Sask. man pivots business during COVID-19 to sell rare 'champagne' of coffee

A Saskatoon man is selling some of the most rare coffee on the planet.

COVID-19 sees Jeremy LeClair moves from marketing to coffee imports

Jeremy LeClair, founder and creative director of LeClair Media, has pivoted to focus on LeClair Organics. (Submitted by Jeremy LeClair)

This pandemic has seen many small businesses economically eviscerated.

Many have closed, some are struggling to stay afloat and others are seeking ways to pivot their business.

Jeremy LeClair falls into the latter category.

LeClair was born, raised and educated in Regina. Last year he was living in Vancouver running a marketing company called LeClair Media. He came back to the Prairies at the start of the pandemic to run his business from Saskatoon. As COVID-19 took hold, there wasn't much marketing to be done anywhere.

LeClair spent his time researching ways he could keep the bills paid. It turned out the answer was right in front of him, in a steaming hot cup of coffee.

LeClair started thinking about what wasn't being done in the coffee market. He hit upon the idea of rare coffees. After a lot of research, he created a new business LeClair Organics. He began importing two of the most rare types of coffee in the world.

"There are about 120 species of coffee, but the world mostly just drinks two of them. I'm exporting and selling two that extremely rare," he said.

Not your typical cup

LeClair said that about 75 per cent of people drink arabica coffee. It's used by Tim Hortons and Starbucks. The other 25 per cent drinks robusta. In his research he found racemosa and liberica coffee.

Racemosa is grown in a small coastal forest belt in South Africa. LeClair said it tastes like licorice and chocolate, and describes it as being woodsy and earthy. It also has very little caffeine.

It's not your typical cup of coffee. Neither is the cost. He is selling the racemosa coffee for $60 for 32 grams. 

LeClair said that's enough to make five servings. He compared it to buying a bottle of champagne — also five servings at around the same cost. 

He said that if there can be a market for this coffee, it would save a small area of rainforest from being destroyed.

"You create a demand and you help save a rare species, and the habitat it's grown in."

A cup of liberica espresso. (Submitted by Jeremy LeClair)

The other coffee LeClair is bringing in is liberica. He said it's grown in Mayalsia and was planted there around 1900, when a fungal disease known as coffee rust was ravaging crops.

The liberica variety is quite different, says LeClair. 

"It's large, teardrop shaped and about the size of an apricot. It's harder to pick because it's grown on a tree that's about 20 metres high."

The bean has a high sugar content, giving the coffee a different taste.  LeClair sells it for less than $30 for 200 grams. 

"That's cheaper than going to Starbucks," he said.

He's also selling something called coffee berry tea, sometimes known as coffee cherry tea. It's not quite as rare as the two coffee species, but has environmental benefits. According to LeClair It uses the red berry that is separated from the bean.

"The berry is usually a waste by-product of coffee that, until recently, was thought useless. It doesn't compost or break down very well." he said. 

This photo shows the three different coffee bean sizes, with the teardrop-shaped liberica on the left, an arabica bean in the middle, and racemosa on the right. (Submitted by Jeremy LeClair)

Coffee estates would be left with massive piles of these berries and the high sugar content meant it would build up toxic levels of mould, LeClair said.

"In business the biggest problems are usually the biggest opportunities." 

Now coffee estates are processing these coffee berries so they can be steeped like tea. LeClair said the coffee berry could be as valuable as the coffee bean. 

The entrepreneur said these rare coffee varieties are bringing in orders from across Canada. He is currently working with coffee shops in Saskatoon to see if they'd like to sell cups of racemosa and liberica coffee, or coffee berry tea. 

For now, curious coffee drinkers can order online.


Sharon Gerein is the producer for CBC Radio One's The Afternoon Edition in Saskatchewan.

With files from The Afternoon Edition