Eric Binion is a coffee connoisseur.
He loves it — and drinks a lot of it. But when Binion first relocated to Yellowknife five years ago, something was missing from his morning cup of joe.
“It was one thing I noticed when I moved up here,” he said. “There were places you could get coffee, but not the kind of coffee I wanted to get.”
Unsatisfied with the lack of rich and spicy blends he’d become accustomed to, Binion, a self-described “food scientist,” began experimenting with bean roasting before taking his hobby to the next level. On Oct. 15, Binion, along with members of his family, opened Barren Ground Coffee in Old Town. With its soft launch, the shop is currently open three days a week – Tuesday, Saturday and Sunday.
Overseeing operations alongside his cousin Cory Dohlen, Binion says his shop’s dedication to putting flavour first makes it unique.
“We’re the only people roasting specialty coffee in town,” he said.
Coffee bean gradings or “cupping scores” act as international markers for the commodity’s quality, and according to Binion, Barren Ground Coffee currently only receives beans with a rating of 80 or higher.
While in-town shops like Birchwood Coffee offer their customers organic and fair trade coffee, Barren Ground is one of only two locations that roast their own beans. Javaroma does too – but Yellowknifer was unable to reach owners to confirm whether or not their beans match Eric’s cupping scores.
Bearing Ground Coffee’s commitment to quality java isn’t its only standout feature. Two parts processing centre, one part coffee shop, the McDonald Drive location offers walk-in customers a selection of fair-trade or single source pour-over blends or whole beans from Ethiopia and Central America, all while an industrial sized bean roaster hums just feet away. The costly machine, which roasts freshly-shipped coffee beans en masse, was subsidized in part by the Government of the Northwest Territories — a boost that Binion says he’s eternally grateful for.
The grant, made possible by the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment’s flagship program for entrepreneurial and small business support (dubbed SEED), is part of the government’s bid to spur economic growth at a grassroots level.
In an email to Yellowknifer, Amy Lizotte, manager of trade and investment for the North Slave Region, said SEED offers a financial boost to would-be small businesses and start-ups.
“We’re happy to see that funding paying off for Barren Ground and many others like them accessing this program each year,” she stated.
Emma Atkinson, owner of Yellowknife’s Fat Fox Cafe, is one of Binion’s new clients. She says Barren Ground Coffee’s business model makes sense.
“We opened with a focus of supporting other local businesses and buying as much stuff locally as possible,” she said. “So it’s just something that kind of fitted in really well with what we’re already doing.”
A careful curator of tastes, Binion says he’s also invested in the vitality of his community, and Yellowknife as a whole — something that led him to set up shop where he did.
“I strongly believe that tourism is on the rise up here and Old Town is definitely an area of Yellowknife that we should be showing off and drawing tourists … there’s a lot of potential down here,” he said.
As for Barren Ground Coffee’s next move, Binion is dreaming big.
“When I started this thing I wanted to have coffee, good, fresh, specialty coffee, in every single coffee shop in the Northwest Territories … and that NWT will somehow be the mecca of great coffee,” he laughed. “It’s a dream.”
Following Barren Ground’s testing of the waters this month, Binion says an official launch, complete with merchandise and prizes, will take place in late November.