Transcend Coffee // Portrait of a Business

We have an unconventional concept of a “portrait”.

Historically it referred to a likeness of a person in art, with an emphasis on the face and expression. But, as we explored the idea of “portrait” in our work, we found that for us it referred more to capturing the essence of someone—or something—in whatever manner best fit.

If you live in Edmonton and are into coffee, you’ve heard of Transcend. They started out as one small cafe in an industrial area of the town. They carefully roasted their own beans, and did such a great job that they started expanding. Today they have a dedicated roastery, three cafes, two of which are in the busiest parts of town (the University area and Jasper Ave), and a growing online business.

They’re really really good at what they do.

We spent a day with the Transcend gang to create a portrait of what they do. We asked a billion questions, listened, watched, and photographed everything. In the end we can come up with one simple word that explains their success: passion.

Their passion for great coffee is so strong that the entire journey, from bean to cup, is handled with an unbelievable amount of care and dedication. Check out the Moving Portrait below to get a sense of just how much work goes into creating a seemingly simple latte!

Music Credit: Kevin MacLoed

We really love coffee, and have been big fans of Transcend for years, but had no idea just how much work goes on behind-the-scenes. It’s a process, rigorously executed, to ensure the absolute highest quality coffee. We had such an amazing time getting to see how much they care about what they do. We really hope you enjoy this look at how Transcend puts passion into their business.

From Bean To Cup

The roastery is filled with the traditional burlap bags that hold the makings of a cup of coffee. These are the green coffee beans, shipped from origin. Coffee beans are actually seeds of coffee cherries, from the coffee tree. Poul, the founder of Transcend, travels frequently to South America to work directly with the farmers growing these trees. He not only tries to find the absolute best product, but helps the farmers learn how to make even better beans. Great coffee starts with great beans.

Every morning during the week, Transcend roasts their own coffee in small batches. Kate, the roaster, comes in and warms up the huge machine. 

Then she gets down to it. She measures out the green coffee beans. 

Each batch is carefully weighed for consistency.

Then the beans go into the roaster. This is seriously cool. It is a 1950s German-made Probat UG22, made back when cast iron was of higher quality. It was retrofitted for Transcend by Giesen in the Netherlands, and is now a shiny, impressive, colourful machine.

Once the beans are in the machine they get tossed around and roasted. Kate carefully monitors the temperature to make sure the beans are roasted absolutely perfectly.

She routinely pulls a sample from the roaster and checks the progress. She smells the beans, and checks the colour to make sure everything is on track. 

Once the roasting is complete the beans are released from the roaster, and given some time to cool down.

Kate looks through the beans for any defects. I asked her if she felt proud when a great batch came out of the roaster, and, with a little smile, she said “Yes”. We watched her roast two full batches, and it’s a complicated, and detailed process. She takes notes every few minutes, in case she needs to go back and adjust her technique. She’s extremely dedicated to getting the perfect roast.

But the process doesn’t stop there. Every morning, Kate and the team at the roastery also test the beans from the previous day, in a process called cupping. First, she grinds beans from all the roasts she did the day before.

Two essential elements of the cupping process are the detailed notes she makes of everything she tastes, as well as the very cool cupping bowls! We got to drink some coffee out of one, and felt like real coffee connoisseurs. :)

The first step of the cupping process is smelling the dry ground beans. 

Poul, the founder of Transcend, joined in the cupping.  

After the dry smelling, they carefully poured hot water into the grounds. This part of the process is tricky, because you need to control all the variables—like the temperature of the water, and the time each cup brews.

Then comes smelling the brewed coffee. The step in this next photo is called “breaking the crust”. The coffee grounds create a crust on top, and with your spoon you break it, and smell the aromatics that come out. 

Then, the final step, is the actual tasting of the coffee. A special cupping spoon is used, and the coffee is literally slurped! If you watch the Moving Portrait you’ll be able to hear—it’s a loud process! Basically, when you quickly slurp the coffee it coats all of your tongue, so you can taste all the elements of the flavour. The inhaling also lets you get the full effect of the aromatic elements (a lot like tasting wine!).

Once the coffees have been tested, and the quality is awesome, they get packaged up. 

Then those little bags hit the road, and head over to the Transcend cafes!

The Garneau location is amazing. Relaxed, modern, and comfy… 

…with some seriously talented baristas. They go through a LOT of training (a minimum of 40 hours!!) before they’re ready to start pulling shots. And believe me, getting a great shot of espresso is a complicated matter!

First a very precise amount of beans are ground immediately before the shot. Then it is “tamped” (pushed down and smoothed out) with a specific amount of pressure (30 pounds, to be exact). 

The grounds then go in the super snazzy machine…

And that amazing, creamy, golden shot of espresso is created.

 Milk is expertly steamed to get just the right micro-foam on top…

transcend-154.jpg

Which lets you create some amazing latte art!

And here you have it. All that work, all that careful roasting, testing, and preparation—for this one amazing cup of coffee.

As I hope you can see, there are a whole lot of people involved who are dedicated to making the best coffee possible. When you drink a Transcend cup, you suddenly realize just what coffee can be. It’s complex and nuanced, just like a glass of wine. 

What’s fascinating about Transcend is that they care about more than just producing a fantastic cup of coffee. They care very deeply about the people that grow their beans.

The fair trade issue is very big in the coffee world. There are a lot of workers who get paid very little, labour 7 days a week, and don’t even make enough to send their kids to school. Poul and his team are dedicated to “finding that farmer that fits our model of quality, and then celebrating the amount of work that they do and recognizing them for it”. They pay fair prices that allow the farmers to escape poverty, and take care of their families. 

There’s a whole lot more that goes into coffee, isn’t there? The team at Transcend put a ton of effort into every last detail, living up to their tagline—to raise coffee to a new level

I want to share what James at Transcend said about the work we created for them:

One of the keys to the Transcend Coffee marketing strategy is authenticity. Being real, open and honest, and making genuine connections with individuals. When we were just one café/roastery, it was easy for our customers to look through the giant plate glass window that separated the roastery and the café and see all the action – roasting, cupping, discussions, training, etc.

Now that we have three cafés and a separate roasting facility and cupping lab, we wanted to find a way to achieve that same openness and transparency. We wanted to bring the big plate glass window back. Working with Rob & Lauren on behind the scenes portraits and the fantastic moving portrait, did all that and more.

Rob & Lauren were fun, professional, relaxed, engaging, and well, just delightful human beings. And the results were way beyond our expectations. We’ll use the photos and moving portrait across all of our marketing channels: web, social media, in-store marketing and more to show the breadth and depth of our dedication to great coffee. Thanks Rob & Lauren!

To us, that’s the point of a portrait. To show the authentic, and to help create connection. Hopefully after seeing all this, you understand Transcend a bit more!

If you’d like to visit their cafes (which we highly recommend you do) check them out at:

  • Garneau Location: 8708 - 109 Street, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
  • Jasper Ave Location: 10349 Jasper Ave, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
  • Argyll Location: 9869 - 62 Ave, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

If you’re not in Edmonton, don’t worry! You can still get your hands on their amazing coffee! Just order some online, and prepare to be amazed. 

And make sure to check out Transcend on the web:

Finally, if you’re part of a super passionate business like Transcend, and are interested in having us create a behind-the-scenes portrait of what you do, drop us a line. Showing the people and the process behind your product will help create a sense of community, and help you develop closer relationships with your customers. Business is becoming more and more authentic, and that’s an exciting thing!

Lauren and Rob :)

P.S. There are more photos from our shoot with Transcend on our Facebook page! Go check them out now! 

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