Bruce Constantine doesn’t miss a beat when you ask about the perfect espresso.
“It has a beautiful crema on the top. It sticks to your upper lip,” said the president and co-founder of Espro, a Vancouver-based manufacturer of high-end espresso, coffee and tea instruments. “It’s got a balanced flavour that has good body that kind of soaks around your tongue, and not too much acidity.”
Constantine launched Espro out of a garage and a basement suite of a Vancouver special in 2004 with Chris McLean. Their origins were modest, Constantine said. “We quite literally built and shipped stuff from our garages for the first five years.”
Espro’s first product to market was a calibrated tamper. The duo then expanded the business, adding a steam pitcher and their current flagship product, the Espro Press, which is getting attention from all corners of the coffee world.
The company, which has eight employees, has most of its products for sale in small specialty coffee shops, but Constantine is aiming to transition into larger high-end kitchenware retailers. They’ve recently reached a retail deal with the Bay and are now on kitchen store shelves in several countries, including South Korea and Australia.
“We’re getting there,” he said.
Constantine’s original motivation was to make espresso-making tools that “worked,” and eliminated – as much as possible – differences in quality caused by varying skill levels among baristas, which he calls a “major problem” throughout the coffee world. “At our core, we challenge stuff that doesn’t work.”
They launched Espro without venture capital, and continue to use the crowd-funding website Kickstarter to innovate and market.
Prior to Espro, Constantine was on the fast track to corporate success at a major management consulting firm called McKinsey & Co. in Boston. But he didn’t belong in that world and he knew it. “I felt like I was spending every day at McKinsey becoming someone I wasn’t,” said the father of three, who enjoys skiing, playing the piano and “bugging” his kids.
“Stepping away from [my career] was very difficult because you’re stepping away from prestige and certainty towards passion and uncertainty.”