Situated amongst the steady stream of life on Yonge Street in downtown Toronto, Infuse Café is an unassuming hang out, but what people may not know is that inside, they’re brewing a tea revolution.
“If I can convince someone on a day to day basis who doesn’t like tea to come in and try one of our teas, then I’ve done my job,” says owner Glen De Mel.
It’s not hard for them to convert tea skeptics with their cutting edge technology paired with fair trade and organic ingredients.
Step into the quaint café and you’ll be greeted by their kind baristas and an extensive menu of teas that suit any type of day you’re having.
However, the 28-year-old owner and entrepreneur himself was once a non-believer until he was enlightened at a trade show.
“Someone walked up to me and they asked me, ‘Hey Glen, can you tell the difference between tea and juice?’ and I said, ‘Of course, it’s tea and juice,’” explains De Mel.
The person gave him three samples and he guessed that two of them were juice and one of them was tea. But there was a plot twist—all of the samples were tea. “I was like ‘Whoa! How’d you do this?’” said De Mel.
It turns out the person he was talking to was the CEO of Bkon Brewers, a company that developed RAIN technology, which takes the form of a futuristic looking machine with glass pods. Inside the glass pods are powerful vacuums that extract as much flavour as possible from the loose-leaf tea.
The CEO connected with De Mel a year and a half later with funding and a proposition of bringing the machines to Toronto. One thing led to another and Infuse Café was born.
“We feel that people want to get a better high quality drink and we wanted to bring back the originality of tea by combining the latest technology and creating an experience around it,” he says.
Part of that experience is the array of organic and fair trade loose-leaf tea options the café offers. The café has two suppliers that source tea for them globally. Ninety per cent of their menu is organic and some of those teas have fair trade symbols on them.
De Mel says their prices are a little higher than usual because of their goal to have quality, non-artificial ingredients that are ethically sourced.
“We live in a world today where almost everything we consume has some sort of artificial component towards it,” he says. “It’s pretty bad, but it’s just the way the world kind of works because it’s that much more cost effective to produce artificially manufactured ingredients.”
A majority of their teas come from Asia and they try to be as ethically sourced as the market allows them to be. But the challenge is that they can’t buy every single tea fair trade because not all of it is available that way. De Mel says that’s because fair trade is still a new model that a lot of companies are trying to grasp.
“We basically want to be involved with companies and vendors that give back to the environment in some way, or give back to at least their suppliers and their staff in some way,” De Mel explains.
While the café waits for companies to catch up with the fair trade movement, they’re also contributing to the environment by having cups, straws and lids that are 100 per cent biodegradable plastic. De Mel says that as their company grows, they want to continue to align with suppliers that are environmentally friendly, fair trade and organic as much as possible.
“Corporate social responsibility is definitely a huge part of Infuse,” De Mel says. He adds that along with this, community involvement is especially important as well.
This shows if you look closely at what’s inside the café. Besides the tins of loose-leaf teas, on the walls are art from local artists that the café helps sell and 100 per cent of the proceeds go back to the artist.
On their front counter an array of Japanese cheesecakes made by a local baker, Cecilia’s Cheesecakes, are displayed.
Most of the baristas that take your orders and make your tea are students. De Mel says more than half of the infuse staff are students from Ryerson University and University of Toronto.
All of these factors combine to make a great experience for everyone in the community, which is why De Mel says there’s a high percentage of people that return to the store.
So, how can you join the tea revolution?
“Buy a drink, check on social media, inquire about programs we have about local artists,” De Mel says. “If you’re a fan of tea, we’re 100 per cent worth checking out. If you don’t like tea, we’re 100 per cent worth checking out because we might actually change your mind and make you a tea lover.”