North Roast Coffee Roasters: the craft of coffee 

By Emily Coppella

North Roast Coffee Roasters | 721 Progress Ave, Unit 3 | Website

When I enter the Zoom call with Richard Ottenhof, specialty coffee leader and owner of North Roast Coffee Roaster, I can hear the roaster whirring in the back room. I’m glad I can’t smell the coffee beans through my computer, otherwise it might distract me. By the end of our conversation, Ottenhof will have (virtually) shown me the grinder and roaster that churns out the fresh-roasted microlot and fair trade coffee that North Roast Coffee Roaster is known for.

Ottenhof explains how it’s the team’s passion and professionalism that has allowed the business to be so successful.

“Everyone here is a coffee professional or aspiring to be a coffee professional. So, when the orders come through, everyone takes it very seriously. We have so many products and so many variations that you have to know your product and you have to know how to prepare properly.”

The team here understands why the first few sips of your morning cup isn’t the beginning of the coffee experience. With 25 years of experience in sourcing and selecting coffee for customers, this Ontario Craft Roaster is mindful of every step of the coffee process.

No matter how you prefer to brew, they’ve got it for you. On their online shop, you can select the bean and the grind (whole bean, French press, percolater, Chemex/Melitta, drip, home espresso, commerical espresso, Turkish) for a custom 454-gram bag experience. While they sell to wholesale customers with larger bags, they’re also available for purchase by anyone.

Giving customers the ability to customize their coffee is key, says Ottenhof:

“If you can imagine across a broad spectrum of customers, people have many different ways of preparing coffee…It’s important to meet the customer where they are, not where we want them to be… The reality is, when we’re selling coffee online, we’re competing with Amazon whether we like it or not. So, there’s an expectation from customers that when they click ‘buy’ they want the same level of service. It’s our job to make sure they get it.”

Customers can also choose the secure pick-up option, something that was perfected over the COVID-19 pandemic. Customers come to the front door of 721 Progress Avenue, unit 3, and quote their order number to receive their order. During the early days of the pandemic, the pick-up option (where customers stayed in their car and team members put their order in a box for them) or home delivery proved an excellent way to brighten a customer’s day.

“A lot of people wanted their coffee delivered to their front door and a lot of other people wanted to get out of their house, get into their car, and go somewhere that they knew the transaction was safe…The people here know our customers; they know their children’s names and so you could see when they would come pick up their coffee that, emotionally, they wanted a connection. It was important for us too. Despite all the things that the pandemic threw at us, we were still able to connect with people in a way they wanted.”

While customers can customize their cup, there are a few standards at North Roast Coffee Roaster, and Ottenhof says one of them is sustainability.

“The business is built on sustainability. That’s why it’s an electric vehicle doing the deliveries, that’s why it’s compostable bags and fair trade and organic and we’re involved in the community and supporting local projects.”

The other non-negotiable is focusing on the local. Although they courier shipments anywhere in Canada, serving Kingston the freshest coffee is North Roast Coffee Roaster’s priority. At one time, they were supplying all of Parliament Hill with coffee — they dropped the contract because when Parliament is not in session, the coffee waits and loses freshness. They’ve also turned down Costco who approached them with an offer to supply Eastern Canada.

“So, we took a big risk and said, ‘We are not going to supply those companies anymore. We are only going to focus locally, where I can roast.’”

“When we roast,” he continues, “we put the roast date on the back of very bag, one, two, three days old, and customers have it in their kitchen. That is something no one can displace. If you offer that level of freshness, it’s impossible to beat. That’s why we stay local, plus, there’s the service we’re able to offer local companies, local restaurants, and cafes…Here in our wheelhouse, this is where we truly operate.”

North Roast also offers live stream roasting events. You can tune in every Tuesday and Thursday on their website at 12:05 pm to learn more about special roasts, see exactly how the roasting process happens, learn about the shipping process, the bean history, and exactly how roasting equipment is used.

By visiting their website homepage, you can also subscribe to their newsletter to receive event reminders or watch previous roasting events such as the Ethopia Misty Valley or Colombia El Norteñdo Arabica beans.

The idea of livestreaming (or what Ottenhof calls an integral part of the future of business: live selling), came about through his involvement in Shopify’s Merchant’s Council. Another founding member was live selling and became fascinated with the idea of livestreaming coffee roasting. His excitement inspired Ottenhof to get the camera rolling.

“People can see in real time the progress and the sounds. I think for people to see how their coffee’s roasted, to know the people who are roasting it – I just think it’s a neat thing and we’re going to continue doing it, 100%, every Tuesday and Thursday. It’s been a lot of fun.”

Ottenhof also adds they have a few coffee bean growers in Brazil who are itching to come onto the screen with them and share their wisdom.

It’s clear Kingston has a team of coffee professionals dedicated to making your morning cup of joe an unforgettable experience. This is more than coffee. It’s artisanship.

“I decided I was going to roast coffee I wanted to drink,” says Ottenhof. “And that’s been the recipe for success. People say do what you love and it sounds like a cliché, but I love our coffee. I love the green coffee, I like that the bags weigh 152 pounds, I like the feel of the green beans, I like the smell and the noise of the roaster: every day. There’s nothing I’m tired of. It’s not hard for me to stay in the business because it would harm me to leave.”

North Roast Coffee Roaster turns your morning mug into a daily ritual; knowing where and how your coffee was made makes the first sip even sweeter.