the use, so for filter or espresso.
In terms of equipment, we just moved to our new warehouse where we have two brand new Lorings S35 and a Sovda Destoner and we are really excited about the quality that we are able to get from these machines, it brings our coffees to a whole new level.
So speaking of coffee, what are you drinking/enjoying right now?
My favourite at the moment is our El Trapiche from the Rodriguez family in Bolivia. We’ve had 3 Bolivian coffees in the last year, all thanks to our relationship with the Rodriguez family and they are simply amazing. El Trapiche gives us an espresso with fine notes of fruit, reminiscent of lychee and whose sweetness reminds us of candied peach, all with a beautiful chocolate finish. I started drinking it as a cappuccino recently and it gives you a whole new experience, it’s almost like dipping fruits in a chocolate fondue, it’s perfect for the cold winter months of Montreal.
It’s been great getting the chance to connect up and share your story. Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
The only thing I’d like to say is to keep being curious and open to discover new coffees, new origins and just share the love of coffees, one cup at a time.
Find their beans: If you’re looking to get your hands on some beans then definitely check out their web-store for what they’re currently roasting.
I just want to say a huge thank you to the team at Saint Henri Micro Torrefacteur for being such a huge contributor to the coffee culture in Montreal and across Canada. Check out their site, grab yourself some beans, and enjoy!
And if you’ve read this far, then you might as well also get a little something-something, so the incredible team at Saint-Henri are offering you a promo code to use on their site. Use SAINTCOMMONLY for 10% off. This applies to all coffee (espresso, filter, capsules, and instant). Limit one code use per customer. Valid until March 31st.