Local fair-trade organice coffee chain Bridgehead's long-awaited new flagship roastery at Preston and Anderson will be opening tomorrow to the public. This will be the 15th shop Bridgehead has opened in 12 years. In addition to the on-site bean storage and offices, there is a coffeeshop, with all the familiar trimmings of Bridgehead stores, and more. Because I had bought a "Plant A Bean" card (a form of community-supported financing where my upfront payment is repaid in installments every six months on my Bridgehead card, with interest), I was invited to a special preview of the roastery yesterday morning.
The above panorama is a view from just inside the entrance, which is off of Anderson Street, only a few steps from Preston Street. You can see the coffeeshop in the foreground, the roasting equipment off to the left, and the second-floor offices at the back.
The building was constructed in 1921 as stables for the Bell telephone company. Its double-peaked roof with riveted steel trusses is unique in Ottawa.
More recently, it was the home of Preston & Lieff Glass. Here's a view from April 2011, looking from the corner of Preston and Anderson (two blocks south of Somerset, across from Plouffe Park):
It's a large building, and you can only see half of it in the panoramic shot at the top of the post. I took photos at the roastery-side chat with Bridgehead owner Tracey Clark in April.
Here is a shot of the warehouse and bean storage areas before they were assembled. For reference, there are two riveted steel trusses in the panoramic shot above, and a third truss tucked away in the upper left corner of the panoramic shot. That truss is the one on the right in the photo below. There are two more bays, the last of which has a concrete roof the going theory at the April event was that this was for blacksmithing. It'll be used for the warehouse, and the nearer bay will be a sealed-off "coffee humidor" to extend the life of the coffee, though coffee will always be within nine months of harvest. The coffee you buy from Bridgehead will be no more than five days since roasting. This means that Bridgehead will be moving to a seasonal coffee line that rotates through the year.
Here's the view in the opposite direction, toward the entrance on Anderson, in April 2012. You can see that the doors are larger than they were in the 2011 shot. The stable doors had been bricked in and reduced in size. Bridgehead has opened them back up to their original size...
...but instead of stable doors, they installed large glass windows, bringing in plenty of light.
The original skylight had been blocked off with precst pavers. Bridghead has restored the skylight, and if I'm deciphering my notes correctly from the April event, the new windows have an insulation factor of over R50. This brings a tremendous amount of light to the second floor, where Bridgeheads offices will be, and where a "cupping" (coffee-tasting) room will allow them to do quality testing on every batch of roasted beans.
Back on the ground floor, the coffeeshop will feature a manual coffee bar, where baristas can prepare your coffee with some fancy methods. Both of the methods performed on yesterday's preview involved finely-tuned digital scales to precisely measure the amount of water being added. The pour-over method (not shown) uses a swan-neck kettle to pour water at a controlled rate into an hourglass-shaped "Chemex" beaker, bringing out the acidity in the coffee. The beakers and digital scales will be available for sale at the store for you to do it yourself at home.
Another method, shown here, is siphoning. The halogen burner heats the water in the lower flask. The upper one extends into the lower one and has a rubber stop to create an air-tight seal. As the water boils, the steam pushes the water up the pipe to the top container, where coffee grounds are sitting at the bottom. At the top, the coffee is mixed, then the heat source is removed, and as it cools the suction forces the coffee back down into the lower container, through a filter. This brewing method brings out more aroma.
You'll be able to watch the roasting process at the Roastery every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday once it opens to the public on Tuesday and things get into full swing.
The roastery brings about 40 jobs to the area, and will help to fill in the "Bridgehead gap" in Chinatown/Little Italy, between Centretown and Hintonburg. The food products served in Bridgehead stores will continue to come from their kitchen in Hintonburg. The coffee beans in each store, carefully selected from fair trade/organic sources, will be roasted on site and sent out to all the other stores. As mentioned earlier, the coffee will change to a seasonal lineup, and beans that you buy to bring home with you will be packaged into airtight containers to seal in the freshness.
Another couple of easter eggs that I couldn't fit into the post: the black mugs that change colour when hot water is poured in, to reveal a profile of a stylized Ottawa skyline, clearly showing the Peace Tower, and the roastery, of course! At the April event, we also had a previous of a bread lineup they were working on. I hope that happens, it was very good artisinal bread!
Oh, and one last thing: while it sounds romantic to live next door to a coffee roastery, the smell of roasting coffee beans isn't all that fun, and would definitely wear on you if you had to smell it every day. While Ontario doesn't have very strict regulations on those types of emissions, the Bridgehead roastery apparently conforms to the California standard, which is one of the strictest. When I walked into the roastery (albeit on a Sunday when they aren't roasting), it smells like any other Bridgehead. However, there will be a glass separation from the public area to seal off the smell and noise of the industrial operations in the back half.
All this to bring you the freshest coffee in town!