The best cup of coffee I’ve ever had was at the table of Philippe and Leandra Brient in the log-hewn home they built themselves.
Outside the back window was a view of Atlin Mountain rising majestically from a valley of boreal forest.
The Brients own and operate Atlin Mountain Coffee Roasters. They spent the morning roasting a batch of coffee in a building beside their house.
They are working through the ton of beans that were picked up in Whitehorse a couple of weeks earlier.
Their coffee roaster was built specially for them in Italy. It uses wood heat.
Philippe opens a trapdoor to expose a fire heating up the bricks and cast iron that, in turn, roasts the coffee beans in the double-lined drum.
Pulling out a scoopful of beans during the process, Philippe checks the colour and temperature and ensures they are not too cracked and not too dry.
“And I smell it, too, but only because I like to,” he says with a laugh.
The Brients could have outfitted this roaster to heat with propane or wood pellets. Or they could have configured the exhaust to go through the beans for added flavour.
“Wood-fired makes us feel more at one with the bean because we are interacting with it in a different way,” says Leandra. “With propane, you just push buttons.”
The Brients want to burn pine because that is what they have on their property.
Between solar panels and burning pine in the roaster, Atlin Mountain Coffee Roasters is a sustainable and ecologically friendly operation that is off-the-grid.
“It’s ridiculous to truck propane all of the way in here,” Leandra says. “We are trying to get off of fossil fuels as much as possible.”
Meanwhile, back in the house, Leandra has stirred the coffee and we wait for a couple of more minutes. They use that time to tell us how they met:
“I’m from France,” says Philippe. “I was on an adventure riding horses across Western Canada.”
He was hooked: “I came back to Atlin.”
Leandra says, “I came to Kelowna, emigrated with my family from Netherlands, and got a degree in hotel management.
“I took a job in Atlin to run the restaurant for a heli-skiing operation and Philippe was leasing the hotel’s restaurant and pub for a few years.”
They teamed up – in more ways than one – and opened a cafe in the Atlin Inn.
“We wanted fresh coffee, so we started roasting our own,” says Leandra.
“It was just a one-pound roaster; we were so busy we couldn’t do any marketing.”
They started selling beans in 2013 and saw their business “reborn” last summer when they took possession of their new roaster that can roast 10 kilograms at a time.
Alas, it was time to try our coffee. It is their most popular: Atlin Sunrise.
It was smooth.
All of the stores in Atlin sell the beans. In Carcross, they can be purchased at Caribou Crossing Coffee and, in Teslin, at the Nisutlin Trading Post.
In Whitehorse, the beans are sold at Farmer Robert’s. But, if you want a cup of coffee prepared for you, go to Sourdough Sadies food truck just across from the MacBride Museum or at breakfast at Skky Hotel.
Or, if you wait until Thursday night or Saturday morning, the Brients have an Espresso Wagon of their own at the Fireweed Community Market.
Mail order is available, too, at www.AtlinMountainCoffee.com.