When you think of the Fraser Valley, and and the city of Chilliwack, there are a number of things that one might think of that begin with the letter “C”…
– COUNTRY MUSIC
…but what about COFFEE?
In a city far removed from the world renowned coffee-culture of Vancouver (honestly it feels like a trek to a far away land), Chilliwack seems like the last place you’d find a specialty coffee shop. But this is where Smoking Gun Coffee Roasters has decided to set up shop. And let me tell you, they’re not only serving great coffee, they’re roasting it too…right inside their cafe.
It’s for this very reason that I knew I had to feature them on this site as my Coffee Roaster of the Month. So after hanging out with the owner Brandon a few months ago, we got chatting and I am thrilled to have him share their story with you.
Hey Smoking Gun Coffee Roasters, so great to get the chance to connect with you! So, tell us a little more about yourself.
Smoking Gun has been a slow burn that has recently exploded! I have been rattling around in coffee throughout the years, working as a barista in Calgary through high-school/university, then starting to dabble in roasting in 2015. At the time I was working as a Social Worker and having a difficult time coping with my emotions. I found roasting coffee to be the most therapeutic act I’ve ever engaged in – a full sensory experience, engaging the mind and body, and resulting in a tangible reward that can be shared. Roasting was so life giving, it was easy to throw myself recklessly at it.
I started consuming any information or resources I could find; connecting with others in the industry; experimenting, sampling, cupping… and people started to get stoked on trying my coffee out! From there I began hustling coffee out of my garage, roasting on a Behmor, then picked up a few contracts and grew into a 1KG Mill City Roaster. Once we outgrew that, we expanded onto a 5KG Toper which was initially located in a shipping container in the backwoods of Mission BC, I quit my day job, and SG started gaining momentum.
Can you share a bit more about what is behind the name “Smoking Gun”?
I’m often asked this and wish I had a super romantic answer – I don’t LOL. When people started asking to buy my coffee, I realized it needed a name. Smoking Gun is a nod to my cowboy roots (Calgary born and bred!)… coffee smokes when you roast it… thats pretty much the story behind the name haha.
Back in June I had the chance to visit your café and had the opportunity to hear quite a bit about your unique journey to where things are at for you today. Can you share more about all that’s gone on over the past few years to where things are at today.
The word that immediately comes to mind is “dynamic!” These past few years have been DYNAMIC – a beautiful tension of exciting and terrifying! I launched full time into SG in 2019, opening our first commercial roasting space in a corner of Ravens Brewing Company in Abbotsford, BC. Then, just a few months later, the world comes to a screeching halt due to the pandemic. Being a wholesale roastery, this meant all our contracts were paused and essentially the end of our business. In classic “Hail Mary” fashion, we decided to pivot to continue roasting and hopefully keep the dream alive, launching our first coffee service in the tasting room of the brewery.
At the time, our “Curbside Cafe” was a fairly new idea – guests would order online, identify their car on the order, we’d rip up a latte and run it out to their car. It caught on and the barista team started growing. We then got invited to do a “pop up” cafe at a local mall, and what was meant to be a 4-week event turned into a 6-month residency – we learned a TON, kept growing the team and roasting for our incredible community of stockists. From there, we were invited to join a new development in downtown Chilliwack and establish our first brick and mortar roastery/cafe which launched in Sept 2021! SG Chilliwack has been SO warmly welcomed by the community; our incredible staff team has grown and SLAYS daily; and we are so honoured to be a part of peoples coffee rituals!
When I was at your café, I loved seeing that you roast all of your coffee right in the same spot. Can you share more with our readers about what equipment you roast on, and tell us more about your philosophy and approach when it comes to sourcing coffee & roasting it?
Currently all the goods come from our beloved 5KG Toper! We’ve loved learning and growing on this little workhorse and have tricked it out as much as possible to create beautiful, consistent coffee. But HOLY SMOKES that’s a lot of roasting at 8lbs a pop! One of the most beautiful aspects of working in coffee is the people, and we’ve made beautiful relationships with our importers – experts on ethically sourcing the most gorgeous coffees possible. Our focus on sourcing is traceability – utilizing coffees from small-hold farmers (some only a few hectares) that our import partners have had firsthand experience with, observing their farming practices and treatment of employees, linking us up with like minded, budding coffee producers. This gives us access to some unique coffees from small producing regions.
Traceability can also mean less emphasis on certifications – though incredibly important in practice, these certifications can be extremely expensive, restrictive, and at times politically corrupt at the farm level. Though some of our coffees are certified, many INCREDIBLE offerings are not. However, traceability allows us to know that they are farmed ethically, often organically yet uncertified, and that producers are compensated fairly for their harvest. We have also partnered with several coffee cooperatives, where several small hold farms utilize a common washing station and distribution network. This has allowed us to invest dollars into infrastructure that supports many producers, observe the constant refining of their farming practices, and participate in the development of these smaller producing regions.
And I hear that there might be something new and exciting in the works when it comes to your roasting operation. Care to share some inside-info on what’s in the works?
YES! We are SUPER STOKED to be launching a new production facility and expand our operations on a recently rebuilt Probat 25KG. This will be located very close to our location in Chilliwack, allowing us to increase our production and grow the SG fam!
Ok, so Chilliwack, BC isn’t necessarily known for being a specialty coffee hot-spot, but what is going on in the city that you’re loving when it comes to coffee?
Chilliwack BC has completely won our heart! It is this beautiful fusion of rural and urban – loads of access to nature; all the services of a big city; but the most exciting thing is the explosion of culture in real time! Being located a bit out there (but come on… its not THAT far from Vancouver!), cost of living is a bit more reasonable, and the city is filling up with brilliant makers, artisans, and small businesses. There are several great coffee spots in town, including some of the BEST coffee trucks around. Big love to the city for embracing creative and unique ways to create culture and community. It is seriously an incredible place to be – so much so that our family just moved into town!
How about any notable events you’ve been a part of?
We just wrapped up the Chilliwack Mural Fest which was CRAZY! Chilliwack Pride was the next day and also a beautiful event. Downtown Chilliwack (where SG is located) has a phenomenal business association which works hard to bring buzz to the community – we’ve had classic car shows, a Christmas village (including ferris wheel), loads of live music…pull up sometime! There’s always something going on!
Any exciting collaborations you’ve been involved in?
One of the best parts of our community is the collaboration between businesses! We work closely with our neighbours, including Fieldhouse Brewing, Bricklayer Brewing, and Bow and Stern Restaurant to dream up creative (and delicious!) collabs. We’ve had several collab beers with FH and others; Bow roasts the beef for our Deli Roast Beef Sando; Bow uses SG coffee for their desert features and house coffee; we all share and give when in need – it’s a beautiful place to be!
You mention on your website this mantra that help guide you; “The best coffee of all is coffee for all.” Can you share more about what this quote means to you, and practically, how you live this out at Smoking Gun?
I read this quote on a shirt from Department of Brewology around the time we were launching SG Chilliwack, and it really rocked me. In fact, “coffee for all” is now a tagline on our mission statement! Coffee has and continues to be an extremely important, romantic, and time tested medium for connection – not only with each other, but also within ourselves. Without connection, coffee is just ground up seeds steeped in boiling water, resulting in a little energy boost (NOT romantic!). Coffee culture is brilliant, vibrant, and dynamic, but can sometimes feel inaccessible and overly complicated.
For us at SG, our primary focus is creating a safe, accepting, inclusive experience where EVERYONE can find connection. We can roast award winning coffees; rip on fancy espresso machines; have the best food offerings; create a dope atmosphere; but if we don’t facilitate connection, none of that really matters. This is also reflected in our roasting style – we’re proud to offer a broad range of coffees – from light, bright, and exotic to dark, developed, and roasty (including DOPE decaf) – to make SG as accessible as possible. The power is in connection, and our goal is to craft EXCEPTIONAL coffee
experiences to see this happen. The best coffee of all is COFFEE.FOR.ALL.
So speaking of coffee, what are you drinking/enjoying right now?
As I write this, I am sipping on a GORGEOUS Peruvian coffee roasted by Harken (Vancouver, BC). Very smooth, bright, and sparkly on the Chemex. I’m a real sucker for Ethiopian coffees, and am enjoying our Ethiopia Guji Uraga G1 – mega juicy and bright, almost like a spoon full of Fruit Loops. We are also featuring this on our nitro tap and it is UNREAL!
It was so good to have the chance to meet up this month at Beanstock Coffee Festival. How important are these types of events to help grow the coffee community? What was the highlight of Beanstock to you?
Beanstock is one of our favourite events! The energy is electric (and unlimited coffee helps!). I love seeing such a diverse group of people gathering around a shared excitement of craft coffee. Beanstock does a fantastic job of creating opportunities for anyone to engage in coffee culture, expose them to some of the raddest roasters, and sample coffees they may not otherwise have the chance to. It expands pallets, blows minds, and creates buzz which helps grow the community.
Nothing fills our sails or grows our hearts more than seeing the smiles on faces as guests sip on new and exciting coffees – that’s gotta be a highlight! This year, I also had the great honour of demo-ing the brand new Aremde Espresso Machine from Australia! Keep your eye out for these – I think they are a brilliant concept in creating more openness and opportunity for connection in our cafes – plus they are a work of art!
Looking beyond COVID-19 what do you see as some of the emerging trends or new initiatives that will shape the future of specialty coffee?
Sheesh – this is a tough question! If i’m honest, I feel like we just put our head down during the pandemic and hustled to stay alive. It’s only recently that we’ve been able to sit back and start debriefing the experience. There are many well known complications in many industries – logistics; supply; inflation – coffee is no different. I can’t speak for other roasters, but I know for SG we are working much more closely with our suppliers to establish closer working relationships with our producers; planning farther ahead for our offerings and releases; and creating recurring buying plans with farms for their planning and security. I also see an employment trend emerging, where individuals are seeking employment that is rewarding and congruent with their values and beliefs, while also being financially sustainable in our current economy.
I feel hopeful that the true value of specialty coffee is being more broadly recognized, and that the days of “cheap coffee” are coming to an end. I think it’s extremely important to acknowledge how many humans are behind each cup of coffee – from the farmers to your favourite barista- and spend our dollars on coffee products that ensure everyone is being treated fairly and ethically. There is a reason specialty coffee costs more than the grocery store, and it’s not because us roasters are driving Ferraris!
Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
For me, coffee has been part of my healing journey, and continues to be extremely life-giving and restorative. Coffee has connected me with some of the most beautiful people I’ve ever met, and facilitates connection with myself daily. Coffee=connection, and connection is powerful! I hope wherever you are in your coffee journey that you find connection, and remember that the best coffee of all is coffee for all!
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.
If you happen to find yourself travelling to the great city of Chilliwack, make sure to stop by their cafe!
I just want to say a huge thank you to Brandon and the entire Smoking Gun Coffee Roasters team for being such a huge contributor to the coffee culture in the Chilliwack, BC. Check out their site, grab yourself some beans and enjoy!