Shatterbox Coffee brews sustainable almond alternative

Local News
Photos by Bethany Skorepa via @sbxcoffee
Photos by Bethany Skorepa via @sbxcoffee

In light of the extreme drought in California, Kalen Harris, owner of Shatterbox Coffee downtown, has started brewing up hemp milk as an alternative to almond milk. The world’s obsession with almonds is no secret. According to the Almond Board of California, 80 per cent of the world’s almonds are produced in California — a booming industry that has quadrupled its yield in the past 30 years. However, conflict has arisen around these water intensive tree nuts ever since the recent drought has crippled the state’s farming practices.

“You need a four-litre jug of water, essentially, for every single almond and then once it’s grown, you’re also blending it down and adding more water to it [to produce almond milk]” said Harris. He started experimenting, looking for an alternative that would be sustainable, local, and enjoyable. Harris eventually landed on hemp milk.

“The really big driver for me was the whole idea that it is environmentally sustainable — the fact that we’re not using essentially a luxury agriculture crop for something that should be a staple,” said Harris.

According to a Nov. 16, 2014 BBC article by David Willis, California’s staggering almond crops suck up 1.1 trillion gallons of water per year. “That’s twice as much as it takes to grow cotton or tomatoes, and enough — I am reliably informed — for you or me to take a 10-minute shower every day for the next 86 million years,” Willis wrote.

Containing just local hemp seeds, water, and honey, Harris’ hemp milk fits the bill for an almond alternative. Not only is the product local, sustain-able, gluten-free, diabetic-friendly, and nut-free, Harris says he now prefers it to regular milk.

“Going out for coffee shouldn’t be like taking your medicine,” he said. “It shouldn’t be: ‘I’m doing this for the environment!’ and struggling through every sip. The trick is to find a balance where there is enough flavour enjoy-ment as well as doing the right thing.”

While Harris hopes that the trend will catch on with other cafes, it’s been a slow process so far. Sarah Dusterbeck, the Marketing & Communications Coordinator for UVic Food Services, said in an email that, “We can certainly look into the feasibility of adding this option, although almond milk is very popular. We also have to be cognizant of our supplier agreements and contracts, so sourcing a new product could take some time.”

Sam Jones, owner of 2% Jazz Coffee, is similarly not eager to start making his own hemp milk. “I’ve tried all the milk alternatives on my bar at one point or another, and I usually go with almond milk because it’s easy, but it’s also very commercialized,” said Jones. “It’s not a really great product, but it’s what my customers want.”

Jones also pointed out that almond milk is not a concern for him considering the minute percentage of almonds actually in almond milk. “When you look at the typical container of almond milk, you’re going to find it’s about five per cent almonds. There’s not a lot of almonds in almond milk.”

Concerning milk alternatives, Jones has recently teamed up with Victoria company Mylkmaid, which makes locally sourced nut milks. Using one of their hazelnut milks, Jones will later be offering almond-alternative specialty drinks. Though he had thought often about the possibility of in-house hemp milk, he did not feel he could feasibly keep up with the volume his cafés would require.

Despite the slow start to the movement, Harris remains passionate and proud of his product. “We as Victorians are super proud of our coffee and we do so much to fine source our coffees as best we can and roast our coffees as best we can,” he said. “There’s all these guys that are really trying to respect coffee and do a great job of it. So why is it just the coffee?”