Meet Our Stellar Partner #3: De Mello Coffee
In 2013, De Mello Palheta opened their first café, which was also a micro-roastery, in Toronto. Besides moving their roastery out of their café in 2015, De Mello has also expanded its presence in eastern Canada by opening up a lab in Montreal.
Felix Cha, a co-founder of De Mello, emphasized De Mello’s focus on high-quality coffee, and described Bean Voyage’s coffee as nothing short of “outstanding.”
Read on for a Q&A with Felix to learn more about his thoughts on gender equity in the coffee industry, the differences between various Canadian coffee communities, and the origin of the name “De Mello Palheta!”
Where is De Mello located and what is your role?
Felix: We are located in Toronto, that’s where we started. We have a café and two retail stores in Toronto. We have a roastery, our headquarters, in Vaughan, which is just outside of Toronto, and we have a lab in Montreal. I am one of the co-founders of De Mello Coffee.
What is the story behind the name De Mello Palheta?
Felix: I was trying to find a name to use for our company back in 2012. His full name was Francisco De Mello Palheta; there’s a little coffee story about how he snuck beans and coffee seeds and spread coffee seeds in Brazil. So, I used his name as a reference and called [the company] De Mello Coffee.
How did you come to partner with Bean Voyage?
Felix: I met Sunghee in Germany, in Berlin, at the World of Coffee in 2019. We met at the SCA Korea dinner. She told me that she’s a co-founder of Bean Voyage and what Bean Voyage does.
She explained that women in coffee often face barriers in the market, and get paid less than male producers, and how these issues relate to sustainability in coffee. So I wanted to be involved and I wanted to help. And I wanted to support by purchasing coffee. That’s how everything started.
What does gender equity in the coffee industry mean to you?
Felix: I think there are many ways to look at it. I also think the context of where you are matters to define what gender equity means. For example, in Canada, gender inequity exists but not in the same context and form as it is in Costa Rica. … I don’t know how to say this but [saying] male coffee professionals [are] doing better than women in Canada… I don’t think that’s a correct statement. There are so many qualified and great women in coffee. And if you’re looking at some other problems, like those in Costa Rica… regarding what Bean Voyage does, for instance, I think these issues can be invisible to the eyes of coffee professionals living in Canada like me. That’s why there is a value in Bean Voyage bringing all these issues [to the attention of the broader industry]. What gender equity looks like in Costa Rica is different to what it is in Canada.
How do you see pricing as playing a role in gender equity in the industry?
Felix: When it comes to pricing for coffee, at our company, we don’t look at it from if it’s male-produced or female-produced coffee. We look more at quality; quality is what defines price [at our company]. But if you’re talking about how much they’re getting paid, compared to the prices of the coffee, if there’s no traceability or there’s not enough information, it’s not something I will be able to find out. At our company, transparency is something that we strive for, in every sourcing relationship that we build to answer questions that consumers may have, [but it’s not always possible across every sourcing relationship]. For some coffees on our menu, we don’t know if it’s produced by a woman or a man. But, pricing-wise, again, at our roastery, we focus more on quality, and with Bean Voyage, the quality of their coffee is just outstanding! If you didn’t tell me it’s women produced coffee, I wouldn’t know, but it’s good quality coffee so I’ll pay whatever is worth it.
How would you describe the coffee culture in Canada? What are the differences between Toronto’s and Montreal’s coffee communities?
Felix: Canada-wise, especially in Toronto, it’s a little sad to say that consumers are not well educated on coffee, as well as their palates are not so used to specialty coffee; you know, they think coffee shouldn’t taste like strawberry or blueberry. I think that’s because a lot of commercial chains, like Starbucks or Tim Horton’s, they’re dominating the coffee industry in Canada.
[Consumers] are used to dark roast coffee, for example. Where, in Montreal, the food industry, and wine, is so big there, so consumers are very well trained with their palates. So if you see our online sales or wholesale coffee, you’ll see a lot more single-origin, bright, acidic coffee going to Montreal compared to Toronto. So when it comes to the occasion, when we train our community in Toronto, we train more on how coffee can taste like this [e.g. like fruits and acidic], how and coffee should taste like this [for being a fruit itself].
Coffee can taste very different if you use different roast curves. Let’s say we have a Gesha coffee to roast. A light roast, medium roast of it will taste [typically] like you know tea, jasmine tea, strawberry, but as you roast darker, you lose those particular flavors. So, there are still a lot of people who don’t know about this, and we try our best to provide as much information and educational opportunities for them. [Whereas] Montreal, we generally talk more about where each coffee is from, how we sourced [the coffee]; [consumers in Montreal] are more interested in the sourcing stories, the small farms, the farming families’ stories… so it’s very different.
What’s your favorite method for brewing Bean Voyage coffee?
Felix: French press. I like my coffee very simple. I had the Corral Arriba coffee [from Mayra Solis and her family] recently made with French press and it just tastes so good! It’s clean, bright, and juicy, with a note of stone fruit. Also, a lot of people, our clients, are really enjoying the La Pacaya [from Franciny Vargas and her family], the cinnamon-processed coffee. They really enjoyed it and they’re asking to bring back more coffee, more cinnamon coffee, so I’m actually talking to Bean Voyage to bring in a few more bags!
If you are in Toronto, Canada. make sure to stop by De Mello’s cafe to grab a Womxn-Powered coffee available in their stores! Also, follow their IG for more coffee goodness!
Interviewed & Written by Sunaina Sunda
Photo credits: De Mello Coffee