‘Tis the season for all things cozy and warm. ’Tis also the season for our limited edition London Fog Community Bar soap, that’s back for the month of November. In celebration of warm drinks, warm hearts and high-quality ingredients, we sat down with Jeremy Ho, co-founder of Monogram Coffee in Calgary. In case you didn’t know — they not only have the best London Fog in town, but incredible coffee built on community partnerships. We wanted to hear from Jeremy why simple, natural ingredients make all the difference.
Also, keep an eye out for some good things coming with Monogram and Rocky on our Instagram!
Rocky: What goes into your London Fog that makes it so good?
Jeremy Ho: The recipe is simple. It's tea, it's vanilla, it's milk and it's a little sweet, with real bergamot oil and vanilla bean. But the beauty of it is the quality of all of those ingredients. The tea is sourced from JagaSilk in Victoria, BC, who essentially source tea like we source coffee. It's just a good quality product. Where the tea comes from changes throughout the year, depending on the harvest, which I think is a cool part of their model. We use Panella to sweeten the London Fog, which is essentially one of the most unprocessed sugars — it's so good. If you taste it on its own, it has this rich fruitiness to it, almost. It's really incredible. The tea is in a powder, so you don't need to dilute the drink with a lot of water. It becomes so much more luxurious and creamy.
What does a high-quality ingredient mean to you?
I think for me, a high-quality ingredient is a couple of things. It has just a beautiful, natural intensity of flavour or aromatic that is the result of a very intentional and caring production process from people that I think are actually passionate about making that one ingredient, so whether it's coffee or tea or even in agriculture.
When we're talking about coffee beans or tea that have been made with care, how does that affect the flavour?
Higher quality product is just so much harder to grow and it requires so much more effort to actually make. Take coffee, for example. There are very specific varieties of coffee that produce less yield, so you don't get a lot of coffee from them. These varieties might be extremely flavourful or exotic tasting, but they’re simply harder to grow. They need more care in terms of the agricultural side of when they're planted, how they're taken care of and how they're pruned. Then everything is harvested and processed by hand, very intentionally. It's all those steps that I think all end up producing and having an impact on the flavour. It's sort of like taking care of this genetically superior strain and for it to actually express what it's supposed to it needs that very loving, caring, intentional growth and taking care of the production of it.
The plants needing to be loved and cared for is a wonderful image. What does all that care do for the yield?
If you think of it, especially coffee, it's not something that you can mass produce. So commercial grade coffee, for example, in the harvesting of coffee, and even tea for that matter, you might have equipment that's almost like a huge tractor that would roll through a coffee farm or a tea farm and take all the coffee cherries or all the tea leaves at once. They don't regard the different levels of quality that might need a hand picking for example. On a single branch coffee ripens at different stages, so to have great coffee you need to get it at its ripest moment. That requires an actual skilled picker looking with their own eyes and picking with their own hands when it's right, instead of just grabbing everything on a branch.
Do you see any sort of comparisons between the way Monogram does coffee and how Rocky does soap?
Yeah, one thing for me about Rocky as a brand is I feel like you really want to celebrate what nature has provided. So, the all-natural product but also just the aromas and flavour combinations are not obnoxiously artificial. They're all totally natural, and even the way they interact with your skin, to me, it's like a preservation and celebration of such high-quality ingredients. And that's totally similar to what we do with coffee. Our coffees are all very carefully roasted so all you taste is the natural flavors and aromas. You're just trying to celebrate what the coffee naturally has, nothing more nothing less. You're really just celebrating a great product on its own.
Thinking about the handpicked, caring and loving ingredients ... In your experience does that go hand in hand with an ingredient being sustainable or ethical in how it sourced?
Yeah, for sure. Especially coffee. Coffee is probably one of the biggest industries in which you can have and abuse of the supply chain, especially with prices being paid to different labor in the supply chain. Traditionally, commercial-grade coffee is traded on the market as a commodity so prices are often fluctuating by market forces and not always a reflection of the cost of actual production or sustainable wage. The good thing about specialty coffee is that it is linked more to quality than it is to the market. We always try to establish a direct relationship with our producers and work with them over time to come up with, and to hopefully pay them higher and higher wages every year. That allows the spillover to all parts of the supply chain to ensure a more stable wage which allows them, in turn, to be more incentivized to produce quality products. It really goes hand in hand.
How do you decide who to work with which farms to source from?
It comes down to our partners sharing the same values as we do as a company. We have five core values that we use to frame every part of our company and sourcing is no exception. Community, service, quality, wonder and stewardship. When we look at our partners we look to see if they share those same types of values. Do you care about the same level of quality? Are you ensuring that everyone on the team is being paid fairly and that there's a good sense of community? Are you taking care of the farm sustainably And being a good steward of that? All of those help us to decide if this is a good producer, and once we make that decision we like to stick with them for many years. There's a producing partner of ours in Bolivia that we've worked with for I think four-plus years, every year since we started roasting, and that's a great example of one partnership that's really gone well.
Can you talk a bit more about community and why it's so important?
Community is essentially at the core of everything that we do. Not even just on the sourcing, but everything that Monogram is about. We essentially define community by establishing meaningful relationships with people. The first part of that is really connecting and then the second part is the meaningful side. It's not just enough to know someone. It's better to actually have a meaningful relationship. The way we apply that in the cafes is that an amazing cafe serves a community function in that people need to come here and feel like it's their space. That's why we always say “coffee should inspire wonder and warmth.” Warmth is that feeling of getting together and actually connecting with people. The other part of that is that I think community is also connecting all parts of our supply chain ... so we can help people appreciate where their coffee comes from and connect that gap, too.
As a lifelong Calgarian, how have you seen the attitude towards being community-minded change or grow over the years?
Calgary has been a very supportive city. In Alberta and the Calgary area, people are supporting local businesses. I think they want to take care of their own and really build that sense of community, especially after the  floods. We saw the community serving and taking care of each other. I think we also see that in the way people support local. Especially now it’s so important and it shows that people are making an effort to help others survive, especially the small, independent businesses. People in Calgary also have an entrepreneurial spirit to them, so they can appreciate it. They're willing to take risks or open up new concepts in harder times. In some ways, harder times or limitations can often breed a lot of creativity as well and I hope we see that continue.
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