Coffee and creativity: a Gulf Island surprise

Culture Food | Drink

You know how great it is when you visit your hometown after having moved away? Everyone’s happy to see you, the place is at its very best and none of the flaws are visible. I was lucky to have this experience recently on a cycling trip through the Gulf Islands. My friends reminded me of the frustrations of living on a Gulf Island (I have lived on three of them!) where employment is scarce, gossip is rife and services at a bare minimum.

On both islands I visited last week, my friends have dug deep into coffee culture. Things have changed from the days of French-pressed dark roasts that I remember from the ’90s; people now roast their own. Two friends on two islands do anyway. One of them roasts beans on her back deck in an older-model popcorn popper (the instructions for this are available at The other is part of a group that owns the Galiano Coffee Roasting Company (info at

My home-roasting friend claims to (along with her teenaged kids) consume four pounds of coffee each month. Roasted beans cost $14 per pound, while green coffee beans cost $6, but the savings are just the beginning. My friend showed me her setup and explained that the roasting involves placing beans in the popcorn canister and then carefully listening and sniffing! First, there’s a fierce crackling, then a burnt smell, then a pause and finally, one last crackle, this one softer. She conducts regular cupping events with family and friends, comparing roasts and origins in her hand-built kitchen.

The cup she brewed for me was prepared using the pour-over method. Ground beans measured into a paper filter, held within a ceramic cone. Successions of boiling water poured over top drip through slowly and produce a clean, rich brew. The coffee was satisfying—stimulating, but metabolically smooth as well!

All this may sound casual, but the fact is, there was no good brewed coffee for sale on the island in question. It’s hard for restaurants to succeed over there, and quality tends to get left behind. My friend’s home-roast method (and the good fortune of having such a friend) are the product of winter-born creativity and the forced intimacy of small-island lives.

My Galiano coffee experience evolved when I scanned the Internet for tips. The Turkish method caught my eye and before long, I was reading about hand mills and electric burr grinders, both of which grind coffee very fine. Turkish coffee makes use of an ibrik, a little copper pot with a long ornate handle, narrow neck and spout. Cold water is mixed with fine ground coffee and sometimes sugar. It’s placed over a single gas flame and boiled to a froth. This happens quickly and the pot is removed from the flame and then re-boiled again and again. There’s some controversy over whether three times is better, or four and about whether one ought to stir with a long-handled spoon between the final frothings. The special, traditional equipment excited my foodie bone and the long process and disagreements only furthered my lust.

The next morning at breakfast, my friend ground her coffee in a hand mill, similar to the ones about which I had read. Hers was a Japanese model: slow, but worth the effort and less expensive than an electric burr machine. I mentioned my previous night’s reading, and she produced a tiny ibrik. Claiming to have too many, she gave it to me to try. I have it at home now, unused as yet since my grinder is nowhere near right. I will scour thrift stores and Turkish markets for a grinder and a long-handled spoon (in case I turn out to be the stirring kind).

This mini–summer vacation had the best of both worlds: cycling and camping in a beautiful setting and visiting old friends. The coffee knowledge was a bonus. My friends’ complaints about island life did not induce nostalgia. However, their slow-paced lives, in which enough time and lack of services breeds creativity, certainly made me think.