Montreal's pioneering Dispatch Coffee recently unveiled its own roasts—Santa Clara from Guatemala, Kanzu from Rwanda and Thiriku from Kenya. Roasting on-site in its crisp Mile-Ex café digs, one of the city’s exemplary coffee outfits is once again at the vanguard. Head Roaster Christopher Durning recently sat down to discuss this and more.
Christopher, what’s this new coffee at Dispatch? Why is it something Montrealers should care about?
Dispatch is a local coffee company founded by Montreal native Chrissy Durcak on an ethos of quality, sustainability, innovation, education and approachability. Regarding the coffee, we source the freshest, most sustainable, highest-quality crops of green coffee we can find, and using the best equipment available, we meticulously develop our roasts to showcase the natural qualities of our beans as transparently as possible.
Part of what we do is to provide our customers with a product that represents a quality that they often may not even know exists, so it has to be driven by our own taste and by our own passion, because we're trying to surpass the expectations of the existing market and expose them to what can be, for many, a brand new relationship with coffee.
Our coffee is something anyone can and should engage in.
We emphasize approachability and customer service, because while it is a high end product in terms of quality, our coffee is something anyone can and should engage in, both aesthetically and ethically, so to present it as an elite product for elite consumers undermines what we're trying to do, which is to make beautiful coffee and put it in the hands of everyone we can in Montreal and abroad.
How did you come about with this particular selection, blend, roast, etc.?
We will be offering three coffees to begin with, all single origins. Our Kanzu coffee from Rwanda was harvested just last summer, and showcases a striking sweetness, with notes of dried fruit, dark sugar, and plum, while our Thiriku coffee is a stunningly juicy Kenyan AB coffee with ripe blackberry and cassis acidity, and finally our Santa Clara coffee from Guatemala is a clean and comforting cup with notes of chocolate and cherry. All of these coffees were selected after an intense but exciting process of cupping many samples of the best new harvests from around the world.
Once we'd settled on our three coffees, we began research and development in our productions roasts to decide exactly how to treat these coffees, showcasing the most of what made them great on that first cupping table without tainting the coffee with roast flavours or smoke. In short, we work very, very hard to enhance the coffee without getting in the way, using heat as a catalyst for development on a molecular level before the coffee ever starts to burn or smoke. The amount of quality control involved in creating these products is significant, and to delve into the depths of the systems we have in place would not make for a very exciting read, but I would invite anyone interested in the process or the results thereof to visit our roastery and ask a friendly Dispatch face for a cup and a chat.
Will Dispatch be distributing these beans, either to places within Montreal or elsewhere?
While we do have plans to be wholesaling this spring, we are focusing on brewing and retailing our own coffee for the time being, allowing us an opportunity to showcase the product as we think it should be treated, as well as to closely monitor the quality before we send it out into the hands of the best baristas in Montreal, as well as across Canada and the United States.
There is a burgeoning community of specialty coffee roasters here in Montreal.
Is there much roasting going on in Montreal or Quebec? Is there something of a roasters’ community?
There is a burgeoning community of specialty coffee roasters here in Montreal, and more and more the community is talking about its craft and sharing ideas and philosophies. Saint-Henri Microtorréfacteur are pioneers of specialty coffee roasting in this city, as well as Kittel Compagnie de Café, where I was lucky enough to begin my career as a coffee roaster. That being said, I always wanted an opportunity to roast coffee that uncompromisingly represented how I thought coffee should taste, that is, light roasted for sweet, clean cups that often present vibrant or juicy acidity depending on the origin. Coffee is, after all, the pit of a cherry, and if nature says a coffee should taste a certain way, who am I to get in the way? There are other coffee roasters in Montreal (Café Union and Moccasin Joe, for example, who have both gone out of their way to communicate with us and support us in our venture into roasting), but I would say there are currently only three specialty coffee roasters in the city.
Might there be any particular challenges or benefits of roasting in Montreal?
Montreal can be a challenging city for a roastery, being landlocked from international coffee shipping routes, and experiencing as much temperature and humidity variation as we do, but it has other benefits. It has a wealth of creative professionals with whom to collaborate, as well as a world class food and beverage scene that is, as of yet, still relatively unsaturated when it comes to coffee. We have respect and love for anyone taking on the task of roasting, but we definitely aspire to fill a gap in terms of clean, light roasted coffee in Montreal, and to be the best Montreal has to offer.
What's your experience working in coffee? What do you bring to roasting?
Chrissy and I, along with Jordan [Crosthwaite], our Director of Coffee, share over three decades of experience as coffee professionals. I personally have been roasting for two years now, and I've been a barista from the moment I realized the limitations of an Arts degree. I began at Kittel Compagnie de Café under the mentorship of owner Guillaume Kittel and it's largely been a trial an error process informed by an ever-expanding understanding of coffee chemistry, from farm to cup. There's very little written on roasting, and it's been a relatively stagnant process up until the 1990's, so we're all kind of on the front lines of a new food process, which is very exciting.
Is there anything that makes for a good roaster?
I believe a good coffee roaster benefits from a solid base as a barista, and from there it is just a critical palate, an [acute] attention to detail, as well as a healthy combination of boldness and humility to get you to try new things and never rest on your laurels.
[The café] is as much a coffee lab as anything.
Also, just, how's business? How are things now with the relatively still-new brick-and-mortar location? Any surprise challenges or happinesses?
The space is really special, and was designed to promote that ethos of transparency and approachability. It's as much a coffee lab as anything. We kind of just got all of our favorite coffee equipment and put it in a beautiful sun-filled garage space. All of our equipment is set into the bar, for example, so it promotes a lot of discussion and engagement with our baristas when they're not hiding behind a huge machine. Also, the roaster is located at the back of the space, and most of the time I'm kicking around back there, or Chrissy or Jordan are hanging around, so if you have a question about making coffee at home, or about any part of the process from farm to cup, you're almost always able to get an informed answer from someone. We're a unique coffee space in Montreal in that sense. It's kind of like going to the Apple Store. There's always a 'genius' to talk to, except you don't need to make appointments to see us.
There are big growth plans for Dispatch, and to be honest, we're right smack dab in the middle of them.
Dispatch also has a little café on McGill campus. Are there other growth or innovation plans?
There are big growth plans for Dispatch, and to be honest, we're right smack dab in the middle of them. From the start we always wanted to diversify and innovate, so people can expect big things from us on top of and including our already existing cafés, our food truck, our cold brew bottling, our roastery, our catering services and our consultation/education programs. Right now we are tackling what's on our plate with focus and passion. Keep an eye out this summer for the return of our Dispatch cold brew to specialty grocery stores, restaurants and cafés across Montreal, and make sure you stop by the Mile-Ex location for cold brew coffee on tap! For now you can pick up a bag of freshly roasted Dispatch beans from one of our two café locations as of this Saturday. If you just consider our endeavours into roasting coffee, the growth and innovation has begun, and if you like it as much as we do (which is a lot), it won't be stopping anytime soon.
Let’s hope not.
David Heti is a stand-up comic, occasional bioethicist, and one-time counsel with the Public Prosecution Service of Canada. His first album of comedy, It was ok, an album of comedy by David Heti, will be released in 2015 by Stand Up! Records. Follow him at @davidheti.