Syrian coffee roaster brings 40 years of experience to Charlottetown cafe

Roasting coffee is a job Ahmed Alfarkh has been doing for decades. He started learning the skills as a 10-year-old boy in 1978, when he would help his father roast coffee beans in Damascus, Syria.

Ahmed Alfarkh ran a coffee roasting business in Damascus before coming to Canada with his family in 2016

Ahmed Alfarkh is learning to use technology connected with the roasting process. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

Ahmed Alfarkh carefully watches over the coffee roaster at The Kettle Black cafe, smelling the beans occasionally, waiting for the perfect aroma.

Roasting coffee is a job Alfarkh has been doing for decades. He started learning the skills as a 10-year-old boy in 1978, when he would help his father roast coffee beans in Damascus, Syria.

Alfarkh and his family came to Canada as refugees in 2016. Two years later, he is now using his skills as a coffee roaster once again, at The Kettle Black cafe in Charlottetown.

"It's a good feeling," Alfarkh said through a translator, cafe owner Mazen Aldossary.

The Kettle Black owner Mazen Aldossary says when he heard about Alfarkh, he immediately wanted to meet him. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

Aldossary heard about Alfarkh and his coffee-roasting skills through a mutual friend. He says when he heard there was someone in Charlottetown with that much experience, he "couldn't believe it."

"I want(ed) to drag him in right away," Aldossary said. He brought Alfarkh into the cafe, and was immediately impressed with his technique.

"I gave him five regions of coffee, and he roasted each one different. And he was just super perfect for me."

Aldossary said he's excited about the consistency and experience Alfarkh will bring to the cafe.

Alfarkh said when he came to Canada, he didn't think he'd ever work as a coffee roaster again. He's spent the last two years working hard to learn English, and worked for a few months last fall at the Atlantic Beef Products plant.

Alfarkh says despite different equipment, the key skills for roasting coffee are the same. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

When the opportunity came along to work again roasting coffee, he jumped at it.

Alfarkh expects to learn a lot from the techniques and technology used at The Kettle Black. When Alfarkh first learned the trade, he learned to do everything by hand.

"Dad used to roast with the drum, manually, by the wooden fire," he said.

Alfarkh eventually opened his own shop in 1998. He roasted not only coffee beans, but also nuts and sweets.

At The Kettle Black, he is now learning to use equipment which uses technology to monitor temperature. Despite the differences, he says the key skills are the same.

Ahmed Alfarkh roasted coffee for nearly four decades in Syria before coming to Canada in 2016. He now works at The Kettle Black cafe in Charlottetown. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

And he expects the learning to go both ways. He's looking forward to sharing his knowledge with the other staff.

"Such as the different regions, the different beans, where it came from, how clean the beans are, the time frame for the roasting, how you blend … two regions or three regions together to get a good cup of coffee.

Alongside Alfarkh at The Kettle Black is his son, who started working recently as a barista. Aldossary said he's happy to have been able to hire them both. 

Ahmed Alfarkh says he is glad to return to his craft, roasting coffee, at The Kettle Black in Charlottetown. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

"Usually you don't see a lot of places that have families working together," he said.

And he noted that Alfarkh's son used to work in customer service as his dad's shop in Damascus.

Alfarkh says since starting his new job a few weeks ago, he has a "completed, satisfied feeling."

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