Recently I found out there was a new coffee roaster in town and I got pretty excited. Not because we didn’t have locally roasted coffee here in Kitchener-Waterloo, we do. Rather it was because I knew that Smile Tiger Coffee had strong ties to what is our favorite coffee shop in KW, Death Valley’s Little Brother.
My wife and I have been meeting for daytime dates at DVLB for the last two years. They are not the only coffee shop that we go to but we do find that they pay the most attention to quality (something I’ve talked about previously with regard to coffee).
I contacted Smile Tiger to see if we could meet up and wound up sitting down for a coffee last week with Joel, who owns and runs DVLB with his wife and who is also one of the owners and founders of Smile Tiger Coffee. Quality was something he kept returning to when I asked him to describe the perfect cup of coffee.
The perfect cup of coffee doesn’t begin at a coffee or in your home. It goes back to the source—the farm—and how the coffee was grown and processed. In the case of most small coffee roasters, like Smile Tiger, the roasters are dependent on importers to help them source the highest quality green coffee beans from the best growers.
While there is a romantic idea that the best small batch coffee roasters are spending their time traveling the world in search of those perfect green coffee beans to roast, that’s almost never the way it really works.
Joel explained that in terms of both time and money a roaster who’s concerned with quality could never afford to travel to farms all over the world hoping to find the best beans. Instead roasters work closely with importers to find the best quality beans that have the characteristics that they want in a coffee and then roast those for cafes and customers. Many of these roasts end up being single origin as well as direct or fair trade.
From that point the best way to brew the coffee is with attention to every step of the process. Any corner cut can “ruin the coffee,” says Joel. At DVLB this means they use very deliberately chosen pieces of equipment for each process, from the grinder to the portafilter and its tamper (shown below), to the espresso machine, and finally the serving mugs.
For a coffee lover who brews primarily at home it is a bit out of my reach to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on my coffee brewing equipment. Nonetheless, I find that little improvements made over time (and birthdays, hint hint) can help me enjoy my coffee more and more. My sites are now set on a better grinder, either a hand operated burr grinder or a countertop one. In the meantime I do my best to purchase delicious roasted beans from local roasters that care about the quality of their products.
Over the past two years my preferred local coffee has been Planet Bean from Guelph. Their coffee is great and I love their cooperative business model. Being based within 30 minutes of KW means they are definitely “local” so I feel some connection to them and can visit their headquarters if I like. However seeing as I can easily ride my bike to DVLB and chat with the people who roast the coffee (one of the baristas, Jess, is also the roaster and green buyer for Smile Tiger) means I can learn more about the coffee and how to brew it best at home.
Because so much goes into making coffee—both in terms of environmental resources and on the processing and brewing end—I find it’s important to drink coffee slowly and without a sense of the dependency that our culture tends to practice. Like my other favorite beverage, beer, coffee should never just be something you drink because you feel you need it. You should drink it because you enjoy it. And to enjoy it you ought to make sure it is good!
I’ve spent the past week thoroughly enjoying the cold brew coffee that Smile Tiger gave me to try. The beans are called “Heaven Hammer” and are roasted with cold brew coffee as the target. I diligently followed the instructions on the bag:
- Coarsely grind the beans (which is tricky with a crummy blade grinder like mine)
- Mix them with cold water in a ratio of 1 ounce of beans per 1 cup of water
- Steep them in the fridge for 16 hours
- Filter and enjoy with ice or bourbon
I used a mason jar filled with 3 cups of water and roughly 1 cup of ground coffee (1 ounce of beans is about ⅓ cup) and filtered through an old gold coffee filter lined with very fine cheese cloth. I haven’t tried the bourbon option yet, mainly because I don’t have any bourbon on hand (hmm, a good excuse to go get some?) but I have definitely enjoyed the cold brew over ice.
Tasting Notes (because with good beverages you should take some time to ponder what you’re experiencing!):
- Aroma: My first impression of Heaven Hammer is of tobacco, followed by dark cherry and maybe a bit of toasted oak.
- Mouthfeel: This coffee is very smooth and lively, and lighter feeling than espresso.
- Flavour: It’s sweet with a bright fruity acidity. There is a slight nuttiness.
- Finish: The fruit flavors fade leaving a soft lingering bitterness that urges you on to the next sip, which is why it’s easy to keep drinking this coffee all day!
I’m excited to try Smile Tiger’s other roasts and plan to stop by DVLB again soon to taste them under the care of expert barista hands.
Smile Tiger Coffee is currently roasting in a temporary space until they have their permanent location set up. That location will feature a café where customers will be able to see the roasting equipment, and possibly observe the art in process. In the meantime the easiest way to get the coffee is by ordering online or going to DVLB in Uptown Waterloo.
You can also enter below to win a bag of coffee from STC. Keep in mind that you’ll have to pick it up from DVLB so this is mostly limited to locals:
Disclosure: I was provided with a free bag of coffee, but the opinions are my own.