Last year I was out running on the seawall and I was in a miserable mood. My legs hurt, the podcast I was listening to was boring and it was too hot. So I stopped, looked up and there was Kelly, standing behind his cold brew bike, serving nitro in English Bay.
This lovely bugger gave me a free sample of his ice cold coffee, which perked me up enough to stop moaning and got on with the rest of my run, which went great.
Ladies and gentlemen meet the aforementioned Kelly, one of the most interesting chaps in the coffee scene.
Who are you and where are you from?
I’m Kelly McKenzie and I hail from the mountains in the North… Shore! My entire family is still there and one day, after I sell several million cups of coffee, I may be able to afford to live there again. I studied Geomatics Engineering, the science of spatial data collection and analysis, and am a land surveyor by trade. I’ve been trained to measure things very precisely which has served me well in my quest to make delicious coffee, one gram at a time.
Tell us a little about Green Coast Coffee and what you do?
It started as a side hustle on a custom-made cargo bike serving nitro cold brew. I enjoyed it so much I quit my surveying job and decided to build a mobile espresso bar and café in a trailer. Now I get to make espresso and other specialty beverages and whip about this beautiful city meeting awesome people. Life is good. I like things with very few ingredients and I’m having fun experimenting with different coffees, teas and other natural ingredients… creating unique beverages. I purchased a nut-milk processor recently and have been creating new menu items with fresh nut-milks. My favourite at the moment is the “Mochadamia Cold Brew” made with raw macadamia nut-milk, white chocolate and my signature cold brew concentrate. Coffee will always be the dominant flavour but my customers are choosing plant-based milk over dairy more often.
What is your coffee origin story and how did you get into the coffee scene?
A big part of my story, in general, is that I am recovering from alcoholism and am a member of a 12 step fellowship.
Several years ago I abstained from drinking coffee as it was a conflict of interest with my alcohol consumption (it would sober me up against my will). My alcoholism led to a lot of life problems including trips to the hospital with no memory of their cause. This was just the tip of the iceberg. Consequently, five years ago, I checked myself into the Last Door Treatment Centre in New Westminster and I’ve been sober ever since. At the Last Door they teach a holistic approach to recovery emphasizing that a healthy mind, body and soul are key to a happy, sober, and productive life. I realized that being in recovery wasn’t just about following a bunch of rules to stay sober but more about building a good life with purpose, where we don’t need drugs and alcohol to get by.
In the office at the centre, there was an espresso machine and some counsellors were using 49th Parallel beans. I’d never tasted coffee like this and when I did, it was so sweet and delicious it needed no cream or sugar. I was hooked and I started sneaking into the office for Americanos. My quest to learn as much as I could about coffee began, and I started bringing a hand grinder and a pour-over set wherever I went.
Coffee can be the last vice for a person in recovery and there’s a healthy flow of coffee in most 12 step meetings. One very important job is dedicated to having the coffee ready, on time, every week and this position is often given to a newcomer. This important job provides accountability and social interaction, often helping to keep them in the rooms in those first crucial months.
When I decided to start a small business selling and making coffee it gave me purpose and fueled a passion. Last year I hired several people in recovery and was able to share what helped me find purpose with people travelling along the same path.
I heard through the grapevine that you have a new trailer mobile coffee shop coming soon. Tell us more about that.
I’m currently building the “Green Coast Café”, a mobile coffee shop that will offer a full espresso and original beverage menu. In addition to coffee and tea, I’ll be creating a healthy menu using whole ingredients, including nutrient-dense smoothies and fresh juices. I get most of my ingredients and baked goods from other vendors at the Vancouver Farmers Markets. I’ve been able to build solid relationships within the community of makers and local farmers. I’m building the café to reach a wider audience and serve larger events, bringing specialty coffee to places that may not have been exposed to it before. Serving a different community at every event is part of why I love my job.
Last summer you were working Vancouver Folk Music festival, tell us about the chaos that was that event!
I loved serving the Vancouver Folk Music Festival and its loyal patrons in 2017. I feel we had a break-out weekend there last July; sales were great and the experience was priceless. We made a lot of friends and found that they all really love coffee! I had prepared well but I was caught running around all weekend racing to restock my booth and the bike. Shout-out to Alistair at Elysian Coffee Roasters who met us and reloaded our cold brew supply at midnight! The coffee community rocks and I’m grateful for the support I’ve been shown as a newcomer to the industry.
What do you have in store for us in the future?
I grew up in the restaurant business and it taught me the importance of having a place where your friends can come and share a conversation. Does that mean a brick and mortar? Maybe. As my dad says, “Location, location, location”. For now, I’m content with where my wheels take me.
This summer Green Coast Coffee will be back – bigger and better at; The Folk Fest, Vancouver Farmers Markets, and Car-Free days (to name a few) and we are really excited to be serving at the Skookum Festival in Stanley Park this September.
Is there anything you can think of that needs improvement in the Vancouver coffee scene?
Less big chain shops and more indies, please! I think that the more people appreciate a handcrafted product, the more specialty coffee shops will thrive. It’s nice to see this trend picking up in Vancouver.
Our coffee scene is great and it’s only getting better. I wish I had more time to get to more events, such as the coffee potluck.
What coffee shops in Vancouver do you think people should be aware of right now?
I’m inspired by the folks at Nemesis; a group of young coffee professionals who put their talents to work and built something great together.
Agro Coffee Roasters is still my favourite place to hang-out. A cortado from Allison or Mel will straighten you out!
If you could pick one person dead or alive, real or fictional, to have coffee with, who would it be and why?
Barack Obama. The conversation would be interesting and revealing. He plays basketball so I’d challenge him to a game. Maybe he’ll drop by the trailer one day, you never know! He reads all your stuff right?
Thanks to Kelly for taking the time to chat to us today. If you’re keen to try his drinks then the best thing to do is check out his website here for a list of where he’ll be and when. You can also find him posting regularly on Instagram here.