I have noticed that in Canada, our choices for quality coffee and espresso equipment seems to be on the rise lately, which is a good thing overall for my fellow Canadians. For too long, we've been almost forced to go south of the border if we wanted a good selection at fair prices. This is changing.
Most recently, I got to know the good folks at Machines N' Beans a small dealer and training company based in Victoria, BC. They sell Illy products as well as one of the more sought after grinders - the Mazzer Mini. They list it for $680 which in itself is a very good price once you factor in duties, sales taxes, and shipping from a US source, but I should also point out that $680 is the MSRP price in Canada - buy a few things from them, and I'm sure you can get a nice package price.
They also stock Illy cups, which they sell for the very reasonable price of around $161 Cdn. They even have access to much older cups, so it doesn't hurt to email them if you are in the market for things like these collectibles.
Out east, there's three outfits that seem serious about bringing good prices to their customers. Brian Swan runs Macaw Coffee, and along being a green coffee bean vendor, he also sells a range of espresso and grinding equipment. Brian also sells Heathware products for home roasting, and is looking to expand his offering for these machines.
There is also Morala Trading in Ottawa, a company that deals in Rancilio equipment as well as other lines, and Union Coffee in Montreal (148 Jean-Talon West(514) 273-5555), that apparently offers really good deals for dial up and walk in customers.
The green bean market is also starting to take off in Canada in a big way, which is always very cool. I buy a lot of my beans locally in Vancouver from a place one of the CoffeeGeek authors works at, but new green bean vendors are appearing all the time. Macaw, mentioned above, imports a wide variety of super-high quality green beans including Jamaican Blue Mountain and Kona varieties; Terry Montague (another CoffeeGeek columnist) also sells green beans, although he does not have a website (email him for details on ordering via mail). Out west we have a few choices as well, but be careful - some offer bigger discounts than others do. I think pricing at about 65% of the roasted price is fair, and 50% of roasted is a true bargain. If you find a green bean reseller is pricing at 75% or closer to roasted prices, you're being had. It pays to shop around.
I should also point out that many US vendors recognize that we Canadians have money to spend, and some of them go out of their way to accommodate us. For example, Chuck over at Coffee Wholesalers has a very "Canada Friendly" ordering system that allows for different shipping and billing addresses (that's especially handy for me - I live in Canada but have US-purchased items shipped to my company's mailing address in the US).
What constitutes "Canada Friendly" for me? One thing is a vendor's offer to ship via USPS (US Postal Service) instead of the defacto UPS Ground. UPS Ground to Canada can end up costing us as much as $40 or more in brokerage fees, even if there is no duty on the product (like green beans), or the product's value is only $20 or $30. That makes shopping in the US prohibitive if a vendor refuses to ship using methods other than UPS Ground.
In fact, here's a shipping tip, courtesy of Cea Smith from the excellent SmithFarms (they grow Kona coffee). USPS has a very economical (under $10) Global Priority envelope that has a 3 lb maximum weight. For less than $10, you can get 3 lbs of green coffee mailed to you within a few business days. Sweet! If you're buying green coffee in the US, insist on this shipping method if you're purchasing less than 3 lbs. If a vendor doesn't offer this option, choose someone else.
Another thing that constitutes Canada Friendly for me is a vendor that has a toll free number that works in Canada as well as the US. We're paying enough to get their product (shipping can often constitute a much larger percentage of the total sale), so why should we have to call on our dime as well? With many long distance plans being flat rate for all of North America, there's no real excuse for not extending your toll free service into Canada - my company has a 1-800 number, and it is a flat 10 cents a minute (that's 6 cents for you Americans) anytime, anywhere in the US or Canada. It didn't cost us anything more to get the number active in the US.
And lastly, while I certainly don't advocate cheating the government (I'd never do that!!!), a little birdy mentioned to me that it couldn't hurt if you asked the US vendor to do a "border friendly" invoice, maybe for the wholesale cost (or ex-factory?) price of the product, to help when it comes time to pay stanky duties and taxes. The worst they could say is "no". Don't EVER share the price they print with anyone.
Misc Site Inventory
First, I would like to apologise to all the CoffeeGeek readers who have found the columnists articles lacking as of late. I hope that very soon, this will change, and you will be seeing new articles every few days by an author - when we started this website, I said to all the others I'd like to see up to 3 articles a month from them, but I was also very lax in stressing the need to write regularly. I am working hard to change this so that every columnists submits a new article at least once every two weeks (or 2 a month).
I too am at fault over this, and I will ramp up my own article frequency, starting with this one.
Another topic I want to cover just a bit is our Detailed Review process. You may not know this, but many months of planning and research went into how we do our Detailed Reviews. I'm even in the midst of 'training' someone else to do Detailed Reviews for this website so that we can meet our goal of doing a new one every two weeks.
I learned recently that I, in doing Detailed Reviews, have a Wall Street Journal - sponsored title - I am what is labeled an "Influencer". That is the WSJ's word for people who write comprehensive reviews of products in an independent manner. Influencers are prevalent online but also in print work, and major industries are becoming more and more aware of our role in promoting their products. In the PDA world, every company from Palm to Microsoft is realising the value of Influencers, and striking up formal agreements with many of them.
As such, some companies try to overly influence the 'influencers', by demanding total editorial control over the content some of us publish. I can say i'm very fortunate in my area that this has not really happened yet. Some of the more formal and established companies have balked at our complete objectivity policy, and the fact that we will not allow them to have editorial control over the words we put up on this website, but by and large every supplier we've dealt with so far understands one key thing - as long as we remain objective and have the trust of our readership, if a product reviews great, they stand to gain greatly from it. It is kind of like rolling the dice for them.
I have to say, I'm not comfortable with this aspect of perceived "power", but I also believe my uncomfortable feelings are a real boon for our readership. I see my role as an 'influencer" as a major responsibility, and I will never take it lightly. A lot of time and effort goes into our product reviews, along with a lot of planning and policy making, both for those of us who write them, and for our suppliers. I know many of you have placed a lot of trust in what we write, and I am extremely honoured and also very tempered, or "reigned in" by that trust. I think that comes across in what I write, what everyone who has a part in this website writes. At least I hope it does.
There is also some scary aspects to our Detailed Reviews. Recently I published a detailed look at the Innova grinder, and I felt the review was very fair, objective, and overall it promoted the product. I felt the grinder was a good purchase choice, especially for those who wanted the best possible control over their grind, at least out of what is available today. I pointed out some negatives with the grinder because they really were negatives to me in my day to day use. I felt I hit a good balance between the perceived positive and negatives in the product, and I also felt that the final review made the product out to be more good than bad.
Unfortunately, some people focused only on the bad aspects of that review. The supplier, Espresso Parts Northwest, has told me that some of our readers went so far as to send him flame mail about the negative aspects! Flame mail! And they didn't just email him, but also emailed a few vendors questioning their very "sanity" at even considering carrying the product.
What is even more scary about this episode is that EPNW believes the "flamer" person or persons have never even seen the Innova grinder in person, much less used one.
While I do understand and am humbled by the fact that many of our readers see our Detailed Reviews as one of the big influencers in their purchase decisions, I think it is very important to point out that in the end, they are basically the opinion of one or more people in a fairly unscientific testing arena. I acknowledge that I have a bit more espresso and coffee knowledge than typical Joe Consumer off the street, but no matter how much objectivity and testing I throw at a product, in the end, it is primarily an opinion I'm stating in these reviews, not pure, be-all, end-all fact. Remember the YMMV thing - your mileage may vary.
Use our Detailed Reviews to help you learn about a product, but don't use it as your ultimate purchase decision. Seek out other opinions (our consumer review section helps a lot in this regard), and always try to give a product a fair shake on your own - in the end, a product I may really dislike might actually be close to perfection for you.