Every now and then there is a coffee roaster that I hear about that really peaks my interest. Usually it’s because of their packaging, the coffee they’re roasting, or the story of those involved in the company. What excites me about this month’s Coffee Roaster of the Month is that really its a combination of all three of those factors!
In Lewis Carroll’s famous book Alice in Wonderland, a little girl named Alice falls down a rabbit hole into a strange & dreamlike world. This image of the rabbit-hole is often used as a metaphor for an adventure into the exciting yet unknown. This month’s roaster is doing exactly that: pursuing an exciting adventure into the unknown. Let me introduce you to Rabbit Hole Coffee Roasters.
Hailing from Montreal, Quebec this team of David Lalonde and Sophie Moreau are the driving force behind Rabbit Hole Coffee Roasters and I am thrilled to share their story this month!
So who is the team behind Rabbit Hole Roasters?
(David) I am from Montreal. I’ve always lived here, but travelled around the world for a little while and would love to live a chunk of the year in Nicaragua actually. I am married to a Belgian woman, so we were not sure where we would stay after our extensive trips. My wife fell in love with Montreal and that was that.
(Sophie) I am from the West Island of Montreal. I travelled a lot after I finished school but settled back here.
Q: So what are your backstories in specialty coffee?
(David) I started at a very cool café called Le Couteau/The Knife. I quickly moved to Tunnel Espresso bar because I was all about cranking tons of drink, and during the golden age of that place, I could serve 500+ drinks daily. It was amazing practice for a new barista and I learned quickly. After that I ended up being an account manager and educator for two roasting companies (one Montreal based, the other one Toronto based…. not at the same time obviously!)
I also started a business called The Montreal Coffee Academy where 90% of our clients where home baristas. To my surprise, it did super well, well beyond my expectations. But after 1.5 years of teaching beginner stuff, I decided to sell it to my partner there and focus solely on green coffee/roasting/consulting. I became a Q-Grader, made the finals at the National Barista Championship (2018 I think) and focused on making RHR happen!
Within RHR, I deal with green coffee buying, roasting, QC and our Instagram feed (only the word and stories on IG, as Sophie takes 99% of our photos)
(Sophie) I was always drawn to the coffee and while I was travelling in Australia and New Zealand, I started thinking someday I would have my own coffee shop. After my travels, I worked tried the corporate world of business, but quickly realized it was not for me.
So, I started looking into the coffee industry and how I could make my dream a reality. I took a weekend intensive class at the Montreal Coffee Academy, which is where I met David and started helping them with their Marketing. After that I quit my job in marketing and started working full time in a busy Montreal café, Melk Bar à café on Stanley.
Q: Who were some of your early influences?
(David) I would have to say Chris Capell, owner of Le Couteau and the guy who gave my first chance. He is super knowledgeable and was trained himself by Scott Rao as Myriad’s (Mtl iconic shop) first barista. Then Scott Rao though his books, and still to this day, I keep learning from him. I roast and cup with him from time to time and the knowledge from 15 minutes with him is invaluable.
I would also have to say Phil from Phil & Sebastian. When I cupped with him and visited their installation maybe 5 years ago, I was mind blown and was like ‘’how can one man know that much?’’.
I was also pretty pro active and learned a bunch by myself 😉
(Sophie) I have to say David was really influential to me as he helped me get started in the industry. I learned a lot from him and Chris Capell at the academy and continued working closely with David after to keep growing in specialty coffee. He gave me a bunch of tips, knowledge and recommendations on books to read to keep learning on my own.
Tell our readers a bit about the history of Rabbit Hole Roasters! How did this all begin? Why the name Rabbit Hole?
(David) I’ve always wanted to own a coffee roasting company. I realized that after working as an account manager and educator for a Toronto based roaster: I will never be able to do ALL I want and dream of unless it’s my own company. At the same time as this idea was taking up pretty much all my free time, Andy, owner of their Canadian roasting society (a co-roasting space) told me about his project where Scott Rao is a minority owner. I decided that was my chance and a sign to take the plunge. I mean for real: a co-roasting space meant I would have almost no initial cost, and I could be trained by Scott himself.
I started to look for partners. We originally had one partner in Toronto but we parted way quickly due to some issues (not the best way to start a business but it was for the best and we are doing better since this was resolved) I also reached out to Sophie, whom I trained at the Academy. Her personality was a great fit for mine, and her background in marketing was a big plus! We also have to investors helping with all things finance and admin (2 programmers at Google Montreal office.)
So we are a solid team of 4, but Sophie and I are the only day to day employees.
(Sophie) I wanted my own coffee shop, had this ideal vision like everyone else that having your own café is super cool and relax. After working in a café full time, I realized I still wanted this, but I also wanted more.
I missed the marketing, building a brand, graphic design aspects of my old job and was looking for a way to combine both my work in marketing and my passion for coffee. When David told me about his project, it just felt like a great fit and an opportunity/adventure I didn’t want to miss so I jumped in.
Q: So why the name Rabbit Hole Roasters?
(David) The name Rabbit Hole came up naturally. I love the book 1Q84 from Murakami. There was an event in the book, and the whole book after that, that reminded me of Alice in Wonderland: you live in a world where everything seemed different and unreal, but real at the same time.
This is what I want to do with Rabbit Hole: create a coffee menu, a company culture, and positioned ourselves to be so different that people will just wonder: I know this is a coffee company, or I know this is coffee, but why does it feel so real and different/unreal, all at once? We are not even close to be there yet, and might never be that company, but it’s the idea behind the name and something to look forward to!
My wife is actually the one who came up with the final name.
Q: What equipment do you currently roast on?
We roast on a Probat P25, but pimped out by Scott Rao and the Probat team for extreme precision.
Q: What’s special/significant about the coffee community in Montreal/Quebec?
I have mixed feeling about the Montreal coffee scene. I am not for one second saying I am better then anybody here, but I seem to have a quality I don’t see often in our town: knowing that you don’t know that much.
I feel like roasters and cafe owners often think they have figured coffee out, when in reality we are a little behind from the level of quality I notice in the states, or Western Canada ( in terms of roasting and brewing). Yes I had some amazing coffees roasted and brewed here; I am talking about the average quality. We narrowed the gap in recent years but we have more work to do, RHR included.
No wonder we get our asses whooped at competitions Last 3 years I think I was the only Eastern Canada barista to reach the final, and I say that not to brag put to show that the difference is immense. Competitions are not very reflecting of real life in a café, but it shows commitment to excellence and quality of both roasting and brewing.
There is also often a lack of collaboration in Montreal. There are rarely collabs between companies. It’s slowly changing though, and the co-roasting space is forcing some people to come together. Our best collab so far is not really a collab but a great partnership. Yunnan coffee traders, the people behind exporting our Chinese coffee, and us, have been working well together and I feel this will continue for years to come.
Your coffee bags are certainly very unique. How did they come about?
(David) Thanks a lot for thinking of them as unique! That was the goal for out bags, like everything else we do.
I will let Sophie elaborate more on this subject of design.
(Sophie) I wanted our bags to be different, so yellow was definitely a great option as the vast majority of bags are white, black, or craft (often with lotsssss of skulls as well :/) We also wanted it to be simple and streamlined so it would last in time and we wouldn’t get tired of it too quickly 😉 The design phase was quite the rabbit hole and we went through several suppliers to find the perfect fit.
We also wanted something that is the least damaging as possible for the environment. We decide to go with recyclable instead of ‘’compostable’’ or ‘’omni-degradable’’. A lot of the terms are some green washing BS, and we didn’t want to fall in the trap of acting like we are doing something we are not, aka saying they are compostable when they truly are not. Yes, a lot of them are degradable, which will disappear faster from the Earth then regular bags, (10 years or so instead of 100-200+ years.) I have nothing against those options, but I do have a problem with how roasters present them. There might have been some truly good ones, but we didn’t find them.
We also wanted to simplify the labels. We need to grow the pool of specialty coffee drinkers if we want our industry to thrive. The specialty coffee industry can seem a bit daunting from the outside to non-specialty coffee people and we wanted to demystify this for them. Making it approachable and easy to understand so they would feel welcome to try while also becoming increasingly curious to learn more about the raw product. All the specific ‘’geeky’’ information is available and always updated on our website, but what you can find on our bags is the roast degree and a tasting colour pallet with two descriptive words representing the coffee.
Q: So speaking of coffee, what are you drinking right now?
(David) Its pretty late here (as I type this) and I am drinking a decaf 🙂
Decaf is something a lot of people don’t take seriously (don’t get me started on that ‘’death before decaf thing going on). I found a great decaf and we had people contacting us because of it. Otherwise. Our Mexican was a killer but is done, but we are sampling some more this week.
So as caffeinated drink go, I really like our Yunnan coffee.
Tell the readers of thebloom.coffee about some of your recent accomplishments Or any upcoming announcements.
(David) Some of the nicest things we have done with RHR is to position ourselves as being different right of the bat. I am not saying people know us for that all the time yet, but when you take a deeper look, it’s clear we are not the average coffee roaster.
I feel like roaster’s menus are predictable and so similar: Guatemala, Colombia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Brazil. Nothing wrong with any of those and I truly LOVE all those origin. But I am all about new terroir and origins, both for me and for the consumer.
I am also really proud to be the first company to offer Yunnan coffee. This country is only just started and great stuff is happening. Our curiouser blend is crazy: 3 lesser-known origins from 3 continents, for an explosion of flavours and complexity. Lastly, our Mindful blend, aka half-caf, is pretty original and tasty, and I am proud to come up with ideas like this to offer alternative to the regular stuff happening.
Q: Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
We are only two people for all the day to day. All the pictures, texts, soon to be published blogs, green buying, roasting, bagging, delivering, website management and building, marketing, research, testing, bag design, etc. We are two super-motivated individuals, and Sophie and I really are a killer team.
We want to be known for being different, and when we look back at our company in 5-10 years, I want to be ‘’wow I can’t believe we did this and that’’. So I guarantee everyone reading this, that RHR will never be the same as the rest.
Find their beans:
If you’re looking to get your hands on some beans then definitely check out their web-shop for what they’re currently roasting!
Thank you so much to David & Sophie for sharing with us more about Rabbit Hole Roasters and for being a key part in the coffee culture in Montreal! Keep up the great work!