With the larger Probat roasting machine, members can roast about 160 pounds of coffee per hour (Photograph by Guillaume Simoneau)
Coffee is a $6.2-billion industry in Canada, where the average adult drinks 2.8 cups a day. But it can be a challenging business to enter, as Andy Kyres can attest. Kyres, 35, is the owner of Montreal’s Tunnel Espresso and the co-founder of the Canadian Roasting Society, a facility designed to give members access to state-of-the-art roasting equipment and other services without the hefty overhead and startup costs.
The coffee industry tends to be secretive—roasters are reluctant to open their doors to anyone other than current employees. The idea of starting a communal facility came to Kyres when he tried to start roasting his own beans but couldn’t persuade any roasters to let him practise on their machines. So Kyres and his friend Scott Rao, who helped launch the Montreal coffee chain Café Myriade, decided to team up on a roastery of their own.
Andy Kyres is a co-founder of the Canadian Roasting Society; bagging beans by hand can take days and require extra staff, but a machine can complete 100 bags an hour; the smaller Probat roasting machine can roast as little as six pounds (Photographs by Guillaume Simoneau)
While there are a handful of co-roasting spaces south of the border, no such facility existed in Canada. Its arrival comes at an opportune time, as coffee consumers are increasingly looking for custom blends and unique small-batch options. At the same time, rents in most major cities have skyrocketed in recent years, posing a challenge for independent roasters and café owners. And while the coffee-shop business has a relatively low barrier to entry, this is not the case for would-be roasters.
Kyres and Rao wanted to build a space where people could learn and innovate. The friends knew they’d found the perfect spot when they stepped into a 5,000-square-foot warehouse in Montreal’s Pointe-Saint-Charles neighbourhood. The building, which had previously belonged to a flooring company, was close to downtown and insulated well enough to withstand the city’s fluctuating climate. It was also airy, open and bright. “Most roasteries look more like dark, dank caves,” Kyres says. “People work in private, closed rooms and there’s a lot of secrecy.”
The storage space can hold about 75,000 pounds of green coffee on shelves that stand 12 feet high; members often congregate at the cupping table to sample each others’ roasts and do quality control (Photograph by Guillaume Simoneau; cupping table courtesy of Canadian Roasting Society)
The founders deliberately kept the facility open concept, allowing natural light to filter throughout the space, and placed a long cupping table in the middle of the room. They hoped the communal table would encourage members to socialize and collaborate—and it has. “Monday through Friday, the atmosphere in here is lively,” Kyres says. “It can get hectic but it’s also pretty fun.”
Since opening in 2018, the co-roasting space has attracted 15 members, who either own cafés, sell freshly roasted beans or do both. The facility charges $90 an hour for the use of its smaller roasting machine and $140 for the larger one. After a little over a year in operation, the roastery was beginning to break even—as their members’ businesses grew, theirs did, too. The COVID-19 pandemic has slowed growth, but Kyres is optimistic that the upward trend will return once physical-distancing measures are lifted.
Kyres is excited to get back to collaborating—he’s often on hand to train roasters and answer questions directly. He hopes that as the space grows, more women will join. “The coffee industry is still super male-dominated,” Kyres says. “We miss out when we lack diversity.” The society recently had a teenage girl come in to train. Within a few sessions, she was roasting independently.
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