Sometimes it seems like the latest trends have to swim upstream to find fertile ground in Canada, but once the seed’s been planted, proliferation can be swift. The rising tide of cold brew coffee is an example of Canada’s immunity to fads, as now that the beverage in all its manifestations seems officially here to stay, it’s also taking hold north of the border.
Case in point, the thriving Toronto cold brew company Station Cold Brew Coffee Co. just expanded operations into Canada’s first all-cold-brew “brewery” this past October. Plans for the Junction Triangle space at 300 Campbell Avenue included a public retail component — an all-cold-brew “bottle shop,” as it were — to be built out as production ramped up. The retail shop indeed opened to public in November, serving Station’s nitro cold brew and organic blend on tap, with coolers stocked with the company’s full array of RTD products: a 12.6-ounce stubby bottle, a 32-ounce concentrate, a 5-liter bag-in-a-box and 64-ounce growlers.
“We haven’t had anyone come in and ask for a keg yet. But if they did, we could get them set up,” SCBCC Founder Steve Ballantyne told Daily Coffee News. Station’s wholesale business provides plenty of 30-liter kegs to offices, groceries, bars and restaurants.
The coffee is roasted about 20 minutes away by the conscientious and quality-forward Social Coffee and Tea Company, with whom the Station crew collaborated. “We went through a pretty rigorous process to find the right blends,” said Ballantyne, whose company at first held public tastings for feedback on various flavor profiles that were then paired down to their final forms by Station brewmaster Mike Roy. After that, they rely on Social Coffee’s QC to continue selecting the appropriate coffees as seasons change to maintain the precise profile they’ve developed.
“We’re pretty insane about keeping that flavor consistent not only across all our products, but year round, the best we can,” said Ballantyne. “It is coffee, so there’s always going to be some variation. But we’re very serious about keeping that flavor as consistent as possible.”
After much deliberation, the final blend turned out to be an 18-hour steep of an African, a South American, and a hint of roasted chicory for its chocolatey, nutty finish — a recipe that was also, by a coincidence of keen flavor judgment, the same conclusion Starbucks apparently came to in developing their own cold brew product, which rolled out in Toronto at around the same time Station was getting on its feet.
“They were using almost the exact same bean blend that we had been using for a year,” said Ballantyne, and though he admitted to having about 30 seconds of panic upon receiving a forward of the Starbucks press release announcing the rollout, he was able to take a few deep breaths and realize it was actually a good thing — a mass consumer education. “All of a sudden everyone knew what cold brew was,” said Ballantyne of the radio ads and billboards that explained the nature of their product. “It really legitimized our company and the offering and that we weren’t just some fringe, hipster-ish coffee trend that no one’s going to take seriously.
“It was really all positives in my book, for sure. It’s probably been one of the single best things that has happened to us, outside of our business.”
For as long as it makes sense financially, Ballantyne said there’s no motivation for Station to pursue an in-house roasting operation, as the coffee quality and the personal relationship with Social is beyond satisfactory. A few more years of steady growth could change things, but it’s not a consideration at the moment, nor is there any plan for additional bottle shop locations. “We’re wholesalers first and foremost,” said Ballantyne. “There’s a ton of work to be done at the wholesale level.”
To that end, SCBCC is enjoying its new scaled-up facility for increasing output, and its new direct-to-consumer resource for trying out new products as they expand the line. The shop has a few spent-ground “upcycled” products, including facial scrubs and a product potentially close to the heart of many in the coffee and roasting industry—beard balm. “I personally get really dry skin under my beard,” said Ballantyne, who uses all of Station’s products himself. The balm incorporates spent grounds that are further ground down to a point of fineness where they’re imperceptibly blended with the other ingredients to form a waxy, oily material that moisturizes the skin, adds a nice shine to the beard, and alleviates “beard-druff,” the enemy of beard-strokers everywhere.
As far as additional drinkable products go, there are more of those coming, too. “We have a close relationship with a grass-fed dairy producer called Rolling Meadow, and we’re currently in the process of developing a coffee-and-milk product,” said Ballantyne, tacitly acknowledging that that might not seem like a major headline by US standards. “The States is always ahead of us. You guys are always on the cutting edge, doing really cool stuff,” said Ballantyne.
Meanwhile in Toronto, it’s Station’s cool stuff that’s catching fire.