Chat with Shaun Waitzer

By Kristy Elik

The next time you’re at a local café and you’re about to savour that first heavenly sip of specialty espresso-based coffee, don’t take for granted the journey those little beans have travelled, from a coffee plant grown in a remote and distant land (did you know they’re green when first picked?) all the way into your mug here, close to home.

Yes, the art and science of roasting a great brew is complicated, and as it turns out, Canada is relatively unevolved in coffee knowledge, education and appreciation compared to the rest of the world. Although we’re making strides, we still have a long way to go — and that’s where Brothers’ Coffee Roasters comes in.

Owned by founder, roast master and head of operations Shaun Waitzer, Brothers’ — available locally at Kerr Street Café — is making strides to convert mere coffee fans into coffee connoisseurs, one cup of deliciousness at a time. Hailing from New Zealand, the country of flat whites, Waitzer has ventured to some of the most renowned coffee producing regions in the world with the intent of bringing home the very best beans — and he plans to visit many more.

Honing the craft is an intense process; Waitzer pursued training across the border in coffee roasting, learning how to develop his palate to decipher the different notes that can be blended together, along with brewing and barista training.

West sat down with Waitzer at his Oakville roastery to discuss his passion for the craft.

When did you discover your love for the art and science of creating a fabulous cup of coffee?

I was lucky enough to work in my uncle’s café in New Zealand when I was 13. I became absolutely fascinated with the roasting and brewing machines. So, I washed dishes by day and started to experiment with the brewing process by night. I also practiced steaming milk whenever I could. My first real accomplishment was learning how to pull a short espresso!

I moved on and worked at a high-end restaurant for a time, but I found it stuffy. As a lifelong surfer and skier, I find I prefer a more laid-back, chill environment… so I ran a café with my brother Mark, and that’s where the name of our coffee brand comes from. And that’s when I realized I need to be able to control the quality of the roasts I serve. Our brand is built on the concept of quality over quantity.

Share some of your secrets to brewing a great cup.

The bottom line is, great coffee starts with great beans. The quality and flavour of your coffee isn’t just determined by the brewing process, but also by the type of coffee you choose. There can be a world of difference between roasts. Some of the flavour factors include: country and region of origin, variety of bean — arabica, robusta or a blend — the roast type, and the texture of your grind. We try out different beans from different countries all the time in a process called cupping, much like wine tasting.

How would you suggest coffee lovers develop their palate for higher-quality brews?

There is definitely a similarity between learning to taste wine and becoming more familiar with the countries the grapes are from and learning to taste coffee. There’s an education process that takes place. It’s like you graduate from diner coffee with its never-ending refills, to your Tim Hortons’ double-double, to your Starbucks Americano… and then you discover specialty coffee at a café or coffee house and it’s hard to go back. I’ve never actually tasted Tim Hortons — I’m too fond of our blends.

What resources would you recommend for the passionate home brewer who wants to understand how to find tasting notes in their own palate?

The best way to describe tasting notes is “flavours that are reminiscent of…” The Specialty Coffee Association is a great resource to help you narrow down which flavours you’re tasting by categorizing into sweet/fruity/floral, etc. And then you can further narrow down specific flavours.

What’s your go-to Brothers’ blend?

Notorious, double flat white. I actually go to bed feeling excited for my coffee the next morning. It’s the whole routine: the firing up of the machine, the heavenly smell, the anticipation of those first few sips… Mmmm.

Any other important advice?

Purchase your coffee as soon as possible after it’s roasted. Fresh-roasted coffee is so important. Buy your coffee in small amounts, ideally every one to two weeks. Brothers’ has actually been approached by retailers to sell our beans but we can’t have them getting stale and producing a less than perfect cup.