Words and photos by Rafe Arnott
Coffee, Wes Anderson and mix tapes. Three things coveted by individuals of a certain age bracket. Upon hearing from a friend that Victoria coffee roaster Be Still Cody (named after a line from The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou) included custom mix tapes with their beans, I immediately ordered some.
“Be Still Cody!” is what Alistair Hennessey (Jeff Goldblum) says to Steve Zissou’s (Bill Murray) three-legged pirate dog during a conversational exchange between the two men in the Wes Anderson faux, semi-biopic comedy. It’s a strange aside in a strange film. Nonetheless, as soon as I heard it, I knew where BSC owners Andrew & Jennifer Paquet had gotten the company’s name. The pair relocated from Toronto, Ontario to Victoria, British Columbia in 2012 to open their roastery. According to the couple, music – mixtapes in particular – have always been inspirational, and remain close to their hearts.
Photo above: Andrew Paquet at the Be Still Cody Roastery in Victoria, B.C. Image courtesy BSC.
Relating glimpses of their youth, the Paquets are effusive about the power of analogue recordings on their website, saying “Mixtapes are amazing. Like so many other people, our first mixtapes came from our good friend’s cool older siblings. We have memories of racing home, eagerly anticipating what we would find on the tapes… Music has the power to articulate feelings at times more accurately than words. Our mixtapes represent us, who we are, where we’ve come from, and what we dream of.”
The idea of combining their love for cassettes with coffee was borne from a realization the coffee-drinking experience was no longer relegated to cafés. Recognizing an opportunity to share something unique, the two had their peanut-butter-and-chocolate moment. “We wanted to try to simulate that experience of curated music and coffee at home… We love the idea of people from all corners of the world, enjoying the same coffee, and listening to the same mixtape simultaneously.” The global pandemic brought on by Covid-19 only hammered home the merit of the concept further for the couple, who wrote, “In an era where we spend an increasing amount of time in our own worlds, we hope to be a catalyst for a shared community at home, through coffee, music, and art.”
We love the idea of people from all corners of the world, enjoying the same coffee, and listening to the same mixtape simultaneously.”
–Andrew & Jennifer Paquet
Photo above: In the grinder – Colombia Finca El Mirador (Natural Acetic). The coffee originates on a farm near Pitalito, in Huila and is grown at an altitude of about 1,600-metres.
On a CR scale, I’m a 6.7 magnitude of how serious I take my coffee (CR scale: Coffee-Richter – a variance of one represents an approximate 30-fold difference). So, while I’d been gifted a Bialetti espresso maker (much battered, much loved), and mid-’60s Kitchen-Aid grinder (appallingly loud, but capable), I’ve not succumbed to desires for bi.du.haev pour-overs or Mahlkonig grinders… yet. Friends spiral ever-farther into the pricing stratosphere of coffee paraphernalia, but I keep prioritizing rare grooves. To each, their own.
I received my order of Colombia Finca El Mirador (Natural Acetic) along with a pink cassette of Stick Up Kids Transmission × 1. The coffee originates on a farm near Pitalito, in Huila and is grown at an altitude of about 1,600-metres. Listed as the second varietal from the Guzman family (who have been growing coffee for more than 70 years), which BSC has carried, their website informed me “30 hectares of the farm is dedicated to growing exotic coffee varieties like Catiope, Mokka, Tabi, Geisha, as well as Orange, Striped and Pink Bourbon. The remaining hectares of land are used to grow a Caturra variety for processing experiments.” Further adding, “During harvest, a process of meticulous selection of ripe cherries allows only the sweetest fruits to be processed. Elkin's innovative approaches to fermentation and immaculate attention to detail have made this farm a benchmark in the industry in terms of quality. Elkin's eagerness to learn, and passion for coffee is what makes this farm one of the most exciting in Colombia.”
Photo above: The old-school Kitchen-Aid grinder revealed the beans honeyed-caramel colouring.
As someone who has discussed the relative influence of mid-‘70s California psych-rock on current small-run, private pressings, as well what generation of master tape was used to cut their lacquers, I find I’m able to relate to this level of obsessive detail in provenance. Not claiming to have the most cultured coffee palate, I’ll cop to possessing a level of refinement, and therefore like to think I’m capable of somewhat educated discourse on describing a cuppa. YMMV. Opening up the small cardboard package the coffee and tape arrive in, you get a sense of thoughtful attention to packaging details in the graphic design and materials used, which engenders good vibes. Splitting the bag and inhaling deeply, complex aromatic textures of dark, fruity bean, earth, strawberry, with a fragrant undertone of honey hit the nose and promised a nice departure from the dark roasts I usually drink. Two notches back from a ‘Medium’ grind on the old-school Kitchen-Aid revealed the bean's honeyed-caramel colouring.
Photo above: Stick Up Kids Transmission got the vintage treatment with a Walkman Sport, and original foamy headphones,
A recommended filter brew ratio of 1:17 meant, for my preferences, roughly 1:10 in a French press, which is where I started. Three minutes later I slowly depressed the plunger and poured a cup. The smell maintained a strong resemblance to the straight bean, but the taste was far smoother and more velvet on the tongue than I had imagined it would be. Acidity was quite light, there wasn’t even a hint of roasting burn, and delicate berry notes remained, with the predominant hit being soft and sweet. Cranking up the brew ratio to 1:8 brought out more berry, but the flavour notes remained light. This wasn’t an overpowering, or forceful cuppa – this was a new level of refinement in mellow despite the thicker mouth-feel you get from the French press. I tried it with a touch of brown of sugar and a touch of creme, both adding a layer of complexity to the flavour structure.
Opening the plastic lid of the Sports Walkman, the cassette is snapped-in and the tape silently spools into the present. A rising electronic noise floor envelopes everything. The A-side, For the Chaos Wizard Youth, opens with disconcerting sustained synthesizer notes reminiscent of Eduard Artemyev and his early ‘70s ANS-synth work on science-fiction milestones like Solaris… that is until the percussion and overloaded guitar feedback starts. Sipping the Finca El Mirador, one is pulled under by distorted bass notes warping and bending until – what sounds like – ethereal, vocoder-sampled keyboard noodling, and triangles ease out the ride for the flip side: free association thoughts dominating the mental landscape between the rising caffeine buzz and the music. The crush of slowly expanding industrial noise on the B-side, Clara Mountain – A Heretic at the House of Extinction, is entropic and gets one zoning out, eyes closed, for several minutes. Floating in a sonic whiteout like Jody Foster looking for patterns in television static, you surface from a trance to the sounds of further synth explorations mimicking a heartbeat, which lead the listener back to a post-coffee reality.
The concept of drinking coffee and listening to music is nothing new, but in making analogue cassettes the software, Be Still Cody asks the consumer to partake in a contemporaneous experience requiring specific hardware as a prerequisite to engage. This approach takes it out of the realm of kitsch and places it into one of art. The historical and cultural context of the mixtape as a modern-day anachronism – who has a tape player anymore? – firmly associates the entire act as a curated experience. One whose motions I’ll be happily going through again.
Find out more about Be Still Cody HERE.