Bean boom brewing

David Whalen
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Beverages Upscale coffee shops proving popular

There's a black liquid boom going on in St. John's, and it's got nothing to do with oil.

Well, that's not entirely true. The boom might actually be an offshoot of the oil activity - and the liquid is only black depending on how you take it.

The last two years have seen a major influx of independently run coffee shops which say they place a premium on quality, not quantity.

Scott Hillyer, director of operations at Coffee Matters, enjoys a cup at the coffee company's third location, which opened this week. - Photo by Rhonda Hayward/The Telegram

There's a black liquid boom going on in St. John's, and it's got nothing to do with oil.

Well, that's not entirely true. The boom might actually be an offshoot of the oil activity - and the liquid is only black depending on how you take it.

The last two years have seen a major influx of independently run coffee shops which say they place a premium on quality, not quantity.

"Consumers are becoming better educated and are demanding better products," said Chris Whittle, president of Jo Boss Coffee and Espresso, which has a location which opened in 2006 in the Avalon Mall and another which opened in May at the corner of Topsail Road and Cowan Avenue.

Jo Boss offers fair trade and organic coffee brought in from Vancouver, which Whittle calls the "coffee capital of Canada."

"We try to play the middle of the road," Whittle said. "We offer a comfortable environment, really great customer service, and top-quality products that are at reasonable prices."

Coffee Matters, another local independent offering fair trade and organic blends, opened its first store on Military Road last year. In February, Coffee Matters Too opened on Water Street, adding wines and liqueurs to the usual menu of coffee. Last week, it opened a third store, this time outside the downtown core, on Topsail Road in Paradise.

With all these stores opening, it's clear there's a market for trendy upscale coffee. But what explains this burgeoning bean boom?

Scott Hillyer, director of operations at Coffee Matters, attributes the influx to the city's increasing affluence and a more cultured population.

"People are becoming better travelled, and because of the higher income levels in Newfoundland right now, people want a different alternative."

Rob Collins, the owner-manager of Hava Java, has been in the coffee business on Water Street for 14 years. He said there's been a sudden proliferation in the last 18 months, which started in earnest when Starbucks opened its second location in St. John's at Atlantic Place.

"The palate in St. John's is starting to get a little bit more sophisticated," Collins said. "People are going out, in general, more than they ever did."

But the trend isn't limited to frappucino-swilling corporate bigwigs. Whittle, Hillyer and Collins all say their clientele range from garage band musicians to senior citizens.

The new coffee shops quickly realized the market extended to outside downtown.

"We found that a lot of people from Paradise and C.B.S. were coming to our downtown locations, so we automatically knew that there was a niche outside of the city," Hillyer said. "The market existed for a while," Whittle said. "It was just under served."

With the recent opening of a second Starbucks on Kenmount Road, there are now three of the green giant in the city.

Hillyer said the growth of local independents is no coincidence.

"The best thing that ever happened for coffee in Newfoundland is when Starbucks came here," Hillyer said. "It kind of introduced people to a different sort of coffee, like lattes and cappucinos."

david_whalen@hotmail.com

Organizations: Starbucks

Geographic location: St. John's, Topsail Road, Water Street Paradise Cowan Avenue Newfoundland Vancouver Canada Military Road Kenmount Road

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