Freshly Brewed: The Coffee Podcast for Home Brewers

Sustainable Coffee, Emerging Origins, and Going Down The Rabbit Hole with David Lalonde

August 24, 2021 Brian Renshaw Episode 16
Freshly Brewed: The Coffee Podcast for Home Brewers
Sustainable Coffee, Emerging Origins, and Going Down The Rabbit Hole with David Lalonde
Chapters
Freshly Brewed: The Coffee Podcast for Home Brewers
Sustainable Coffee, Emerging Origins, and Going Down The Rabbit Hole with David Lalonde
Aug 24, 2021 Episode 16
Brian Renshaw

This week I sit down with David Lalonde from Rabbit Hole Roasters.

David is passionate not only about coffee and the roasting process itself but also taking the next step in the specialty coffee journey of advocating for coffee farmers and all those on the long line of the coffee production process. David and his business partner, Sophie, started Rabbit Hole Roasters in 2019 by renting time on a roaster and now since August 2020 they have opened up their own roasters in Delson, Quebec.

If you’re enjoying the podcast I’d encourage you to share this on social media or a friend. Also, leaving a review on Apple Podcast is really helpful for assisting others in find the podcast that are looking for something like this in the coffee space.

You can find the full transcript of the conversation here.

Rabbit Hole Roasters on Instagram
Rabbit Hole Roasters Website
Brian Renshaw on Instagram
Brian Renshaw on YouTube

Leave a review: www.ratethispodcast.com/freshlybrewed

Links

Show Notes Transcript

This week I sit down with David Lalonde from Rabbit Hole Roasters.

David is passionate not only about coffee and the roasting process itself but also taking the next step in the specialty coffee journey of advocating for coffee farmers and all those on the long line of the coffee production process. David and his business partner, Sophie, started Rabbit Hole Roasters in 2019 by renting time on a roaster and now since August 2020 they have opened up their own roasters in Delson, Quebec.

If you’re enjoying the podcast I’d encourage you to share this on social media or a friend. Also, leaving a review on Apple Podcast is really helpful for assisting others in find the podcast that are looking for something like this in the coffee space.

You can find the full transcript of the conversation here.

Rabbit Hole Roasters on Instagram
Rabbit Hole Roasters Website
Brian Renshaw on Instagram
Brian Renshaw on YouTube

Leave a review: www.ratethispodcast.com/freshlybrewed

Links

Brian Renshaw:

All right. Welcome, David, how you doing today?

David Lalonde:

I'm doing fantastic. Brian, thank you so much for having me on the on your podcast. I appreciate that.

Brian Renshaw:

Yeah, no problem. I'm glad we are able to make this work.

David Lalonde:

Absolutely been a been a fan of what you've been doing for the past little bit and the anti-Goat Story post that you did kind of really got me super, super happy connecting with you. So I never really, I never asked people to invite me on their podcast, I'm that type of person. So I was really glad that you asked them. I'm super happy to be here.

Brian Renshaw:

Yeah, that was a interesting way to I've been following you for a little while. But to actually connect and start talking.

David Lalonde:

Yeah, it's never like, it's never the same if you just follow but you don't talk like on social media, like, this is like, an actual connection, like social media is, is okay, up to a certain point. But I'm glad that social media takes it to the next level, which is like talking and meeting, you know what I mean?

Brian Renshaw:

Yep, for sure. And that's one of the reasons I started the podcast was to take those conversation conversations even further, and, you know, kind of go behind the scenes. And, you know, so we get to know each other and other people can join in and listen in.

David Lalonde:

Absolutely. That's, that's amazing.

Brian Renshaw:

So you're drinking any coffee right now?

David Lalonde:

I do. Actually.

Brian Renshaw:

What are you drinking?

David Lalonde:

So I am drinking a capsule instant specialty capsule right now. From the from the we just received a couple of morning machines.

Brian Renshaw:

I've seen those going around.

David Lalonde:

Yeah, for sure. And I was just really curious about, I'm always curious about seeing how we can dive into different pockets of coffee, and especially the type of like, branch or little pockets that are not really associated with specialty in itself, because this is where the non specialty drinkers are at. And I just wanted to bring them in, you know, so testing with capsules was really exciting. And I've got to admit, I was hoping it was going to taste good. And I had some expectations with like, so far from what i've had from, like, different, different companies. So we had a couple of instant coffee from Hatch in Canada from from 49th Paralell in Canada, their own their personal capsules that are coming with the machine and also like April Coffee and stuff like that. And it's at least four times better than what I could have imagined so far, like black and with coke and cappuccinos is good. But disclaimer, though, like we have access to a to like a proper espresso machine to, to steam the milk. So that makes a big difference for texture for milk drink, as opposed to just like cold milk or like microwave milk, you know? So Right, right, but just purely the black coffee is amazing. So I made myself little cappuccino, with with the morning, the morning capsules, and it's really, really been a blast to just have that. And to be honest, it's good to just press a button and something happens. And then you just don't have to do anything else.

Brian Renshaw:

I've been seeing those going around. I've been a little bit skeptical. But, you know, the good is, like you said, opening up the door for specialty coffee and to, you know, branch out a little bit.

David Lalonde:

Yeah, absolutely. And that's the thing sometimes about those new things is that because I'm really, really enjoying it. People think that like I prefer this to some like to a v60 or things like that. No, I still drink 95% black filter coffee, this what I drink all the time. But in terms of experimenting and seeing what's up and also just trying to turn my filter coffee drinker mine when I experience other things, and I'm trying to put myself in other people's shoes to see like, hey, compared to what they drink, cannot compare it to what I drink. Is this something that they would enjoy more, and so far with the capsules or having drinking like everybody else in life at least once from a Nespresso machine? I think that the pod drinkers would enjoy what I'm having right now more than what's coming out of the espresso machine. So that's, that's the comparison that I'm that I'm starting at.

Brian Renshaw:

Yeah, that's a that's a good point. And with social media, sometimes it's hard to, you know, tell the whole story consistently, because you have, you know, posts where you talk about one thing and then something else, and people lose context to what they're talking about. So, if you're, if you're talking, you know positively about this, you know, right now we're having a conversation, people are able to hear the context and both sides, but social media can too often mute that.

David Lalonde:

Oh, I agree. Context is important. And also, there's a lot of people who are receiving gear for free and they don't always say They received it for free. So not you'd think that they bought it and that they really enjoy it and whatever, sometime it's just like paid content that's not advertised, you know. So there's all of this that is also going on, which makes it I think, really hard for maybe not for coffee professional but for like home baristas or just coffee enthusiasts that are not like, deep into the coffee industry. Sometimes it can be confusing as like, is this really, really good? Or is this just some some marketing scheme and whatnot?

Brian Renshaw:

Yeah, for sure. I mean, I, I definitely fit into that category. You know, I've received several things for free. And I'm always upfront, you know, about if I received something, you know, hey, I'm going to tell honest thoughts. And I tried to be, you know, tell the full story. But, you know, it can be difficult, but it is a, I think you have to make it a priority to consistently do it. Absolutely. To be upfront about it.

David Lalonde:

Yeah, I think this is right. I do, because I have nothing about people receiving free stuff. I just, I just want people to know that it was for free, because it can sometimes just change the perception of how you're going to you're going to receive that review or anything. So that's just, it's just a matter of anything in coffee is just about transparency to me.

Brian Renshaw:

For sure. Well, it's a it's interesting, you're drinking the drink morning capsules. I am drinking one of the flash brewed, Cometeer coffees.

David Lalonde:

That's amazing. I really want to try those.

Brian Renshaw:

It's pretty impressive. So I'm drinking the Ethiopia Yirgacheffe from Counter Culture. Okay. And I mean, it like you said with the drink morning, it's not, you know, it's not a pour over, which I still prefer. But it is better than any, you know, instant specialty coffee, or anything like that.

David Lalonde:

Oh, that's amazing, though. I was about to ask you how it compares to specialty instant coffee?

Brian Renshaw:

Yeah, I would take this hands down. I've had several different instant specialty coffees. Even ones that I would say we're like, oh, that's impressive. For instance, specialty coffee. This still beats it.

David Lalonde:

Oh, wow. That's, that's amazing. I've actually reached out to Cometeer. But they're not doing anything with the roaster that are not based in the US at the moment. So maybe one day we can have some Rabbit Hole Cometeer coffee.

Brian Renshaw:

Yeah, that'd be awesome. Yeah. So disclaimer, I did purchase this with my own money, because I wanted to try it out. So. But also, disclaimer, they did reach out after I posted some about it and see if I want to do something. So we may, we may do something in the future. But that's at the very least I started by purchasing it myself after I saw Sprometheus talk about it on his YouTube.

David Lalonde:

Now. That's great.

Brian Renshaw:

All right. Well, that was a fun, little detour of a kind of conversation. So let's go ahead and get into some of the questions.

David Lalonde:

Yes.

Brian Renshaw:

All right. So the first question I always ask is, who is so in this case? Who is David?

David Lalonde:

So I'm David Lalonde, from Montreal, Quebec, and I am the co founder and roaster, green buyer, floor sweeper, and everything in between, for rabbit hole roasters. And I am a father of two small kids five and almost two years old. And yeah, coffee is what I like to do even in my spare time sometimes. So coffee is a very, very big part of my life. And I've been in coffee for about sixish, seven years. And I still love it even more than when I just started. I think it's a beautiful industry. So I hope that that summarizes that a bit like at least coffee, David, like who he is.

Brian Renshaw:

Yeah, no, that's great. What? So just branching out a little bit with from coffee, what are some hobbies or anything outside of coffee that you enjoy?

David Lalonde:

I really like to, I don't have that much time to do it anymore. With the business in the kid, but like, just reading, like reading in general. Just like novels, literature's I really enjoyed that. Also, I'm a big fan of everything that has to do with with words, wordplay, and, and poetry. Also, I'm a big fan of freestyle raps, battle rap, the hip hop culture in general. I just think it's a it matches kind of like my energy in life. And I also think that like those, those people are amongst the most clever people the way they play with the words and I just think it's beautiful. It's like lyrical art. So this is one of the things that I spent a lot of time doing in the evening. And I did that that would that would be pretty much what I like to do in the evening chilling and not thinking about coffee too much, which is hard. But I tried to just like, zoom out sometimes.

Brian Renshaw:

Yeah, for sure. So do you do any freestyle or anything like that?

David Lalonde:

Absolutely not. I'm gonna leave this to the professionals. Yeah, I'm just a consumer. I do love to write sometimes. But this is one funny thing that like happened is like, I didn't speak English until I was maybe like 17 years old. Because back in my days, English was not like a priority in school. I know, I look young on Instagram, but I'm actually 36 years old. And so like, I used to write a lot in French, but now I speak English almost more than I do speak French. So like, my written component of French and English are kind of just like, good, but not like great. So but I used to write a lot when I was younger, into something that like in the future I'd like to get back into into writing. I think words are very, very powerful. And I think it conveys like beauty and important subjects. So maybe in the future, I'll do some some more writing.

Brian Renshaw:

So how did you kind of first get into specialty coffee.

David Lalonde:

So everything started a bit later than in western United States and Western Canada for specialty coffee in Montreal. So I didn't really have contact with specialty coffee until I would say the first time would maybe be like 2008 when one of the first specialty coffee shop opened in Montreal. It was called it's still open. It's caffeine Mian. So it's pretty pretty famous in Montreal. And but I went there, the day it open. And then the very next day, I was leaving for what was supposed to be a six month trip to Southeast Asia. And the trip ended up lasting close to three years. And I met my future wife during that trip. So it took like, literally a lot of detours. But when I got back, when I got back to Montreal, then the scene was like really booming. like three years later, it was a lot more cafes, roasting was like getting better by the minute. And honestly, like it's one of the most boring stories because I feel like every copy professional and enthusiasm, same story. I went into a shop with a coffee friend of mine. He gave me a coffee, it tasted like blueberries. And I was like what the hell is happening to me right now, because I've never experienced like this. So I wish I had a better story. Right? This is really got me started then I was always like before the before the trip during the trip. And after the trip I've been I was working in the restaurant industry for close to 10 years. And I was always always keen to like tasting recipes and tasting wine and cocktails and whatnot. So tasting was always part of what I've been doing just not coffee. So I was having like, I had a very cushy job in a very nice restaurant group in Montreal. And I didn't, I didn't go to like University. I don't really like school in general. So I was like, I was really well off for someone who's never been to school to be honest. And I was like, you know what this was this was so crazy. But I think I'm a just like, dump everything that I did for the past 10 years and just go work minimum wage in a cafe. And that's what I did four months after tasting that the blueberry like coffee. And then here we are, like seven years later with like owning a roastery. So it's a pretty, pretty wild ride. But I've enjoyed every second of it.

Brian Renshaw:

Yeah, that's incredible. And yeah, some ups and downs there and you are not the first one on the podcast to have the blueberry story.

David Lalonde:

No, no. I'm telling you like I'm yet to discover someone that never experienced blueberry, like coffee early on in their journey, you know? It's but it's it shows the power of those of those origin. It's like so wildly different that you just have to pay attention, right? Whether you like it or not in your cups, and at the point you notice that it's not coffee as usual.

Brian Renshaw:

Yeah, yeah, for sure. So you worked in the cafe and then you started Rabbit Hole. So what was kind of the inspiration? Maybe just tell us a little bit of the origin story for your roastery

David Lalonde:

Yeah, absolutely. So I started as a barista. And then I wanted to switch and Roque and work sorry more for a roasting company because I was interested in where the coffee came from and origin pretty early and I've never been super interested in like latte are that much and in the cafe and the barista aspect of it, I think I think I was fed up with being a barista really quick, because I was a waiter for like eight years. And then I was just like managing restaurants for two years. So interacting with the public on the daily, I think I think I had my quota for lifetime. So then I worked with the for a local roaster. And then I get I got more into like cupping and getting a bit more about origin story, then I left that business and I did, I did some testing for like another year while I was setting up a project. So after that, they started the business that was called the Montreal Coffee Academy. It's not unfortunately closed down, but I sold it maybe three years ago, due to COVID. So it was not an essential business. So unfortunately, that business went that went down due to COVID. But I started this to just like really connect with a home barista. So it was a business just to to have a space for homebrew resellers to come and test on machines and like learn learn more, we're giving classes there. And then I worked for another roaster from Toronto. And I did pretty much the same thing. I was the head trainer, there was training some barista stuff, but from the local roaster, and then the Toronto based roaster. I really didn't, it's not that I didn't like it's just like I felt I could never get even working. For those companies, I could not really get all the information, and that I wanted about how we buy green coffee. And I didn't like that I wanted to know more. And even as an employee there, I could not get the answers that I was looking for either because those people didn't know it. Maybe they didn't want to communicate that with me. So I was like, well, there's only one thing left to do, right? If I want all the answers I have to do with myself. So this is where kind of like rabbit hole started to, to take form in my head. And then I I called Sophie, my business partner in rabbit hole. And it's so funny because Sophie came to the Montreal coffee Academy to take a weekend class. And then I really liked your energy and I actually hired her to help at the academy after the the training. And then we connected again to join forces for for rabbit hole. And here we are. So that was it. So it was all about creating a company that would really focus on farmers first. And also that would just focus on different origins because that's also one thing that I noticed working for roasters is that coffee menu was were pretty similar. Maybe roast profiles were different. But origins were really, really similar, especially like four or five years ago. So it was like, we have some Colombians, we have some Brazil, we have some Ethiopia, and then maybe one or two extra. But it was it was pretty sad. And now and I wondered why because I knew all the producing countries in the world, you know, and I was like, This seems really limiting. And why do we do this? Now I get why it's easier to buy from from from main origins, like Colombia and Brazil. But I also think that there's so much more to explore. And that's what rabbit hole is all about. So going just for the name of the company going down the rabbit hole. It's like it's another world and it feels real, but is it real, but you never quite know. So it was just about like creating this, this business that would be kind of like its own little world in terms of like how we buy and how the coffees are tasting.

Brian Renshaw:

I love that story behind is it takes a little bit different path than I think a lot of coffee shops will because one you're focused on being a roastery and focused on the origins and the farmer and and everything else with that. So let's dive a little bit deeper into that. So when you're buying green coffee, what's kind of the process look like for you, you know, as a as a smaller roaster in Canada, how do you go about buying the green coffee? How do you build relationships with like the farmers that you're buying for from and, and stuff like that.

David Lalonde:

So to be really honest, like when we started Rabbit Hole, I didn't pay like as much attention to how I buy the green. And I was more focused on like, I need green because it's such a it's such a world to navigate. And starting a business is always just crazy. So this is the second business that I started. And I knew just starting any business is hectic. So we bought coffee that was already somewhere in a warehouse in the United States. So I connected with a ton of different import and export companies. And sometimes I knew precisely where the coffee was coming from and how much they paid the farmers sometimes or I didn't. And I was just focusing on like, okay, let's survive. Let's learn about How to roast tasty coffee. And let's not go bankrupt in the first year, which happens a lot. So these are my main focus. But if we fast forward to just like even just like 18 to 20 months into the business, this is where we really started to sit down and be like, okay, now, roasting, we feel we're happy with how the coffee's are tasting. But now it's time to dive deep into how can we build a relationship at origin without traveling? Because that's a big thing, right? People think that you have to travel to build direct trade relationship. I want to talk about direct today, because it's a word that I hate in coffee. But so it was just about how can we connect with like minded exporter importer? And how can we build meaningful projects through them? Because they're the ones in the countries buying coffee from the farmers? So how can we connect with them, and then just have a meaningful dream purchasing operation? So it took it took a good two years, I'd say, to really be to where we at right now. And we're not even three years now. So it's fairly recently where now we work only with like a very close group of, of importers. And we ask a lot of questions, we're going to start sharing a lot more on social media and on our website, as well. But now it's time to just like really change how we buy coffee. So one big example that I could, that I could tell people listening to this right now is that there are 100 million ways I guess, to buy coffee. But let's just go to the basics. So you can either buy coffee that's already in a warehouse close to your roastery, you contact any importer, you just received some sample, you've got six, Ethiopian, you buy one or two. And then they ship it to you. It's fairly easy process, right? But this is just like coffee, you know where it's from, but like, you don't have that many details, right. So what we like to do at rabbithole. And what we we do for at least 80% is that 90% of our coffees that we forward contract those coffees, it means that like, we're going to book the coffees in advance with the import company. And we're going to ask all of the questions beforehand. So how much are you paying them for the coffee was the deal with XYZ, and we can get really all of the questions that that we want. So that's step one, it's reserving the coffee in advance, and not rejecting the coffee, if it's not scoring like a crazy 86-88 points, you know, so you commit to a certain range of like, quality. And then if it's in that range, even if you wanted a coffee that tastes like peach, if you can taste peach in your Ethiopian, you still buy No, so that's guaranteeing the importer a certain volume, and you can commit that to the farmers in return. So it just brings more stability, kind of to the industry. And that's that one. And once almost all of your coffees are going to be booked in advance. This is where you can start to say, Hey, I would love to start a project in whatever country and I would like to commit to a certain amount. And then, for example, pay 20% of all of the coffee that I'm buying before the harvest. So the farmers have access to money without boring money with interest. So this is where you can start building relationship with importers. But it takes a bit of time. So first step is you start to roastery you buy coffee spot that's already here, step two, for hopefully your second thing, you need to buy green coffee, you're going to start looking at harvest and book in events. And once you book everything in advance, then on your third harvest, then you can start building projects at origin. And that's kind of what we've did with, we've done with Rabbit Hole.

Brian Renshaw:

I love your intentionality. With that, but then also, you know, trying to sustain a business, and just recognizing that, you know, relationships do take time. I think it's easy, you know, as a consumer, so like, somebody like me, who thinks this is important, you know, relationships with farmers and coffee and, and making sure people get fair wages. But it's really complicated behind the scenes. And I'm sure, you know, people don't have the same approach even if they have the same goal. And it just makes it a difficult process. So kudos to you for forging ahead and trying to be intentional about this.

David Lalonde:

Thank you so much. And to be honest, it's I'm not gonna say that it's that it's difficult, because I'm not the one who has to deal with all of the customs and importing the coffee does the import company and that's that looks from me really, really hard. But Right, right, but what makes it if we label this as like difficult, I would say that it's difficult because it's extremely time consuming for a small business to buy coffee this way. And that's the big thing, because it's not that hard to text, your importer, book a phone call, and then spend an hour on the phone and ask all of you a question. And then you decide if you're satisfied with the answers or not. You know, it's not that hard, but it is time consuming. And the best example I can give for that is getting coffee out of China to come to the United States, for US and Canada. Second, it's really hard. There's a lot of paperwork involved. And I don't do the paperwork. But I still spent for just like all of the coffee that we're going to receive from China this year, I probably spent 10 to 12 hours on the phone and probably exchange more than 200 emails just for that one origin. just crazy. Just to make sure that like the samples were there, and what type of volume Can I have? And when is the coffee going to come? But is the coffee going to be depth price? Or this price? Can we do this project with the farmers this year? Oh, no. Next year, oh, no, wait, we can do it this year, back and forth, back and forth and like, but in the end, this is so worth it. Because you know that all of the time that you spend with the import company, export company, in some cases directly with the farmer chatting, this is what kind of like moves the industry forward. And this is how you can build project and build lasting changes, even if just in one form, or in one small farming community. And I do strongly believe that more people should do things like that. I'm not saying that, like we're better than anyone, by the way. But it takes a shitload of time, like a lot of time to do those things. But in the end, when you receive that coffee, and everybody kind of is happy about the how this this went down, this is your reward at the end, not counting that you receive tasty coffee, also.

Brian Renshaw:

Yeah, no, that's, that's awesome to hear the story behind that. So how as a as a business, do you, you know, have these sustainable relationships, pain fairly for coffee for everybody involved, but also stay sustainable as a business?

David Lalonde:

That's actually That's a really great question, to be honest, because I'm asking myself and Sophie's asking herself this question weekly if it's done daily, because we want to commit to long term relationship, we want to pay more for coffee. But then it comes always comes back to, we need two things, we need volume. So we can have low margins on some coffee. But if we sell enough, it's okay. And we also need to start us as green buyers, but also the consumer. At some point, the consumer is going to have to pay more for coffee, there's no, there's no way around that. So we price our coffees accordingly. And I don't, I wouldn't say that we are like more expensive than, than everyone. But we're definitely in probably like that, that I don't know, like 75% tear of like the most expensive coffees out there even for the more regular coffees that we have. But we also have documentation to explain why. So even if we charge more for coffee, we we don't make that much money as a business. But we pay everybody's salary. We have a small profit at the end of the year. But we could be making way more, but we really choose to just like build on those relationships. And the volume is going to come later as we as we grow as a business. So it's always balancing out this but also putting your price in in perspective for the consumer and for your for your wholesale partner. So it just comes down to basic math after that. But the response so far from the public is that they are willing to pay the prices that we put on our website. And that's really great. And just to give you a little bit of context as to how much we pay for green versus what the average face for green. So there's a there's a guide every year that's called the specialty coffee transaction guy and the Analyze millions of coffee contracts from export import and roasters. And I would say that the average that people pay for coffee, it for specialty coffee is going to be between $2.50 and $2.75. upon USD for green coffee. Our average is probably closer to like $4 or like is it a bit above $4 for coffee? No, this is purely mathematical. If we charge 20% more than the average roaster we also pay 23% more for a green coffee. So our margins are pretty much the same as everybody else but we just have to on some coffee you have to charge more money.

Brian Renshaw:

I think as a business you probably you know, help yourself by you know, being able to pay that but also being so forthright and That's become part of your identity of who you are and attracting those types of customers that it's important to them as well.

David Lalonde:

Exactly. And also, I'm not gonna lie buying and building a conscious business like this. It's just, it's absolutely possible. It's just a slower growth. And it's just like a harder grind. If I, if I may call it that, you just have to accept that you're not going to be roasting 2000 pounds a week anytime soon, because your coffee might be too expensive for most cafes. But once you've connect with the people, though, so the people that we connect with, whether it's home baristas that are subscribing to our coffees, regular, like clients on our website, or if it's a wholesale partner that we have a cafe or enough is building or anything like that, we're pretty sure that once those people buy from us, they're not going to look elsewhere. Because we connect through our values, way more than we do to our coffee taste because you can find good coffee so easily these days. Like I'm enjoying coffees, from different roasters weekly, like we buy coffees from other roasters, I still go to cafes in Montreal that are not using rabbit hole, and is delicious almost all the time. It's not a like, it's not hard for a home barista or anybody to find good coffee. So it is not about the taste first, and what is it about? It's about relationships. It's about connecting to values and shared beliefs. So once we connect with cafe that think like us, then we start building on that. And then we're really transparent about this is what we'd like to charge you. Sometimes they say yes, sometimes they want a custom plan for a little bit cheaper. So our margins go down. But then all of the rest of our menu they buy at regular price, and we kind of like just be are super open about building those relationships. And it's all about that relationship before.

Brian Renshaw:

Yeah, that's great. You had a recent post, I think it was kind of sparked by the Goat Story stuff.

David Lalonde:

Yeah, sorry to cut you off. But like, this is a post that I wanted to do for a very long time. And I had the draft ready, and I just never posted about it. And then I saw your post and I was just like, this is going down. You have to do it.

Brian Renshaw:

Yeah. Yeah. So you said, specialty coffee puts too much too much emphasis on how your your brew should taste like. So what do you mean by this? And I think it kind of goes into what you've been saying. But you want to expand on this just a little bit?

David Lalonde:

Yeah, for sure is that there's a lot of people that think that specialty coffee is all about taste. And I think that this was true, probably from like 2000 to like 2005. This is these are random years. But like, let's just call it that. I wasn't even in coffee that way, just from what I read. Yeah, because an ice was all about things because it was so hard to find tasty coffee in 1999. And in 2000. So that if you found something that was wildly different than like the Starbucks and all the changes, right, it was something really special and memorable. And the early specialty coffee roaster that we're focusing about tastes a lot like, and it was normal that they did that. And also because it was so wild. The stories about drink coffee buying in those days, this was literally let me go in Peru for three months in the mountains and try to build relationships with people that never heard about. Like literally, that was Yeah, that was some real cowboy like stuff, like just go and just try to find a build relationship. Right. So the big players early on, were just like Intelligentsia Coffee and Counter Culture. And there's another one that I'm missing. The name is going to come back to me later, but like, there were three people and they're all in the book, God in the Cup, which is an amazing book, if you want to go read that book. And you want to know more about how buying green coffee started out for specialty coffee is, this is my favorite book of all time that's coffee related.

Brian Renshaw:

It's an amazing what was the title again?

David Lalonde:

It's called God in a Cup: The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Coffee.

Brian Renshaw:

Okay, that's right. I'll put a link in the show notes.

David Lalonde:

Perfect. And, and then so it was normal. Like if you when you were buying green coffee and you were not traveling, you were lucky if you would know 100% the origin of the coffee. So let alone like the region or the farmer forget about that in 2002 like you would like if you had a coffee that was labeled PNG Papua New Guinea or like Indonesia and it was 100% from that country that was a big win. Because the information was like you didn't even know what regions were blended what processes were blended like asked me about the processing of the coffee was like wild like the export it would look at you like why do you want to know this like so but this is all kind of In the book, but now, anyone could open a small roastery with all the equipment called any import importer in the United States and get good traceable quality green coffee tomorrow, they could they could get access to it. So I see that we put too much emphasis on how the coffee tastes because now it's, it almost goes without saying that coffee tastes good nowadays, it's not like in 2000 or 1998. So because it's easier to find good coffee because it's easier to roast better coffee than it was early on, we have more technology. Now we have, we have things like crop, stir that analyzes your rows in real time. And you can make decisions based on what you see on the graph that reads temperature inside your roaster. For Christ's sake, you didn't have that in 1998, you just did it. So now more people can produce tasty coffee, it's easier to find good traceable green. And of course, when I say specialty coffee, I just assume that the coffee is delicious from the get go. So if all of these things are more of a given not a given but more of a given kind of then what is what is there to explore if it's not about the taste first. So I just think that now, there's such an inequality between roasters and cafes making money from what the roaster the producer is receiving, that you have to take this inequality as soon as possible. And how do you go about fixing that you have to put an emphasis on this, you have to talk more about that than about how the coffee tastes. Because if all we talk about is equipment, new drippers ceramic cups, and all those things are nice and valid. But they are distracting from what really needs to be changing. And what needs to change is how we pay farmers and how we advocate for farmers, and how we regulate what the farmers want us to know. So as a roaster, we need to do like rabbit hole, we need to do a better job about letting farmer speak and not speak for them. Because they have state things to say. Right? So it all revolves around that when I say let's just chill about the taste for a second because it is tasty. We know it is tasty. But let's just focus on the things that we know less about, which is farmers equality and putting farmers first.

Brian Renshaw:

I'm going to take the consumer side on this. So what role does the consumer play in this? Especially, you know, maybe somebody that is kind of new to specialty coffee? They like the taste? How do how do we, you know, make make that positive change? And you know, there's a lot of talk of like, we need to make this change by like, how practically does the consumer help with this?

David Lalonde:

Yeah. So I would say that, like, I would divide this into two things that like coffee consumers could take, and especially those that are like super active on social media and posting a lot about their coffee experiences, which I think is great. So the first thing that could be done is that they ish, I think that like people should use their platform, I don't care if it's 200 followers or 20,000 followers, like I'm talking about anyone posting about coffee on social media, I think that they should post more about how they buy their coffee, how the research before buying the coffee, the type of information that catches their eye, when they were looking at the roasters website, and the type of things that they're going to be looking for. Because if they only look for rose, roasting notes or tasting notes, then it's kind of like missing the point and putting the emphasis back on the taste. And like glorifying the roaster way more than they should be glorifying the farms. So that's kind of number one, just using their platform to to just like go with the process of what they're looking for. And then once they find information that's relevant about a certain producing group, co op or farmer, they should talk about this more instead of the tasting note. So if they do find a coffee that they know they trust was sustainably bought, then they should talk about this more than they should about the taste. Or maybe not more than the taste, but at least do posts or stories or whatever it is, that's going to be talking just about what they like about how it was bought in and how it's tasting like so that's number two, I guess is just like really digging deeper when they when they are looking for like a roaster that they like taste wise, but that is also doing good. And this there's no secret you just have to dig into those roasters, social media website and the more information you have, you're gonna get a feel for like what roasters are like doing good. And for me doing good is talking about farmers consistently because finding one post about farming coffee or advocating for farmer and then nothing for four months. It's not consistency to me. So it needs to be consistent roasters that are consistently talking about those things. And it doesn't mean that those roasters can talk about pace. Because let's be honest, I love to talk about tasting notes about impressions of a coffee, I think it's a beautiful thing. But it cannot distract from what I just mentioned.

Brian Renshaw:

Yeah, no, that's a, that's really helpful. And if it's important to the roaster, the coffee shop, then it's going to be prominent and easy to find, like, you're not going to have to like, dig for it. So you know, if you go to your website, it's very prominent about, you know, information about the farmer and the process. If you go to, you know, onyx, coffee lab, like their website, you click on any coffee, you can see the whole process, what they paid what farmers are working with, you know, it's all very easy and accessible and 2021, it's not really an excuse to, you know, say like, I couldn't find that information. Because if you can't find it, then it's probably not important to them.

David Lalonde:

Exactly, because you can find it, whether it's asking your importer asking the right questions. And to be honest, I'm having conversations on WhatsApp and Instagram DMS, directly with farmers, like weekly. So if you're importer, you feel as a roaster. If you feel that like your importer is holding information from you, there's a fairly good chance that you can reach the farmer directly. The goal is to trust your importer so they can do their job. And you don't have to do extra work. But if you really need to find like a specific farmer or farming group, it's not always easy. And it's not always possible, to be honest. But sometimes it's you can have direct access to a farmer as a roaster, even if you don't go to the origin.

Brian Renshaw:

Yeah, that's really helpful. Well, this, yeah, this this conversation has been been really good. One thing I wanted to ask you. So you've done some of this, where you call emerging origins, what what is emerging origins and what makes you so excited about it?

David Lalonde:

Well, I'm passionate about, like me personally, and rabbit hole as a whole about emerging origin. Because, again, I'm not saying that, like those farmers deserve more spotlight, I'm just saying that sometimes when you're not in Brazil, or in Colombia, it's harder to reach the specialty coffee market. It doesn't mean that there are no struggling farmers in Brazil and in Colombia, it's not what I'm saying. I'm saying that, like, if you're a farmer in China, or if you're a farmer in Peru, you might be talked about less simply because of the origin is less famous period. So the goal was to first give access to those farmers, and give them access to the specialty coffee market a bit more easily through rabbit hole. And again, we don't buy a ton of green coffee. But it's a start. And we hope that more people are going to buy from emerging origins. So emerging origins, I would qualify this as either an origin that is simply less known, purely or newer to the specialty coffee industry. Yunnan in China is probably the the most like the origin that qualifies the most as emerging because it is new. There have been producing specialty coffee for maybe 10 years. And not a lot of people know about that. And it's harder for the farmers to reach the specialty coffee market. So this fits pretty much all the checkbooks. But when we talk about emerging coffee origin, I would even qualify Yemen as a as an emerging origin, but more like re emerging because yeah, men were the first Yemen was the first country cultivate coffee in the history of coffee in like 15/16 century, right. So right, it's not really an emerging origin. It's kind of the opposite. But for a couple of years, there was no coffee coming out of Yemen, due to drought, war, famine, and all that stuff. That's been horrible and Yemen. So given those farmers access to the specialty market, again, is really important to us, because they deserve to be in the spotlight. And some farmers are reliant on on getting getting paid more for the coffee, because first is delicious. And second of all, it's insanely hard to get coffee out of Yemen, which everything that's been going on in the Civil War for the best five or six years. So this is what I would label as emerging origin.

Brian Renshaw:

All right, so as we kind of wrap up here, I want to just ask who inspires you kind of in the coffee world, they don't have to be on social media or anything but you know, you've been on this. This journey. I'm sure you've learned from a lot of people. What a who or You know, a group of people that have been inspirational to you in this journey?

David Lalonde:

Yeah, that's that there are a lot actually. So like everybody in the book, God in a Cup. I never spoken with them, but they still inspired me. And I read that book probably would say, four or five months before really deciding, like, okay, I really want to start a roastery. And this is what kind of like, pushed me over the edge of like, Am I doing it or not. So that book was very inspirational to me. I would also say like, just in, in Canada, one of the roasters that I really admire, yeah, they do good coffee, but like more for their activism, and how they advocate for everything in coffee, but also outside coffee is going to be Bows and Arrows. And Drew there is just like more of an activist almost than he is like a coffee guy. But he advocates for coffee farmers, but also for just like indigenous people in Canada, even if it's not directly related to coffee. So this is really important to us, because we always aim and try to go beyond coffee, which is we don't shy away from talking about just Black Lives Matters. For example, it doesn't help us sell more coffee, you know, but we feel it's important to use our platform for the greater good, even if it's not coffee related. So I say Bows and Arrows. Also, I absolutely love what Cxffee Black is doing out of Memphis, Tennessee, and we just we still had colab running with them. And they are basically trying to make literally coffee black again, because coffee is a product of colonialism, it was stolen by Dutch spies in the port of mocha. And basically from the from there, it was just down the downhill and enslaved people were forced to just like cultivate coffee, and only like Europe would benefit from it in the beginning. So they're trying to put, like, going back to the roots of coffee and building a community that's going to be about degentrifying coffee, making it more accessible and especially to to black people and people of color in general. So I really admire everything that they've been doing. So doing a collab with them was just like, absolutely phenomenal. And then there's like, just so many more that I could name. But we've been chatting for a while. So I'm just going to cut it at that for now. But there are a lot of inspirational people in coffee doing amazing, amazing things.

Brian Renshaw:

That's great. That you mentioned Cxffee Black and some of their goals. Have you heard of Portrait Coffee in Atlanta, Georgia?

David Lalonde:

Absolutely. also really love that company. And, yeah, there's so many companies trying to do good first, with coffee. So it's really just like coffee as a means to do good. And they could have maybe done another business to have the same impact. But they chose coffee because I really do believe that coffee connects people more easily than other than other areas or other businesses, for example. So coffee is really a connector of people.

Brian Renshaw:

Well, David, this has been a really fun and I would say important conversation to have, it's probably you know, thinking about on all the episodes I've had so far, it's probably the most important one that I think I hope people listen to. So thank you for sharing your thoughts and just being so transparent, and I think it's really helpful, like you're somewhat new in the process. And so you have this, I think, energy behind you and passion and, and a lot of understanding about what's important about specialty coffee, so thank you.

David Lalonde:

Thank you so much for for having me, and I really hope that people are gonna, are gonna be enjoying listening to that. And if there's any question that arises from listening to this at all, people can reach me. I'm the one handling Instagram. So again, shoot a DM and I will be more than happy to just like elaborate on anything that's unclear. Everything that I forgot to say. I'm always always happy to just share with anyone who has question about especially equality farmers first, and green coffee buying. And if they just want to geek around and ask questions about roasting profile. I'm also here for that.

Brian Renshaw:

Well, that's awesome. Yeah, I feel like we could have talked for another hour or so about a bunch of different topics. But I think we covered a very important one that people enjoy listening to. So

David Lalonde:

I think so too. And there, I'm sure other really interesting guests that you can bring. So I'm really happy that we could talk about what we talked about and like Like you said, I feel like you These conversations are really important, and I wish that they would, they would arise a little bit more frequently. But that's a start. And this conversation was, was a great idea. How do you say this? The English word just like escapes me right now so you'll have to forget my Francophone brain on that one.