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Merchants of Green Coffee or the Green Beanery?

I'm considering starting roasting my own coffee and I would like to know your opinion on these two stores. I've been drinking the Merchant's coffee for a while (both at home and at the Brickworks market on Saturday morning) and I really like it - both taste and quality-wise. I had never heard of the Green Beanery until today, when I did a search on green coffee providers in Toronto. Any opinions on these two?

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  1. Can't speak to the difference on coffee quality, but the last time I checked, the home roaster sold by Merchants had a significant markup from other retailers in the city. (I think I compared the price with the coffee place on the Lakeshore whose name I now forget.)

    1. I have used both and I am a Greenbeanery convert. Prices were high at Merchants for green beans, and the selection limited by a number of coffees out of stock. The staff was not altogether knowledgeable, but friendly. Greenbeanery had a slightly larger selection of green beans,some out of stock, and very low prices, comparable to U.S. sources. But getting help there is hit and miss. I think you have to ask for expert opinion, as the clerks at the front are doing a lot of clerical work, and the place is a bit disorganised. Neither place has cup ratings .
      After two bean purchases I bought a Cafe Rosto roaster and have been really pleased with the results. Since the beans are only $3-$5/lb., it will pay for itself quickly. Merchants sells a roaster for $180 that is available for $100 elsewhere. The choice is clear enough.

      1 Reply
      1. re: jayt90

        Are the Greenbeanery's beans fair trade, shade grown, organic, etc.?

      2. Merchants of Green Coffee and Green Beanery both sell good quality beans. They both emphasize organic, fair trade, bird friendly products, but I don't believe either one sells these exclusively. (There's a third place in Toronto called Birds & Beans, but I have never done business with them to date.)

        Merchants and Green Beanery both have deficiencies that could frustrate you as an aspiring roaster. Both places have very pleasant staff, but neither staff knows very much about coffee or about anything else they sell.

        Merchants can be a pleasant (even fun) place to shop if you are in the area. Their website isn't terribly useful. Green Beanery has a much better website, but don't bother actually going there - they are totally disorganized and will direct you to their computer for information or to place an order.

        Merchants' staff has been a bit more knowledgeable, but has also given me misleading (or overtly wrong) information. Green Beanery staff (with one possible exception) knows virtually nothing and cannot help you choose either beans or roasting equipment.

        Merchants lists very few bean varieties for sale at any given time, and much of this scant selection will be "out of stock". Their bean prices are also extremely high. When I started roasting, they were the only game in town and the Canadian dollar was $.55 US, so price wasn't a major issue. It is today. There is no reason to pay this much for green coffee beans.

        Merchants tends to label beans generically by country of origin, which is meaningless. This is like suggesting that all Ontario wines taste the same. Calling a bag of coffee "Ethiopian" tells you very little - wet processed Ethiopian Yirgacheffe and dry processed Ethiopian Harar have almost nothing in common.

        Green Beanery sells a much wider variety of beans and provides more info (on their website) about bean types and origins. But be aware that they are simply describing the beans in "textbook" terms. They do not "cup" (i.e., taste test) samples, so what you get (this is a highly variable agricultural product, after all) may not resemble what the website describes. They are MUCH cheaper than Merchants.

        Merchants sells only one roaster, the Fresh Roast. This is a simple, almost foolproof (albeit somewhat dangerous) machine, and is probably the best choice for a novice roaster. But their price is more than double the price other vendors (including Green Beanery) ask for the identical unit. They will give you the roaster "free" if you commit to buying a few hundred dollars worth of beans, but it's still a poor value.

        Green Beanery sells a wide variety of roasters at competitive prices, but you'll need to do a fair bit or research before making a choice. Though they provide some info, and customer reviews, of each model (on the website), they know very little themselves. There are vast differences among coffee roasters, and you need to get a roaster appropriate for your taste in coffee. You also need to learn about the quirks of each machine. Some are very difficult to actually use. (My i-Roast 2 touts its "programmable roasting curves", but appropriate programs for a given bean are infuriatingly difficult to figure out and equally frustrating to set once you do.)

        All-in-all, I prefer Green Beanery. And I expect to give Birds & Beans an eventual try. Note that I am not calling Merchants a ripoff. I just don't think they are very good at running a business. Green Beanery isn't either, but they provide greater variety at much better prices.

        Before investing anything, there are two websites you must investigate.

        Sweet Maria's ( sweetmarias.com ) will teach you more than you ever thought there was to know about coffee. They are also the best source for buying green beans and for roasting equipment and advice. They ship to Canada and have an extraordinary passion about coffee. Even if you decide to support a local business and buy from Green Beanery, you should do your research here first. Sweet Maria's will explain how to tweak different brands of roasters, will tell you that a machine highly recommended by Green Beanery is no longer made (a potential repair part problem), and will advise that this season's crop from some highly reputed estate isn't worth drinking.

        coffeegeek.com (self explanatory) is another invaluable resource, though not necessarily a good site from which to buy stuff.

        16 Replies
        1. re: embee

          Thanks to you all for your replies! Embee, I ended up purchasing my roaster and green beans at Birds and Beans - thanks for the recommendation! They sell the roaster for $85 (this is lower than their online price, so it's worth going in to the store) and I bought 3 lbs of green beans (decaf espresso blend, an El Salvador estate coffee, and a Daterra espresso). The lady (I think she may be the owner) seemed knowledgeable and she answered all of our numerous questions patiently. This is a great find - too bad it's at the other end of the city...

          1. re: embee

            Embee: Your note is so expert, and generous. WOW!! I'm a curious dude, not young, lot's of different experience--new to roasting. Got choco from the Greenbeanery--fine--tried several others--not so good in my hands (iRoaster + Rancilio Sylva, etc...) today they seem to be out of choco...
            Main question: what are other great green beans in your view--I'm loking for deep chocolate like nose, falvour--no bittterness, deep body--usually do a doppia + a slice of 70% Lindt. Interestingly, manic does no green beans. Whole foods at Xmas time has Celebration--great last year--their own roast--but they charge smae price for green.
            In short, would be great in Toronto to have some competition for Greenbeanery, although, as you note, their kindness and prices are good.

            1. re: toybleax

              Manic is, so far, strictly an Intelligentsia shop. Intelly doesn't sell their beans green, so Manic likely won't either.

              -Josh

              1. re: toybleax

                Look at the Sweet Maria's website and study the cupping reviews. You'll learn much more than I could ever tell you. If something sounds interesting, you can check with local sources such as Green Beanery, Birds & Beans, and possibly Dark City (I'm not sure, but think they will sell green beans) or order from them if you can't get it here.

                One caveat about Sweet Maria's: Tom (the guy who tastes the coffees) tends to like lighter roasts. You may prefer your roast much darker than he suggests.

                1. re: embee

                  Embee and Detritus:

                  Thank you. That was my first post--choco full of spelling mistakes, and inadvertently ended too soon. So much appreciate your contributions to this insightful thread.

                  What we need perhaps in Toronto is a meeting place for sharing, learning etc especially for those of us new to home roasting, and eager to learn more. Indeed, I think anyone who buys their first espresso machine would benefit so much from a bit of instruction, even if it is nothing more than water qualitiy, machine hygiene, etc.

                  I had looked at Sweet Maria's before--and I'll go back.

                  All the best for the holidays.

                  1. re: toybleax

                    www.greenbeanery.ca has a forum on home roasting. I've used their products for almost one year so I may post something there.

              2. re: Breeshee

                I have a long post earlier in this thread (from 2007). Since you bumped the topic, I'll add a bit as well. In short, little has changed since I discovered MGC in their earliest days.

                Merchants is walking distance from my home. I'd love to give them my business, but I rarely do. MGC remains as it always was - great ambiance and well intentioned people. However, their beans remain expensive for what they are, even allowing for fair trade.

                The only roaster they sell, for a very high price, is again out of stock. While it has some virtues - it is fast and almost foolproof to use - it is somewhat dangerous, easily broken, and can't roast enough beans at one time. Since they don't have any in stock anyway....

                The website has improved, at least a little, but "members" still can't use it to order. It now provides information about bean varieties (e.g., Ethopia, Harrar) instead of just the country of origin (as in the past). This is vital information, since some countries grow many types of beans and process them in different ways. However, when you check their website, almost everything is always "temporarily out of stock". Of course, the website may not be up to date, but this isn't helpful either.

                Whether the "membership" is a good deal - or not - is an individual decision. I initially signed up for a "free roaster" deal. It was a much simpler program than today's membership: buy x pounds at the going price and they'd throw in the free roaster.

                I tried to uphold my end, but I couldn't. When I needed beans, they usually didn't have any that I wanted to buy. This meant no beans at all and an emergency run to the nearest Starbucks. To their credit, they declined an offer to pay for the roaster.

                So we agree on some things, but not on others. To me, virtuous business conduct is a good thing, but isn't helpful when there's nothing available that I want to buy.

                While MGC has, to me stayed much the same, Grean Beanery has gone downhill. I used to cut them lots of slack, especially since their place on Brunswick wasn't really a retail store. They more than compensated by offering a wide selection of beans and equipment at very good prices. Not useful for novices, but okay if you knew the basics.

                Now I wonder. This is purported to be a "nonprofit" organization, yet they now occupy a huge, custom renovated corner property opposite Honest Ed's. How can they possibly afford this?

                Although they stock far more beans and equipment than Merchants, and charge somewhat less, there is much less variety (especially in the equipment range) than before. Prices have risen substantially. Even in their new, prime retail, location, service and product knowledge remain as bad as ever.

                So much as I would like to walk to MGC for a few pounds of green beans, I'm still happier overall with Sweet Maria's.

                1. re: embee

                  I'm sure they can still be a "non-profit" if there is no profit after paying expenses and salaries. The last time I was at GB was sometime in January, I still have a lot of green beans here since I picked up 30 lbs last time. They seemed to have a great selection of beans and many machines to chose from. Whatever they didn't have in the store was usually available at the other location. My Behmor roaster is still running perfectly. I roasted 2 lbs of beans yesterday, one lb in each batch.

                  1. re: foodyDudey

                    Since my post in 2007, I'm on my 3rd roaster. I started with the FreshRoast, which was a perfect intro to roasting and lasted about 1 year. I went onto the Caffe Rosto, which was very smokey and tempermental; I gave it away after 16 months. I'm now using the Behmor, very happily. After 8 months or 35+ lbs, two thumbs up. All purchased through GB. My friends have told me about their new retail store but I always order online, buying about 50 lbs at a time. I would also recommend their Choco and No Guff Espresso ready to roast blends.

                    1. re: lightbulb

                      you must drink a lot more cofee than we do! We probably roasted 25 lbs since we bought the roaster back in November. The Behmor is a great roaster for the price, when you compare it to the toys that sell for between $150 and $200.

                      1. re: foodyDudey

                        Actually, I only drink a double espresso in the morning and maybe once a week, one in the afternoon. The rest of my beans go to my workplace, fueling my co-workers and clients.

                        1. re: lightbulb

                          Hey guys, I'm seriously considering buying the Behmor as well, since I'm finding that I have less free time nowadays to roast beans with my air popper. No fresh beans for me for 5 days, we're going through some serious caffeine withdrawal.

                          My kitchen is running out of counter space (and it's not the prettiest unit), so I might have to keep this thing in the basement. Just wondering what the smoke/fumes output of this unit is like? Also do they sell the drum with the finer mesh? I was reading one review saying that the smaller beans from yemen or ethiopian may fall through.

                          1. re: Royaljelly

                            I was roasting in the house all winter, directly infer the range hood. Since I roasted well into 2nd crak, there would be a slight purple haze in the kitchen after roasting, and you could smell it in the house for 2 days. Just put on some Jimi Hendrix.... I've been roasting outside now. That's the best thing to do for most of the year. I bought the fine mesh drum separately.

                            1. re: Royaljelly

                              It does an excellent job of smoke control compared to the other units I've used. I roast under the exhaust hood and the house remains quite habitable for the rest of the family.

                    2. re: embee

                      I am still finding lots of selection of green beans in the $4/lb range, in 20 or 30lb bags at Greenbeanery.
                      I suppose they expect the espresso bar to pay the rent in the new location. I wonder how that is working out; it seemed quiet when I was there.
                      They also have large volume customers, and economies of scale that Merchants does not have.
                      I too have started to get beans by mail order from the U.S. www.greencoffeebuyingclub but the price is higher than GB and the cupping ratings not helpful (geared toward professional tasters).
                      I guess I'll have to try Sweetmaria's, as a third source.

                      1. re: jayt90

                        I roast mainly "Indian Storm" espresso blend for our espresso and cappuccinos, and sometimes add one of the 8 or so other varieties I have to it. We don't find the need to order anything from the USA. I'm just happy to have some great tasting FRESH coffee.

                        What time have you been in the GB? When I went on a Saturday around 8:00 pm, it was very busy. I found the people who worked in the retail store quite willing to help me. I'll be back when I need more beans.

                  2. I've been roasting my own for the last couple of years and have bought beans from all 3 noted vendors. Overall, I find Greenbeanry to offer the best experience although Birds and Beans has the distinct advantage of personal service. There's a lot of coffee knowledge to be acquired over at Coffeegeek.com along with an Eastern Canada / Toronto forum. There's a coffee aficionado / Moderator, CraigA, who was also selling green beans directly in Toronto (I don't know if he's still selling).

                    1. Its a little bit of time after these original posts. I've just started to get into home roasting. My choice was Merchants of Green Coffee - the main reason is that they are 2 blocks away from me and, i didnt do any comparison shopping. I impulse-bought, effectively. :) but upon doing a cost analysis, i think it makes a lot of sense. here's why. the cost of membership is $372 taxes included. this includes: a fresh roast 8 plus roaster, 30lb of green beans with no time limit to get them (you can get any amount of your 30lb at any time), free access to their "coffee school" for 2 people, and discounts on their gear. lets say a fair price for the fresh roast 8 is $130 including any taxes, shipping etc. this is a pretty average canadian price. coffee school is $20/class/person. i havent been to class yet (planning to go to them) but im just going to say this is worth $150 in total for me (and my girlfriend) - that seems like a fair price for 5 classes for 2. forget the discounts because that pretty much prices their stuff at the same price as you can get it online. so the cost of 30lb of beans is 372 - 130 - 150 = $92! that works out to $3/lb. take out the classes $150 and its $8/lb or $7.15 before taxes. still not too bad and about average compared to the green beanery.

                      i called birds and beans and they no longer sell roasters.

                      even though i have the fresh roast from the merchants, i am thinking a gene caffe roaster is in my future. the fresh roast is great for making a quick small batch for a pot (< 6mins) and the gene caffe would be great for a larger batch with more control. so they would work in concert with each other. i will probably order the gene caffe from marias depending on the shipping cost because it comes with the larger chaff catcher where-as at the green beanery its $75 extra.

                      back to coffee: after you become a member of merchants, you can buy beans for $9/lb for <19 lbs at a time. thats still not a bad price as taxes are included - comparable to the green beanery. so its actually a good way to get into roasting even though they may not have the widest selection.

                      and for me, being 2 blocks away, is also a perk! so i wouldnt discount the merchants because when you look at whats included, the price of the 30lbs is pretty attractive!

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: plexus

                        You are putting coffee classes and a pre-paid club into play. Never crossed my mind, but I wouldn't want classes as a negative option.
                        $9/lb for<19lb green is about what I would expect at high end places like Birds and Beans or SLM.
                        The price for most beans at Greenbeanery is a lot less, $4-$7/lb and comparable to ordering from Sweetmaria's or Green Coffee Buying Club http://www.greencoffeebuyingclub.com/... .
                        The advantage of these two U.S. sources is cupping information, and delivery by post.
                        There is no duty or tax on a 15 lb package sent by U.S.P.S., nor , for that matter, on any green beans sold in Ontario.

                        Your deal with Merchants may be good for you, as you are close by; but a lot depends on the classes, and whether they provide information not available on the net or in library books.

                        1. re: jayt90

                          I've been roasting at home w/ the air popper ever since Jayt90's post inspired me. I don't live close to any green coffee bean stores, so I ended up ordering all my beans from Greenbeanery. Very fast shipping, reasonable prices and good detailed info on their website about most beans. I've probably ordered about 20 different kinds of their beans, and still have a LOT more to try, since their selection is just that huge.

                          1. re: Royaljelly

                            Any standouts from your 20?
                            I have enjoyed Yirgacheffe, almost to the point of not trying other Ethiopians.

                            I have found that each new batch, regardless of origin, may require tweaking: different roasts, different types of brewing, until it is dead-on reliable. This only takes a day or two.

                            1. re: jayt90

                              I liked the Yirgacheffe too, but found it a bit "light" for me (maybe I wasn't roasting enough or didn't use enough beans?). My personal fav thus far is the Malawi, probably the most aromatic and full bodied for me, without being overpowering. I tend to roast to a light to city roast, and I drink usually w/ milk and sugar, not espresso just reg. coffee (I know, I should be drinking black for the true flavour).

                              1. re: Royaljelly

                                Roast the Yirgacheffe to medium and then blend it 50/50 with a french roast columbian or peruvian. Same goes for the Harar.

                                Another really nice rich coffee is the Tanzanian Peaberry. Roast it medium to dark

                                Jason

                      2. I buy my roasters and beans from Sweet Maria's. Caveat: I'm in the US so costs may be dramatically different in Canada.

                        Sweet Maria's has a great deal on the Fresh Roast: buy it for US $80 and it comes with 8 pounds of green beans. The green beans are generally US $5 / lb if you buy at least 5 lbs at a time. I buy 20 lbs at a time because that gives you the best shipping cost in the US. The green beans keep for months. (I also broke the top on Fresh Roast #1 so I bought a backup unit.) Coffee is mission-critical in the Rabbit household.

                        The secret of the Fresh Roast is that it says to use 2 scoops of beans. However, if you want dark roast, you have to use 3 scoops. The beans hold heat, so more beans in the roaster means the roast temperature is higher. 9-10 minutes in the Fresh Roast gives a good French roast for the espresso machine.

                        I roast outside because of the smoke, and the results and roast time required varies with the outside air temp. There is a lot of art to it and you have to pay attention and practice to get it right.

                        1. While Greenbeanery is my local choice, they don't cup or preselect like many U.S. sources, I have also been buying preselected and cupped beans from http://www.greencoffeebuyingclub.com/...

                          The prices are $3-$5/lb U.S., and the most practical shipping is USPS 15 lb flat rate ($23). There is never any border or delivery problem.