Canada has so many great coffee roasters. We are so incredibly fortunate that there is no shortage of roasters from coast to coast who seek to bring their own unique spin to this drink we all love so much. One of those roasters that I have grown quite fond of over the past few months is FireBat Coffee Roasters.
I had the opportunity to get my hands on some of their coffee a few months back and enjoyed what was an incredible experience of tasting coffee from the country of El Salvador (which is not an origin that I have tried a great deal)...more about this point later in this write-up. And so following some conversations with Leena and the rest of the FireBat team, it was clear to me that I wanted to share their story as my February Coffee Roaster of the Month. Enjoy the read.
Hey Firebat, so great to get the chance to connect with you! So, tell us a little more about yourself.
Firebat is run by a husband-and-wife team, Gustavo and Leena, originally from El Salvador and Finland, respectively, along with Firebat co-founder Rodrigo who is based in El Salvador.
Firebat’s roots developed gradually through years of intense curiosity about coffee. Gustavo and Rodrigo met in 2014 and at the time Rodrigo was already neck deep involved in the Salvadoran coffee landscape and Gustavo was enthusiastically getting deeper in it. They were just two friends going to the coffee farms, learning, sharing and having fun many times. Gustavo and Leena with their family decided to move to Canada and pursue an even higher calling with their shift from corporate world into the coffee industry upon moving to the Greater Toronto Area in 2016. We began operating Firebat in Oakville, Ontario early 2017.
So why the name Firebat Coffee?
We wanted a simple name that could evoke our approach to coffee. Fire represents the land of fire from where our coffee comes from. El Salvador is an extremely vibrant place with significant volcanic activity, and many coffee farms in the country thrive on the nutrients of volcanic soil.
And Bat encapsulates the soul of our project. In Mayan mythology bat is a symbol of change, and we want to add our efforts towards a change for a more equitable coffee industry, be part of a solution to the coffee crisis.
When did you first begin roasting coffee?
[Gustavo] I started around 2013 as an avid, curious home roaster, which them became a craft after polishing many skills through formal instruction but mostly with practice, observation, and recording of results. Commercially we started roasting as Firebat in early 2017 in Canada.
Speaking of roasting coffee, can you share more about what equipment you roast on, and tell us about your philosophy and approach when it comes to roasting?
We use a Giesen W15 machine. It’s a fine Dutch machine that allow the user to create the roast but offers extremely accurate and useful information about the needed parameters to have a successful roasted batch of coffee. In terms of philosophy we roast as light as we feel each coffee reflects its full flavour potential, taking special care about acidity which we find in North American markets is not so looked for. In that sense we apply slight different settings per coffee type aiming to increase the sweetness and smoothness.
What seems to set you apart from many other coffee roasters I have met, is that you source coffee exclusively from El Salvador, and not only that you have your own coffee farm. Can you share more about that?
Our concept is quite different in many aspects. We only work with beans from El Salvador because it’s our homeland and we want to help as much as we can. But we also want to be able to do Direct Trade with all the farms we work with. We have a constant presence at the origin as Rodrigo is based in El Salvador and works with the different producers year-round. We source from more than a dozen different coffee producers and bring to Canada some of the best coffee lots produced in El Salvador each year. Most of our coffees come from Cup of Excellence winning farms.
We do our sourcing based on flavour profiles. The high-quality-producing farms, produce a relatively small amount compared to the total coffee output in El Salvador. We showcase different beans — only single varieties and premium ones — like Pacas, SL34, Pacamara, Bourbon, SL28, Gesha processed in different drying methods like washed, honeys and naturals as well as new experimental methods such as anaerobic coffees.
We also have our own farm, Balam, in the region of Chalatenango. Balam was half planted with mostly the pacas variety and some yellow caturra trees, and we have been reforesting the small farm with great varieties such as SL28, Gesha, pacamara since 2015. We feel extremely grateful of having the unique opportunity as a roaster to have a farm which allows us to see the entire process from seed to cup. It also allows us to relate to producers in El Salvador and see what problems they’re struggling with or what they’re succeeding in. It also allows us to plant delicate coffee varieties and serves us sort of as a “coffee farming lab” to experiment and test different coffee growing and processing methods for years to come.
Given your connection to El Salvador, what do you love most about coffee from this region? What is special about El Salvadorian coffee?
We love the fact that El Salvador has so much to offer in coffee, it is a microcosm of a big coffee world that lives out there. In El Salvador, which is about the size of Lake Ontario, we have about 20,000 coffee producers, many of them doing such an interesting work when in comes to quality and product development and innovative farming techniques. For example, Pacamara variety, a cross of Pacas with Maragogype, was developed in El Salvador in the 1950s. Pacamara today is sought-after bean bean with its unique characteristics and we always have different lots of pacamara in our offering.
We hold El Salvador dearly because we lived there and it is our homeland, and yes the coffee is exceptional.
In your opinion, what’s the specialty coffee community like in Oakville/Greater-Toronto-Area? What do you love?
We love that there is a growing awareness for great coffee and what farming coffee means. It is transitioning from the neglected product any gas station would offer for cents with a bitter customer experience into something that is enjoyable, that has a face to it, something that we can be proud of and take care of.
The challenge is immense to communicate and make people aware of the choices we have and the consequences of our purchases, but for sure there is a positive energy around coffee.
We feel that the way of the future is true collaboration and trust, we all struggle with some hard economic barriers such as huge marketing budgets from corporate giants, the drive-thu approach to our products, the huge pockets of conglomerates and many more, but with collaboration we can tackle such challenges.
I see on your site such an incredible variety when it comes to the coffees you offer. Why do you feel it is important to offer such a variety? How have your customers responded to this?
We feel that the most exciting part of experiencing coffee is not the old paradigm of taking it to “wake up” but to enjoy coffee as a social or a meditative drink that can help us ride a better day overall. Therefore coffee when one has the opportunity to explore with different beans offers a fun dynamic where people can share and exchange views about their experiences. Our customers respond very well to that, since some people prefer to stay with what they like but many people enjoy tremendously the exploration part and like to have something new to try.
So speaking of coffee, what are you drinking/enjoying right now?
We are super stoked enjoying our latest release which is a yellow caturra from our farm Balam.
You have done much to help shape the specialty coffee culture. What would love to see change as it pertains to specialty coffee?
Specialty coffee as such seems to us as the viable way to work with coffee and change the rules of the game. We would like to see change in addressing the fundamental and ramifications of the problems that are created for following “mass production mentality”. We feel that the industry has been giving us cheap coffee but at a very expensive environmental and social cost.
Find their beans: If you’re looking to get your hands on some beans then definitely check out their web-store for what they’re currently roasting! They offer free Canada-wide shipping for all orders over $40.
I just want to say a huge thank you to Leena and the entire team at FireBat Coffee for sharing more about themselves and for being such a huge contributor to the coffee culture in the Oakville/Greater Toronto Area. Check out their site, grab yourself some beans and discover more about he great coffee coming out of El Salvador.
And as a huge THANK YOU to you for reading this entire article, the team at FireBat would like to provide a 15% off promo-code to use on their site! Use COMMONLY15 at checkout and enjoy their great coffee while saving some cash too! And remember, they offer free Canada-wide shipping for all orders over $40.