Story by Shirley Culpin
Photos by Brian Argyle
It’s a long way from West Yorkshire in England to Qualicum Beach. And it’s a long, long way from being a professional viola player to becoming a purveyor of fine coffee.
In a nutshell though, that is Jeremy Perkins’ story and for him and his young family, there is no looking back. Jeremy and his Canadian wife Hannah purchased a local coffee shop in the autumn of 2017, bringing with them two sons and big dreams of introducing artisan-roasted coffee to their new community.
From chamber music to coffee
Raised in a musical family in England, Jeremy’s early life centred around vocal and instrumental music. At 15, he decided that a life as a professional musician was for him, and by 19 he was attending the Royal Academy of Music.
His passion for chamber music and the viola resulted in a Master’s degree in music and a successful professional globe-trotting career playing with string and philharmonic orchestras. Ultimately, however, his 10-months-a-year touring schedule had him considering a different path in life.
“I had bought a house in Hudderfield, where I grew up, but I was hardly ever there,” he recounts. “Coffee was becoming the next big ‘thing’ in England, so I decided to open a coffee shop.
It was called Coffeevolution. I finished my last professional contract playing the viola for Phantom of the Opera in London on November 11, 2000, and opened the coffee shop two days later.”
It was one of those serendipitous moments in life when all the stars were aligned. Jeremy’s acute business sense turned his new venture into a growing success that not only brought him recognition in the world of coffee – it also brought him a wife.
Propelled by Brexit “Hannah came into my first coffee shop one day and sat at the window. We got talking…” says Jeremy.
The couple dated for a couple of months, but Hannah had plans to return to Canada. They lost touch for eight years, until she tracked Jeremy down on Facebook, and the rest is history.
Those intervening eight years had seen Jeremy grow his business. He began doing his own bean roasting, forming a partnership with his brother. They created Bean Brothers, known for its artisan specialty coffees.
Meticulous attention to detail, quality and origin earned the brothers a high profile in the coffee world in the United Kingdom.
Although Hannah and Jeremy had always planned to return to Canada at some point – initially it was their retirement plan – the Brexit vote in Britain propelled them out of the country much sooner than they had expected.
Jeremy spent many weeks and miles scouring Vancouver Island looking for just the right location to operate a successful coffee shop, and French Press Cafe in Qualicum Beach fit the bill.
Now that the family is here and getting settled, Jeremy is casting his eye once again to what is happening in the coffee world. His treasured Turkish roaster is ensconced at Hannah’s mother’s home on Denman Island.
Jeremy is sourcing his beans through a green bean importer located on the Lower Mainland. He travels there on a regular basis to sample different varieties – called ‘cupping’ – before deciding what to purchase and roast for French Press.
“Trends are changing in coffee here in North America,” says Jeremy. “For years everyone has been doing dark roasts, but even the major coffee places are now trending to a lighter roast.”
It’s the roast, explains Jeremy, that actually influences the various flavours that we enjoy in a cup of coffee. He tends to do a lighter roast for that very reason.
“We are trying to give people the opportunity to taste the beans, rather than just the roast profile,” he says.
Coffee slurp sessions
Jeremy roasts in small batches – four kilograms at most, and says he often changes the roasting times if he isn’t happy with his end product.
“Hard-core specialty coffee can actually be very light,” he says. “Properly roasted, you might get floral, citrus, dark chocolate or nutty flavours coming through. There isn’t the bitterness at the back of your throat that you tend to get with dark roasted coffees.”
At the moment Jeremy is marketing just one line of beans through French Press, but he hopes to expand on that in time.
“We have named our first line of roasted beans ‘Home,” he says. “You need a real ‘work for everyone’ utility coffee, so this is our offering. These are not dark, oily beans – the flavours are more subtle.”
Jeremy and Hannah have made some minor changes at French Press, in decor and on the menu. But they are smart enough to know that you don’t fix what isn’t broken. Rather, they are expanding the cafe’s horizons slowly and subtly.
“We want to make changes in the right direction,” says Jeremy.
One of Jeremy’s most interesting ideas is to offer ‘cupping’ evenings free of charge to the public. These special events will offer local residents an opportunity to sample a variety of his roasted coffees and learn more about his offerings.
“Those who come will hear a little bit from me about the why and how of our roasting, and then everyone can go around and slurp,” he says.
“We might pair various coffees with food as well to bring out the flavours. It’s going to take a while to get to that point, but it is definitely in the plans.”
Jeremy has just judged his first barista competition in Canada, and hopes to continue on that path of his coffee journey.
“I earned all the qualifications to be a sensory judge at the competitions, but then we left England,” he points out. “But while I had a high profile in the world of coffee in Britain, I am nothing here in Canada. It’s back to square one that way.”
In the meantime, Jeremy plans to continue to pursue his PhD in performance music.
Although coffee and his new life in Canada dominate at present, music will always be a part of his life.
He is offering viola and violin lessons, and says that if a gig with one of the local symphonies were to come available, he would consider working with them once the coffee business is well-established.
“It would be a perfect balance,” he says. “A bit of music, a bit of coffee.”