Cafés and communities: Why coffee lovers should support local coffee shops

Almost everyone can enjoy a great cup of coffee, and it’s no surprise that the coffee market is heavily saturated and continues to grow.

There are approximately 7,000 coffee and snack shops currently in Canada. In 2022, the Canadian coffee market was worth $5.3 billion, and the number of coffee shops grew 1.2 per cent.

However, not all coffee businesses are the same. Big corporate coffee companies differ from small cafés regarding personal touch, sourcing and quality.

To maintain authenticity, diversity and sustainability in the coffee industry, it is imperative to celebrate and support local cafés.

Quality and sustainability are equally important for local coffee shops when sourcing coffee.

Reunion Island Café, the flagship café of specialty coffee roaster Reunion Coffee Roasters provides many different coffee products, including organic and fair-trade coffee options. Located in Toronto’s Roncesvalles neighbourhood, they prioritize diversity in their coffee bean selection to ensure quality and a vast array of flavours.

Although not all of their coffee products fall under the organic or fair-trade category, they always refer to Rainforest Alliance while sourcing their coffee.

Rainforest Alliance is an international non-profit organization of farmers, forest communities, companies and consumers aiming for an environmentally sustainable world.

Adam Pesce, president of Reunion Coffee Roasters and operator of Reunion Island Café, explained that they decided to take a multifaceted approach to sourcing. They use Rainforest Alliance as a baseline because they offer the least expensive premium and because of their work to promote the three pillars of sustainability: environmental, social and economic. When a product is Rainforest Alliance certified, the production process supports these three pillars.

“Rainforest Alliance puts their focus on the social and the environmental, and the idea is that coffee that’s grown well by happy farmers is gonna end up being better,” Pesce said.

Reunion Coffee Roasters is also B Corp certified and uses Bullfrog Power. B Corp is a third-party certifier that evaluates transparency and environmental responsibility in businesses, while Bullfrog Power provides renewable energy solutions to companies and organizations.

“The environmental piece we’ve been doing for a long time with Bullfrog Power,” Pesce said. “We use renewable energy, work through source reductions and recycling programs and all these other things we can do to lower our carbon footprint.”

Premium coffee roaster Birds and Beans Roaster’s local shop, Birds and Beans Café, has proudly served the Etobicoke community for many years. The business showcases how quality and ethical sourcing go hand-in-hand by providing coffee with different flavour profiles while ensuring all their products are certified organic and bird-friendly.

“We did this for two main reasons: to help to preserve winter habitat for our migratory birds in coffee growing countries and to support farmers who are engaged in regenerative, organic agriculture,” David Pritchard, the president of Birds and Beans Coffee Roasters, explained. “These farms not only provide habitat for birds and other wildlife, but they provide valuable ecological services including carbon storage.”

Local coffee shops also satisfy the social aspect of sustainability. Birds and Beans Café accomplishes this by maintaining strong relationships with farmers and importers who share their values.

“We believe that an important element of ethical purchasing is purchasing from the same farms and co-ops year over year so they can count on our volume. Many larger roasters will chase lower prices by shopping around,” Pritchard said.

Reunion Island Café also fulfills the social aspect of sustainability through its sales process. For example, the café donates sales from their bullet espresso to Grounds for Health, an organization that provides cancer screening and prevention programs for women in coffee-growing communities. 

In addition, local coffee shops connect with the community by employing its members and providing comfortable spaces and activities. Pritchard said that Birds and Beans Café has provided stable, long-term employment for many residents of the Etobicoke community.

Also, as a tribute to their passion for bird habitats, Birds and Beans Café sponsors monthly bird walks so people can see some of the birds their coffee helps conserve.

Similarly, Reunion Island Café shows its appreciation for employees through their salaries, tips, benefits and flexible hours. In turn, employees give their personal touch and consideration to customers.

“A lot of the time, the staff are making the drinks for the two or three people in the back of the line already because they’re regulars. That’s what people really value,” Pesce said.

Due to ethical sourcing, quality and the motivation to give back to the community, community members can feel good about visiting local coffee shops to get their morning pick-me-up.

Local coffee shops are much more than places where customers pop in and out. Pritchard said they are spaces where people can meet new people, share stories and support neighbourhood initiatives.

Therefore, when consumers support local coffee businesses, they also support the community around them.

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