Quarterly Coffee Feature (Summer 2020)- Smoking Gun Coffee

Smoking Gun Coffee has been roasting some stellar beans since 2015 and has quickly become a fixture of the Fraser Valley Coffee scene. They have an impressive lineup of roasts in their arsenal with something for everyone- light to dark and everything in between including decaf and espresso options! You can check out their selection here. They recently made the move to Abbotsford from Mission and have opened up a small, but delightful cafe. There, they’ve been dishing out a fantastic array of beverages and amazing pastries to pair with them. In fact, not all that long ago, I did a write a review of their (then) curbside cafe. They have since expanded to have seating inside while still maintaining the curbside option. You can find my write-up of that here.

Recently, I had the pleasure of chatting with founder/owner of Smoking Gun Coffee, Brandon. I thank him for taking the time out of his busy schedule to thoughtfully answer a few questions. You can read what we talked about below:

Why’d you decide to start Smoking Gun?
In many ways, Smoking Gun started me! I’ve been rattling around the coffee industry since highschool, and have always had an interest in it. After university, I began my career as a Social Worker and was having a rough time coping emotionally. I had been reading blogs about people roasting coffee in air poppers, and after tracking one down and buying some green coffee online, I found that it was one of the most therapeutic things I had ever done! It was a full sensory experience – color change,  developing smells,  cracking sounds, science, theory, art – and drinking the cup of coffee you had a part of creating. It unlocked something in my mind, and I threw myself recklessly into it. Friends started getting interested, so I bought a Behmor and spent every Saturday roasting in my garage to make a few pounds to pass around.

I was then very fortunate to connect with some beautiful folks starting a coffee shop in Mission, BC, who were looking for a local roaster. This resulted in me borrowing money from a dear friend to purchase my first commercial drum roaster, and things began to snowball from there. All the while, I continued my job in Social Work, and continued to struggle with my mental health, but roasting coffee was so restorative and life giving, I began giving it more of my time and attention. The road was long and winding, but eventually I reached a place where I could transition into Smoking Gun full time, and I still feel my mind being reborn each time I roast or pour a cup of coffee. Coffee roasting began as a desperate act for peace of mind – Smoking Gun was the result.

How’d you decide on the name for your coffee company?
I wish I had a super thoughtful, long winded explanation for the name – I don’t! I grew up in Calgary, Alberta, Smoking Gun is a nod to my cowboy roots. I remember giving coffee away at Christmas time at the very beginning (in a ziplock bag, neatly inserted into a brown paper lunch bag), and my wife said I needed a name (which I then hand wrote on the bag with a black Sharpie). I think my thought process was something like… “coffee smokes during roasting; cowboys are cool; revolvers make a neat graphic…”

Always a good experience at Smoking Gun!

How has COVID-19 affected your business?
Prior to COVID, Smoking Gun was primarily wholesaling to cafes, restaurants, and shops. When our partners were forced to close their stores down, it eliminated most of our business, seemingly overnight. We had a lot of money tied up in green coffee that had been pre-purchased for contracts that were now on hold/closed, and we had no idea what the future would look like for a micro-roaster relying on wholesaling. We initially re-focused our efforts on home delivery and felt very supported by our community who kept the roastery operating. We had been planning on launching a “pop-up” style coffee bar at our location (co-located with Ravens Brewing Company), however took the foot off the gas in late March as things started unfolding. After careful consideration and consultation, we decided to launch a “curbside cafe” in mid April – there was a lack of craft coffee options available at the time, and we already had most of the equipment and infrastructure to be able to service coffee in a safe and contactless way. The response was overwhelmingly positive, and we were completely shocked by the support of our community. The primary goal of the curbside cafe was to “keep the lights on” – it was either try it, or stop operations entirely and apply for emergency assistance. 

The cafe has now developed into a large part of Smoking Gun, including collaborations with local suppliers and vendors, indoor/outdoor seating, hiring team members, opportunities to prepare and serve our products, and a hub for retail. As BC continued to move through the phases of re-opening, we resumed many prior supply contracts, and are experiencing exciting and dynamic growth. COVID took a horrendous toll on many, and has sent shockwaves through the coffee industry that will likely be felt for years – we feel extremely fortunate/lucky/blessed to have survived through it as a small business in our first year, and have come out the other side stronger and more determined than ever.

What’s your personal favourite coffee that you roast?
Currently I am digging the Ethiopia Sidama Badessa – I normally prefer natural Ethiopians for their bright and juicy fruit notes (“fruit bombs”), but this one is SUPER special. It was directly traded by my friends Mountain Coffee (Delta), is extremely delicate, and has a floral, raspberry iced tea note. Super sweet, great cold. I dig it.

What’s your favourite part of being involved in the coffee industry?
In my experience, the coffee industry has been supportive, collaborative, and like joining a super stoked, highly caffeinated family! I have made great friends – many of whom have become mentors – who would go out of their way, and even put themselves out to support me and my journey. I experience a deep connection with many in the industry over shared passions and positions like the ethics and future of coffee, and find that it rarely takes more than 5 minutes before you enter BFF status. This is true not only with roasters, but with equipment suppliers, techs, importers, baristas, enthusiasts – when you enter this industry, you are stepping into a deep, dynamic, historic, diverse experience far beyond a cup of coffee. I feel very fortunate to be able to experience this and don’t take it for granted.

Any exciting plans coming down the pipeline (new roasts, etc.) for readers to keep an eye out for?
We have a Costa Rican micro lot getting ready to drop, and are really stoked on a Brazilian anaerobic fermented coffee we are featuring right now. We are growing our cafe team, adding a few more to the crew, and stoked on the culture being built around Smoking Gun. Also, we are installing a service window at our location in Ravens Brewing to make it more convenient to order while remaining outside and socially distanced.

I highly recommend checking out Smoking Gun’s Cafe if you are ever in the area. Also, be sure to check them out on Instagram. Brandon is a great guy to connect with, he knows a lot about coffee!

*If you know a great roaster/company that you’d like to see featured in the next edition of this series, shoot me a message on Instagram. Cheers!

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