Q&A Session 13: Keegan from Rooftop Coffee Roasters
At the recent Beanstock Festival, I witnessed something that rarely happens. Mrs. VancouverCoffeeSnob ran up to me and exclaimed: “you HAVE to try this coffee”. The coffee in question was a Guatemalan cup of excellence from Rooftop Coffee Roasters, and it was one of the highlights of the festival!
I got chatting to the head roaster, Keegan, and decided that he absolutely had to tell his story to you all.
Photo credits go to Kyle Hamilton Photography.
Who are you and where are you from?
I am Keegan Street, I am 18, and I am the head roaster and co-founder of Rooftop Coffee Roasters. We’re located in beautiful Fernie, BC a small town nestled in the Rockies. Fernie has been the ideal place to grow our love of coffee alongside our love of the mountains, skiing, and cycling!
Tell us a little about Rooftop Roasters.
Rooftop Coffee Roasters is a family business founded by myself and my parents, Sarah Deschenes and David Street in June 2016. I was graduating high school at the same time, and like many people my age, I decided to take a year off before university. However, instead of traveling to Asia or Central America to “find myself”, I stayed home and helped establish Fernie’s first craft coffee roastery. I teamed up with Sarah and Dave, and with their years of business experience, they mentored me through the arduous process of starting and operating a small business.
All three of us received our Intermediate SCA certifications in roasting and sensory within months of our opening, which helped perfect our roasting style. Today, we are proud to watch Rooftop grow within the coffee community in BC and Alberta. We are most proud of our recent “Coffee for a Cause” initiative. We raised $1500 for CIMA; a boy’s home near Lima through the sale of our Peruvian coffee.
How did you get started roasting?
In 2015, my family decided to leave Calgary and move to Fernie. Before the move, Calgary’s coffee scene was rapidly growing. While we loved our new life in the mountains, we all missed getting our daily fix of Phil & Sebastian. So, at the age of 16, I convinced my parents to let me buy an electric home roaster and a couple pounds of green coffee. After my first batch of coffee filled our kitchen with the lovely aromas of freshly roasted coffee, I was utterly perplexed to find my mother gently escorting me to our rooftop patio to continue my experiments… Thus, Rooftop Coffee Roasters was born!
What makes a good coffee?
In the cup, I look for balance. Finding the perfect balance between bright, sparkly acidity, a full body and depth of flavour makes for the most delicious cup. Outside of the cup, the best coffee is prepared by friendly baristas in a beautiful, inviting space. Great atmosphere and customer service influence how much I enjoy a cappuccino almost as heavily as the drink itself.
How was the Beanstock Festival experience?
Beanstock was a tad hectic but such an amazing experience! (Making pour overs for over 2000 people is a tall task with only two baristas at the booth!) It was refreshing to talk with so many people who were interested in coffee, but who weren’t working in the industry. I feel like coffee professionals get so swept into ultra-specific conversations about things like roasting curves and refractometers that it was a nice change of pace to talk to people who experience specialty coffee through the lens of a consumer. They have a point of view that we often lose touch with as professional coffee geeks. Beanstock was also a great way for us to introduce ourselves to the Vancouver coffee scene – we left with plenty of coffee friends from the countless local businesses at the festival!
What kinds of coffee can we expect from you in the future?
Being the first roastery of our kind in Fernie, we couldn’t exactly come out of the gate with Geishas. Early on, we focused a lot of our attention on making lighter roasted coffee delicious and approachable for a market dominated by the dark roast. We nailed down our chocolatey espresso blends and Colombians, and slowly started introducing some more exotic coffees. First some Centrals, then some Africans – baby steps. We recently brought in a Geisha from Costa Rica and a really interesting Guji, so expect to see more complex and unique coffees coming from Rooftop.
What do you think could be improved in the coffee industry?
Approachability. I think the biggest hurdle new specialty coffee drinkers face is confusion regarding what we do. Coffee professionals are getting so excited about where coffee is going that we sometimes leave the consumer overwhelmed by complex, unrelatable tasting notes and confusing industry jargon. So many aspects of coffee need to be more approachable, but especially in customer service. New customers are confronted with a host of words they don’t understand (honey-processed El Salvador Pacamara on a V60 anyone?) so a condescending barista can just leave them feeling ostracized. Our industry’s success relies on bringing more people over to our side, so what we do should be inviting and approachable.
What are your top tips for someone getting into home roasting?
Join the Green Coffee Buying Club online. That community will be a great resource for learning to roast on your specific machine and will help guide you into the wonderful world of home roasting. You’ll be able to find some amazing coffee for a decent price too. Exchanging roasted coffee with others on the forum is also a great way to perfect your cupping and tasting skills. You should also read…a lot! Barista Hustle, the Sweet Maria’s Blog, “Modulating the Flavour Profile of Coffee” by Rob Hoos and Roast Magazine are great places to start. Don’t forget to apply and test what you’ve read and do some experimenting of your own. Have fun with it!
What Vancouver coffee shop would you go out of your way to visit?
Since Fernie is 12 hours away from Vancouver, any coffee shop there is out of my way, so I try to go somewhere new every time I’m in town. I’m looking for beautiful spaces, great baristas, and killer coffee when I’m in Van. Some of my favourites are Nemesis, Aubade and Bows & Arrows. There are plenty that I want to check out next time too – Koffie, Spade, and Agro Roasters are some that come to mind.
If you could have a coffee with someone, dead or alive, who would it be and why
Henry David Thoreau. His book Walden (which recounts the two years he spent living alone in a cabin he built in the woods) is one of my favourites, so I would love to pick apart his brain. Also, embracing solitude is a virtue all coffee roasters should adopt if they want to survive those long, lonely roasting days.