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10 January 2022

Celebrating Coffee Culture In Kingston

If anything good has come out of the covid-19 pandemic, it is a greater appreciation of all things local — from makers and farmers to chefs and local shops, we have come together to celebrate and support our local vendors.

Communities have found local producers to be anchors around which to rally during difficult times. And in Kingston, coffee lovers are rallying around North Roast Coffee Roasters — a local community business that is doing everything right: from sustainable packaging and free local delivery in an electric car to sourcing fair trade beans and even turning down Costco as a distributor to maintain their focus on local customers.

Owner Richard Ottenhof has been a staple of the Kingston community for 25 years. He started roasting organic, fair trade coffee beans in 1997, back when the speciality coffee movement was still in its infancy (read: before there was a Starbucks on every corner).

“People were used to terrible coffee and stale coffee,” Richard says. “And once you drink fresh coffee, that changes everything. You can’t go back to buying grocery store or big box coffee.”

The coffee beans arrive in 60 to 69 kg jute bags (jute is similar to burlap) from fair trade farms all over the coffee-growing world (Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatamala, Mexico, Indonesia, India, Ethiopia and Rwanda to name a few) and are roasted to order on site. If you want to get a feel for how coffee is roasted, Richard hosts livestream roasting events twice a week, there’s a link on his website.

The beans (which can also be ground to your specific brewing needs) get packaged in a 100% compostable bag, secured with a small metal clip and stamped with the date of roasting. Richard recommends buying a bag at a time and enjoying the coffee as fresh as possible.

And what’s the best way to brew coffee?

“There’s a real snobbery in the coffee world and I believe very strongly people need to drink their coffee the way they enjoy it,” Richard says. “They don’t need anyone to tell them how to enjoy their coffee. If they ask me for advice I would say here’s a little tweak or here’s something you can do. I would not say you need to throw out all your brewing equipment and start from scratch. I think it alienates people and the whole thing about coffee is that you’re supposed to gather people and you can’t gather people if you make them feel bad.”

Perhaps it is Richard’s welcoming attitude, in addition to the expertise of his team and the quality of the beans, that make North Roast such a popular choice for coffee drinkers in Kingston and beyond.

Three year ago, Richard and his team moved into a larger location in Kingston’s west end, but even this bigger space is proving too small.

“We are bursting at the seams,” Richard says. “It’s time to find a much larger space that we can grow into.”

While the last two years of the pandemic have been stressful — “non-stop thinking about how do I change, how do I evolve?” — it has also been rewarding, with North Roast seeing a doubling of its business.

“Local is a very powerful motivator for people,” Richard say, adding that more and more people want to know where their food and products are coming from and they want to support businesses that cater to building relationships with producers. At North Roast, you will know exactly where your beans have come from. Richard even sources some beans from microlot farms — “handpicked in someone’s backyard” — for a coffee experience that’s second to none.

“This is coffee how it was 100 years ago,” he says.

This year is Richard’s 25th in the coffee roasting business and he’s not slowing down.

“The way you stay in business for 25 years is that you just show up every day. You just show up and you work,” he says. “When you start a small business, it’s like picking up pennies in front of a steamroller. You pick them all up and you keep moving forward. At the end, you look up, because you’ve been looking down for 25 years, and you go, ‘ok this is good. This is ok.'”

Kingston residents can order fresh coffee beans to be delivered to their home or picked up curbside. If you’re planning a trip to Kingston, a bag of fresh coffee from North Roast is the perfect souvenir to bring home.

Heading to Kingston? Check out our South Eastern Ontario packages

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