I didn’t have to look far to find our Coffee Roaster of the Month for October, because these guys are as local as you get! I am so thrilled to be able to feature none other than Rosso Coffee Roasters this month on the blog.
Back in August I had the chance to sit down one-on-one with Cole Torode at his Inglewood cafe to learn more about Rosso Coffee Roasters.
Q: So who is the team behind Rosso Coffee Roasters?
The team here at Rosso is made up of myself (Cole), my brother Dave and our third partner, Jessie. The three of us take the reigns in different capacities and oversee the operations of the business. We’re a dynamic trio that compliments each others abilities nicely. We also have the fortune of working with many highly skilled, creative and capable individuals.
How did you end up in Calgary?
Well all three of us are actually born & raised here in Calgary. We are proud to call this place home and love that we have the chance to build our business in this incredible city.
What’s your backstory in specialty coffee?
COLE: Well let me share my story specifically with you. I really came into this whole specialty coffee thing by fluke. Back in 2009 I got a job working in a café attached to a restaurant. Truthfully that job didn’t do much to inspire me and I really got bored with the lack of foot traffic and felt myself in a bit of a dead-end.
Not feeling like this was going anywhere I went to go work for my brother Dave in early 2010 who was already running the original Café Rosso and had opened a second location a few months prior to me joining.
In 2010 I ended up hearing about the concept of barista competition. This was the first time I had ever really heard about competitions in specialty coffee and it certainly peaked my curiosity. I’ve always been a competitive person and played a handful of sports competitively growing up. So did Dave, so we both jumped into this with a lot of interest.
So you’re a pretty competitive person?
Yeah I’d like to say I’m pretty competitive. And the competition platform really pushed me and helped to challenge and shape me in this industry. It really is quite an exciting experience to compete, and a great way of connecting with others in the coffee community. Aside from coffee, I take most things seriously and go in with the idea of succeeding, be it a board game or card game, a sport or coffee competitions.
Q: So who were some of your early influences?
Early influences for me would have been Steve Leighton and maybe Michael Phillips. For anyone who might not know, Steve Leighton is a proud ginger and is the founder of HasBean. He actually helped me the first year I went to the National Barista Competition and sent me beans for no cost… How amazing is that? Michael Phillips was the first person I watched win the World Barista Championship and thus was a huge influence too. There’s many that have followed, but you don’t want me to fill this page with those details.
Q: What can you tell us about the early history of Rosso Coffee Roasters?
Rosso officially opened its doors back in September 2007 in Ramsay, which is still open today, and is the current location of our roastery.
While it might not be well known but Rosso hasn’t always roasted its own coffee. In the early days of Rosso we actually used Illy Coffee out of Italy. A few years later we made the switch to using George Howell Coffee out of Boston, MA. We were the first café in Canada using George Howell, but the logistics of getting this coffee to our café fresh was challenging back then.
Due to some of these logistical hurdles, we then made the switch to using coffee roasted locally. This made getting fresh coffee much easier by souring it here in Calgary. We used a “white label” program so the coffee was roasted in Calgary but branded for us at Rosso.
It wasn’t until 2011 that we began talking about roasting our own coffee. Dave and I did our Q-grader certification in Nov 2011, in Rosebud Arkansas. Back then it was only available in Los Angeles and Rosebud for all of North America.
“I feel like a Dinosaur saying this since you can get this now almost anywhere in the World!” -Cole
Shortly after that we made the leap into roasting our own coffee and we haven’t looked back.
Q: OK, so I think everyone is wanting to know…why the name Rosso?
(COLE) Well In the first few years it used to be called “Café Rosso”. There are a few stories that are floating around out there as to how exactly Rosso got its name.
According to Cole, the joke is that David named it after Cole’s hair! LOL. And if you ever get the chance to meet Cole you’ll get why this is easily believed.
Caffe Rosso literally means “Red café” in Italian. And with Rosso’s early coffee influence being shaped significantly by Italian coffee & culture, and more specifically Illy Coffee (whose primary brand-colour is red) this played a key part in the genesis of the name.
Q: So how many cafes do you have now in total?
Since we opened our first café in 2007 we have a total of 7 cafes located throughout the city. Our Ramsay location is still our roastery, but you can find our cafes around downtown and also a bit north up in Tuxedo.
Cole didn’t say they were making any plans at the moment to expand anywhere else in the city, but you know that with the success of these 7 cafes a couple more hopefully will find their way to other great neighbourhoods around town.
Q: So what equipment do you roast on?
We currently roast on a 12kg Probat out of our Ramsay location. Some exciting news to share with your readers is that we just put a down payment on a larger roaster (K&M refurbished Probat 45kg). This is going to be a huge game changer for our roasting and will allow us to have an even greater ability to provide consistency, higher quality control procedures and overall expand our network.
And while we love our Ramsay location and love being able to roast right then and there in front of our customers, we are looking to find a new home for our roasting operation. The reality is that a 45kg roaster will simply not fit in our Ramsay location.
thebloom.coffee: (So then what does that mean for Ramsay & your roasting)?
Well we are actively looking to find a new roasting space, and hoping the new roasting space will also be a space to host our packaging, training + quality control, kitchen and overall operations headquarters. Currently many of these are all housed in separate locations and to amalgamate these all under one roof will not only be better for our business, but also create a better atmosphere for our staff team.
We’d love for this new space to also include a tasting room and a QC lab that would be certified for SCA courses. The goal is to have a WIlly Wonka-esque facility dedicated to coffee and all it’s glory.
Q: In your opinion, what’s the specialty coffee community like in Calgary? What do you love?
Calgary has a really good coffee community. But I will say it’s quite different than many other cities in Canada. What’s unique to Calgary is that its dominated by the big 4. Calgary has fewer independent cafes than similar urban centres. We have yet to really see as well the emergence of a true multi-roaster café.
But what is clear when it comes to Calgary is that there is an incredible drive from many of the local baristas to compete and grow in their skill. Many of former Canadian Barista Champions call Calgary home, and in many of the past few major competitions most who placed in the top positions were from Calgary!
Q: Is there anything that you’d love to see?
(Cole): I would love to see cafes and baristas pushing the envelope when it comes to specialty coffee. I’d love to see cafes and baristas taking risks and really taking things to the next level. I can’t define what that means, but that’s the type of thing that gets me excited about a new cafe.
So how can/is Rosso pushing the envelope?
Wow, that’s a good question. One thing that we have begun to offer is really high-end coffee on our menu. This past year we offered coffee from La Palma y El Tucan as a retail option. This is no ordinary coffee at $100 per 340 gram bag! We sold this for $12/cup at the café. What might be shocking to your readers is that there is still little margin at this price point left for us. But regardless of this fact, we want to showcase all that coffee can be, and this is a coffee farm that goes above and beyond to create experiences, not just coffees.
WE WANT TO SHOWCASE MORE TRANSPARENCY. We want there to be more INFO to people about the farm/farmer. And we also want to provide as much info to the consumer as possible.
The more they are educated the more buy-in there is to the whole coffee experience. As an industry, we all need to move past generic labels like COSTA RICA on a bag of coffee. That doesn’t give any context to how it’ll taste, where exactly it’s from, who’s produced it, what factors might influence its flavour, etc. I want to learn when I consume.
Q: So speaking of coffee, what do you find yourself drinking/enjoying right now?
Our Rosso Shyira is dynamite right now with bright acidity/Citrus/berry/floral notes. What’s really nice about this specific coffee is that is shines as both an espresso & as a filter. I have this at home and it’s a great everyday coffee.
(the bloom) It’s what I drank with Cole during the interview
I am also really enjoying East-African coffees right now. I continue to be impressed with Rwandan coffees. But really there’s so much out there that we haven’t touched in coffee. Look out for Southeast Asia in terms of production and quality. I promise you they’re catching up to the countries we normally find on coffee menus.
Tell the readers of thebloom.coffee about some of your recent accomplishments. Or any upcoming announcements.
Well when it comes to competitions, I’ve had the honour of being the Canadian Barista Champ for both 2018 & 2019. This past year was my 9th year competing!
(thebloom.coffee) You’ve also had some pretty significant accomplishments on the world stage too haven’t you?
Yeah, recently I placed 3rd at the World Barista Championship in Boston, 2019 & the year prior I placed 5th in Amsterdam, 2018. These competitions really gave me the drive and desire to push myself to grow, learn, and be all that I can be.
We’ve also seen some amazing growth in our team here at Rosso. One of our Barista’s, Nelson competed in Coffee in Good Spirits and placed (2nd) this past year and also competed in Cup Tasters where he placed (4th) and also in the Canadian Barista Championships where he placed (5th). Another, Paul, came 2nd in the Canadian Aeropress Comp. We love to see the growth of our team members, and their desire to challenge and improve themselves. With the 2020 season starting up, we’re incredibly excited!
(thebloom.coffee) Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
This past year we were the first North American Coffee Roaster (I believe) to have their coffee in Standart Magazine (3,000 people globally received our coffee). This was a huge honour for us. We sent our Rugali Natural (Rwanda) for this feature!
In 2017 we were awarded the Small Business Award with Calgary Chamber of Commerce.
Q: Any final thoughts to share?
Cole: We are really proud & happy to promote our internal certification program.
You’ll notice on our bags 4 badges that help to explain a great deal of what we are passionate about and committed to as a company.
1. Relationship: Representing the dedication and longevity in our relationship with coffee producers. Visiting yearly and collaborating on ways to improve quality and sustainability. (direct relationship) # is how many years buying from producer.
2. Project – Working hand-in-hand with coffee producers to raise funds and achieve a common goal be it quality improvements, infrastructure, or community focused initiatives. Goal with these is to be different than most other roasters.
3. 88+ – Showcases the standout coffees that are more dynamic, more intriguing, and thought-provoking, scoring higher than 88 points on a 100 point quality scale.
4. Green – Acknowledges producers who focus on preservation of the earth and practice organic and biodynamic agriculture techniques.
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!
Visit their cafes:
They’ve got 7 cafe’s located throughout the city.
- Rosso Ramsay (Roastery & 1st cafe): #15 – 803 24 Ave SE, Calgary
- Rosso Stephen Ave.: 140 8 Ave SE, Calgary
- Rosso Victoria Park: 425 11 Ave SE, Calgary
- Rosso Inglewood: 1402 9 Ave SE, Calgary, AB
- Rosso (NMC – National Music Centre): 850 4 St SE, Calgary
- Rosso 17th Ave: 103 17 Ave SE, Calgary
- Rosso Tuxedo: 2102 Centre St N, Calgary
You can also find their beans a number of independent cafes throughout Calgary.
As a thank you from Rosso to you the reader they are offering a 15% off promo-code on their website from October 1st-7th. Type in THEBLOOM15 at checkout.
Thank you so much to Cole for sharing with us more about Rosso Coffee Roasters and for being a key part in the coffee culture in Calgary! Keep up the great work!