FOOD AND DRINK
Halifax's Java Blend, for an East Coast Roast With the Most
Meet Jim Dikaios, the man behind Java Blend, Halifax’s original coffee roasters
Coffee shops are a dime a dozen in Halifax these days, and there are some pretty decent nouveau authentic roasteries around town. Caffeine junkies in the city are thankful for this development, for sure, but those of us who were around before this evolution knew the one true source of coffee from way, way back – Java Blend on North Street.
The storefront is nothing particularly special, but once you get inside and see that huge gleaming Italian espresso machine and delicious aroma hits you, the impression starts to take hold. But walk through the door to the roastery, which you have to walk through to use the washroom, and BAM, the wall of rich heady roasting bean smell hits you and you’re in coffee Nirvana. This is the spot. The sacks of beans are stacked up against the walls, two roasters noisily tumble fragrant beans, and if you can get a contact high from the coffee smell then man, you are buzzing.
Java Blend’s Jim Dikaios is obsessed with coffee, and biking, but that’s another story. He makes it his quest to source the absolute best, tastiest, and freshest beans. He works with eight importers, each of whom specializes in a unique geographical area and can bring him the absolute best from each region.
Forging strong relationships with those importers makes the process incredibly intimate, and Dikaios further increases this intimacy by traveling directly to the source with importers to learn and understand the process and journey the beans take to get to him. Most recently he went to Ethiopia with his importer, Samuel Demisse, and had his mind blown a little.
“It was unbelievable,” he grins, in this massively goofy and happy way that he does every single time I’ve been in there and asked anything about coffee. “Samuel has some wonderful relationships with farmers and mill owners there, so we got to visit with them, and got to see the whole process including the Ethiopian commodity exchange and how the process of buying and selling coffee is so different than in Central America.”
While there, Dikaios loved learning the rituals around coffee in Ethiopia. “There’s a whole ceremony that happens three times a day, and it is the woman’s job to prepare the coffee for the ceremony,” he explains, “They roast the beans in front of you, over an open fire, they crush them, then they brew them in hot water and serve this really strong, strong cup of coffee in a small cup. The whole ceremony is performed in the morning, at lunch, and in the evening, with the coffee roasted like that every time.”
Because he blind taste-tests every single coffee before buying it, all of his suppliers know to only offer him the absolute best (it is a waste of time to offer anything else).
Java Blend Coffee Roasters was started in 1938, and Dikaios’ father bought the business in 1971, when Jim was eleven years old. Back then there wasn’t much finesse to the blends they were selling. Bags of coffee were just ordered, roasted, and sold, because back then few people cared about the origin of the beans or anything else, frankly. Careful selection of beans only happened once Jim took over, and became pretty much obsessed with coffee, much to the benefit of the population of Halifax.
Dikaios enthusiasm for his product goes down very well indeed with his likewise coffee obsessed customers, whom he says are becoming more interested in coffee and asking a lot more questions than they used to ask. “We love helping our customers through that learning process,” he says. For some customers, Dikaios will do tastings of the various beans, as a kind of informal class. Recently, he has started offering barista classes in the evenings, though for home coffee enthusiasts rather than professional baristas. (These classes fill fast, and are posted about on social media.)
“The classes are for people who want to know how to make a good cappuccino or espresso at home, and we play with some latte art and show them how to do that. Plus, they get to play with our big Italian espresso machine for a night,” he says, “Its just about educating people, and the more they learn about coffee the more they want to know.”
If you’re always seeking your perfect blend of beans, then popping into Java Blend for a bag when you’re in Halifax would be a grand idea. “When customers come in we’ll guide them towards the right coffee for them, asking whether they like something on the lighter or darker side, if they like a more smoky roast, something fruitful with a lot of berries, and then we’ll make recommendations,” says Dikaios, “One coffee doesn’t fit all, and we’ll find the one that suits each individual customer.”
6027 North St., 902-423-6944