Ezra Pound was an early 20th century poet who mastered the art of poetic brevity with his two-line poem, “In the Station of the Metro” (The apparition of these faces in the crowd; Petals on a wet, black bough.). As it turns out, Ezra’s Pound is also the moniker of two Toronto-area cafes owned and built by Ezra Braves. And while Pound is known the world over for his modernist poetry, The Pound (as it’s known among Toronto’s caffeinated), is renowned for its painstaking commitment to the environment. The cafes are one of only a handful of Toronto-area coffee shops that offer triple-certified coffee and were the first in the city to offer biodegradable coffee lids.
Recently, OurFaves juiced up on the fragrant amber stuff (an organic, Smithsonian-certified African coffee pressed by Braves). The coffee shop proprietor was forthcoming on topics such as how he takes his coffee, what kind of coffee maker sits on his counter at home and the biggest misconception there is about cafe owners. Oh, and we also asked him about his theory about the java revolution in Toronto. Paris may have scenic sidewalk bistros along the Seine and Seattle may be the birthplace of the Starbucks mega machine, but Braves argues that Toronto has something even better … international flavour.
So how many cups of coffee do you drink in a day?
It depends. Every cup has a really good effect on me. Right now, I’m on my fourth cup and I’m pretty much there. I don’t think I’m going to drink much more coffee today. I try to average around two to three a day, but I try to enjoy them. I take a minute, I’ll have an espresso. I’ll make coffee for the staff, we make each other coffee. It’s really nice.
What are your most popular items at The Pound?
There’s no question it’s the coffee. I would say our lattes and Americano espresso and our drip. Other than that, we’re really known for our croissant that we bake every morning on site.
Where is your favourite city for coffee?
I make it a big point to go to every major coffee-drinking hub in North America. If I have trips, I make side trips to go and check out cafes or places that are doing really interesting things with coffee. I think in order for me to be better at my job, it’s really important to have a larger perspective of the industry. And I have to say, as I move through the city, there’s better coffee in Toronto. I think Toronto is going to unseat Seattle and San Francisco if it hasn’t already. I’m saying it and I mean it. I will challenge it.
That’s a big statement. Why do you say that?
Because Toronto is ready to embrace it. There are people with amazing ideas and creativity and entrepreneurship. San Francisco is a perfect example. I love going to San Francisco for coffee. Two of my favourite places are there, but being in the industry now, I don’t like to say, ‘Let’s see what they’re doing and try to do it in Toronto.’ Toronto is finding it’s own voice. We’re not re-inventing the wheel, but we just really embrace the cafe culture here. Because Toronto is so international, we’re really ready for it. Cafe culture is much larger than North America. So, Toronto, because of its dynamism, the dynamic creativity in the city, is just coming into its own and coffee is a big part of it. It’s almost overnight. There’s been cafes opening up everywhere because people are feeling very confident. I was recently in New York and San Francisco and I didn’t have to work hard to find a good cup of coffee. I don’t have to do that in Toronto either. It’s getting much better.
Where are your favourite places to go for coffee in the city?
For the record, I like going to all the places. It gets to the point where I’m not going to be wowed by someone’s espresso but I’ll be wowed by their ability to make space and product and design all come together. I try to avoid places whose coffee comes from outside of Ontario. I’ve tried coffee from all over the places. I’ve brought in coffees that are within popular culture and well known in the U.S. and I’ve found that roasters in Toronto are much better. So I’ll always make a choice to frequent somewhere that’s using a roaster I know or if it comes from Toronto because the freshness is there. You can’t package fresh-roasted coffee. It does lose quite a bit in the first two weeks of roasting.
Toronto is you favourite city for coffee, then? Where else?
Oh, Toronto, absolutely. I like sitting in cafes in Paris. I would go to Italy to enjoy a cup of coffee for sure. I had an amazing espresso in Umbria. It’s the culture there. You don’t have to say, ‘Wow, look at me, I can make good espresso.’ It’s just accepted within the culture that the quality of coffee making is going to be very good because it’s treated with respect. There’s thought behind it.
Who would be your dream coffee date?
I’d have to say my first choice would be Leonard Cohen, of course. But after that, I’d probably be glad when I can actually take my kids, when they’re old enough, to finally go and have their first espresso. That will be really nice.
Where would you take them?
I’d take them here, of course! And make them make it.
How do you keep things around here fresh?
My experience has been that because we have a great majority of regular customers, it’s really important that people feel when they go into a place that they’re having a really nice experience. I really think that when you come in and you’re dealing with really friendly people in a really nice atmosphere, that sustains. When you try to be the latest and greatest, you’re always chasing something that’s out of reach. Instead, we put a lot of focus into making sure our product and quality of product and espresso making is always getting better and better. I’m constantly challenging myself to figure out, or hear about some technique. I’m not just resting on the laurels of our success as a cafe. We’re always trying to be better. We’ve changed a lot since we opened. I’m a perfectionist in certain aspects and I really can’t stand mediocrity. I really put a lot of pressure on myself to make a better and better cup of coffee. It’s almost like I’m chasing the best espresso possible and it’s completely intangible and you can’t reach it, but I’m after it.
How would you describe your average customer, if there ever was one?
Our customers are amazing. Our business has a high percentage of regular customers – they almost become family in a way.
What is your typical day like?
Cafe ownership is 24/7. After getting my kids ready for their day, I’m off to both cafes to work. Between working and running around making sure the business is supplied, I’m working on schedules, consulting, wholesaling, and the majority of training for the Espresso Institute (a Toronto-based full-service barista training and cafe/restaurant consulting coffee education facility). There’s no separation between life and work. It’s great!
What’s the biggest challenge at Ezra’s Pound? What is most satisfying?
The most satisfying and most challenging are the same: I get to take all my creativity and imagination and manifest it into real stuff.
What was the most interesting coffee order you’ve ever gotten?
Not so much a coffee order, but we had the opportunity to roast Kopi Luwak (beans of coffee berries that have passed through the digestive tract of an Asian Palm Civet, according to Wikipedia) and try it out. A very unique coffee experience.
What kind of coffee maker do you have at home?
I have a bunch of espresso machines – electric and stove top, numerous manual drip devices, french presses and a Technivorm. Most of my collection is on display at the cafes.
In what instance do you use milk and/or sugar?
Never sugar. Milk in a latte or cappuccino only, maybe a macchiato. I’m a purist.
What’s the biggest misconception about indie/haute coffee joints that you’d like to address?
We don’t all have tattoos.
Interview and photographs by Maria Cootauco