If you’re from Toronto and you haven’t heard of Pilot Coffee, we recommended moving out from the rock you have been living under, regardless of how cheap the rent might be. All you have to do is take a stroll through Union station and you’ll find a Pilot café.
What is this Toronto craft roaster all about?
“There’s a lot of things we’re striving for, one of the key things is not just pushing quality… but making it very approachable to the consumer. Really trying to develop the palate of everyone and just really trying to share what we find makes coffee so spectacular,” explained Tyler Mastantuono, former competitive Barista, café owner and now trainer at Pilot Coffee Roasters.
Approachability is a challenge for any roaster. How do they explain what makes the coffee so exceptional in their eyes, but in a way that isn’t overly pretentious or difficult to understand?
One step in the right direction is their incredibly beautifully designed tasting bar on Wagstaff Avenue in Toronto. They can showcase their current coffee offerings in tasting flights, various brew methods as well as the specialty drinks you might salivate over while watching a barista competition… but never get to try. Well here’s your chance to dig into a drink like a Dark N’ Stormy: an Espresso & Ginger Ale Cocktail.
Navigating the sourcing aspect of green buying is another very important differentiating factor for Pilot. With a heavy focus on Direct Trade they have been able to build great relationships which have led to collaboration on unique projects with farmers.
“A good example is the Mercedes farm that we have worked with for 3 or 4 years now. Where the first year we got the coffee it was all the varietals mixed together in the same bags. It tasted great, but we could tell from tasting it that there was definitely a lot more varietals than we would be getting from other farms. Just all mixed together, various varietals,” shared Tyler.
“Because we had met the farmer and had a good relationship with them, we were able to say ‘Can we separate all the varietals?’ and he was gung-ho on the whole thing… Last year we were able to feature a few different bourbon varietals as well as a Gesha varietal that we got from him.”
And it didn’t stop there with just the varietal experiments. The farmer built a processing plant on the farm and tried drying the coffees in two different ways – as a further experiment to better understand the impact on taste when it comes to drying the coffees. With Pilot being supportive of these experiments, the farmer was able to push the boundaries and dive into the exploratory nature of coffee production without concern of not having a buyer.
“I think we had 7 different coffees available. And it’s all a result of having direct trade relationships.”
Some accolades that Pilot has received over the past couple years would include being named the 2013 Micro Roaster of the Year by Roast Magazine or finishing in 4th in the Canadian Barista Competition in 2014 (Nat Fried, who is currently head of Account Management at Pilot). But Pilot isn’t content with sitting back on their heels and enjoying the success.
Despite the quite astonishing accomplishments, they want to know more about coffee. In a similar vain to their producing partners’ experiments, they’re attempting to push the boundaries with their roasting and brewing in house to share that learning with their customers. How?
They have a dedicated employee with the title Head of Innovation – Brett Johnson.
“Well recently we’ve just been testing a lot on water and increase our understanding of how water affects the taste of our coffee. It helps us when working with our wholesale partners,” explained Tyler on one of the recent (not top-secret) projects that Brett was working on. This water test is just the tip of the iceberg for what they've got going on.
All of their efforts could be summarized by one very simple sentence Tyler shared with us:
“We’re just really focused on getting better and better every year.”