Few Montrealers’ passion for coffee can hold a candle to Andrew Kyres of the Sud-Ouest’s Canadian Roasting Society (CRS).
Sure, he'll tell you that his passion will ebb and flow, but it’s never burnt out through his two decades-long relationship with it, from working in chain cafés in early Oughts to running a preeminent space for all things coffee.
“You know how people get pursuits that are endless in terms of how you can finesse them like a skill? Coffee’s that for me, with so much new information that’s coming out all the time, new things to play and practice with.”
“There’s still so much that we don’t know about it. There are thousands of compounds flowing in there—you could study it forever. There are ceremonies to experience it and create more memorable experiences to it.”
TWO DECADES IN COFFEE—AND COUNTING
As Andy got his start in chains like Starbucks and Timothy’s, a business type that back then dominated the coffee landscape, he realized in 2004 that he didn’t want to part ways with his passion, but wondered if he was going to have to buy a franchise.
He ended up working in banking for a half-decade, but the independent coffee scene across Canada and States, let alone around the world, started to blossom:
“All these specialty shops were popping up. I was on the sidelines and realized you could have a café and not be a chain. I was going to Caffè In Gamba, Myriade, Pourquoi Pas—progenitors of Montreal’s scene—and I was cycling through them, even going to Toronto to check out spots like Fahrenheit, Mercuri, Thor."
"I was following them like they were sports teams.”
So, he quit his job and jumped into running Tunnel Espresso headfirst. It was niche even then: “My parents said ‘you’re going to open a café and compete with chains like Starbucks? You’re crazy!’ and I’d tell them it was only thing I liked, and I had to do it.”
That was in 2013, and a lot's happened since.
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The real impact I think we had is that people could come in here to take risky swings at their branding, packaging, and coffee menus—to try something crazy, and it worked.
A MULTIDIMENSIONAL COFFEE HUB
Since the CRS's inception to now, being run with Richard Baghdadlian—the owner of Montreal’s Myriade and a recognized leader of the city’s third-wave coffee scene—the space now touts dozens of clients they’ll either host or roast for, from independents to restaurants or cafés roasting signature creations.
What started as a co-roasting hub in 2019 for independent cafés to make their own blends has transformed into a coffee supermarket and in-house café Dreamy, an educational space to grow drinkers’ interests in its production and tastings, a place to network, and a place to be creative—whole new elements that add layers of depth more corporate entities have struggled to apply to themselves.
“I’ve had people come from other cities and regard Montreal as a mecca of coffee because of CRS. But the real impact I think we had is that people could come in here to take risky swings at their branding, packaging, and coffee menus—to try something crazy, and it worked.”
“The people who took the most creative turns have done the best.”
As the CRS’s business is growing with retail, equipment rental and using the premises, as well as wholesale and white label creations for other brands, there are still barriers.
“I see specialty coffee is growing, and wanting to become what the Nestles and Van Houttes were," Andy says.
"People want access to better options and more thoughtful coffee products. These movements can become big and grow, and evolve to the point of cementing their place in public, but it’s not there yet. The most popular product in the world is still instant coffee, even now.”
There are people who are looking for an experience in their beverage, and then there are people who buy it at chains and supermarkets who think of it in a pharmaceutical way—but our side of quality and stories is growing, and I want our space to be a source of more curiosity.
HORIZONS AND TRAJECTORIES OF THE MONTREAL COFFEE SCENE
The coffee scene in Montreal, as Andy sees it, is separated into industrial-level roasters, chains like Starbucks and Java U, and then small craft companies and cafés. That last segment is following the beer and wine world in that people are starting to follow the people behind their concepts.
“At restaurants, we understand there’s a team behind it and we’re into their story. The same can be found with winemakers, or brewers, where we follow their work. That's happening with coffee now, where people want to know what’s new.”
Although there isn’t a 1-to-1 comparison in how coffee and, say, wine is created—the latter seeing new development like being organic, biodynamic, unfiltered, or natural—but there are similarities.
“We’re roasting it lighter or darker (albeit exquisitely), we’re highlighting terroir, what people are doing at the farm and climate levels, how it’s processed. It’s fruit-forward, it’s done with finesse. Right now, there’s promise in actually developing darker roasts that can still have that fruit-forward element.”
As for consumers, Andy says there’s still a veil in between farms and cups, and CRS can foster a deeper level of excitement and engagement in the people who consume it.
“There are people who are looking for an experience in their beverage, and then there are people who buy it at chains and supermarkets who think of it in a pharmaceutical way—but our side of quality and stories is growing, and I want our space to be a source of more curiosity.”
CONSUMING A STORY
At CRS, it isn’t about just consuming coffee, it’s about consuming a story, Andy says:
“When people learn how coffee is made, they're more connected to it, and they’re consuming it more thoughtfully. To see the work that goes into it, it adds to the experience instead of being a disconnected consumable. It becomes more complex, going from sustenance to being something experiential—something you literally can’t wait to wake up to, consuming hard work and a story.”
Of course, he knows that people will still consume processed foods and the like (and that’s OK, he stresses) but that there remain possibilities to enjoy something more deeply.
“It’s amazing because coffee doesn’t look like anything,” Andy says, but what it does have is an aroma, and smell remains one of the strongest ways to conjure emotions and memories.
It’s long-lasting gas in the tank.
The Canadian Roasting Society is located at 3780 Saint-Patrick Street in Montreal's Sud-Ouest borough, across the Lachine Canal from Saint-Henri.
You can drop into their café Dreamy if you just want a cup (but try one of the biscuits).