We're in the thick of it now. As July turns to August, ratcheting up the heat index, so too do we here at Sprudge ratchet up the heat on our annual series, the Build-Outs of Summer. And today, we're heading back north to Vancouver to check in with Prototype Coffee.
Operating for years now as a wholesale roaster, Prototype is opening their first-ever store front to showcase their “continual pursuit of excellence.” And at their cafe, Prototype is doing something a little different. Instead of roasting on a single commercial-sized roaster, Prototype will instead use three Aillio Bullet R1s, one kilogram roasters. This, according to Prototype's Matt Johnson, will give them the flexibility to roast as little as one bag at a time while allowing guests to see the roasting process firsthand, from green to brown.
It's an ambitious plan, and it's in its soft opening phase now. So let's get a sneak peak at the brand new cafe for Prototype Coffee in Vancouver, British Columbia.
As told to Sprudge by Matt Johnson.
For those who aren’t familiar, will you tell us about your company?
Prototype has been operating as a small batch specialty roaster in Vancouver for a couple years now but has only been offering coffee wholesale and for sale in an online store. We like to source a wide variety of coffees all at once, but they all have to be exceptional. We give sourcing preference to small unique lots sourced through our importing partners who build healthy and long term relationships with the producers at origin.
Here's our mission statement: “Prototype exists to source, roast, and serve top quality coffees to consumers in a way that strives for continual improvement, innovation, and excellence and respects each participant in the supply chain, the product itself, and the customer. In all spheres, Prototype prioritizes the continual pursuit of excellence. This means working toward constant improvements in the quality of our products, in the efficiency and efficacy of operations, and in our relationships and service to customers. We are also guided by curiosity, always searching for new and better techniques and flavors.”
Can you tell us a bit about the new space?
We’re opening a coffee roastery and tasting room in Vancouver designed to showcase a wide range of coffees all roasted on site in tiny batches.
We’re paying a lot of attention to the design of the space on both sides of the bar in order to create a unique coffee tasting experience that is striking and memorable, and we think it’s going to be something really special. At the same time, it’s important to us that the tasting room is welcoming and not alienating to anyone, so while we will be rigorous in our coffee program, we will also aim to be thoughtful and accommodating in our communication.
The design itself will play with light and shadows, contrasting clean lines and angles, and a monochrome palette with green accents (using preserved moss installations). The idea is to create an immersive background that makes the color of the coffee itself stand out. The layout is a little unusual—the lines and the angles are designed to hide and reveal different parts of the space depending on where you're standing, so just walking through the front door over to the coffee bar should feel almost like you're discovering something surprising.
What’s your approach to coffee?
We’ll be implementing an unusual approach for our production roasting that involves three Aillio Bullet R1 roasters operating right behind the bar. The system will have the flexibility to roast as small as a single bag at a time but with a relatively high per hour production capacity. Customers will also be able to see the roasting process take place from green coffee to finished product.
In terms of roasting style, Prototype uses a medium-light roasting style. Because we feel like each coffee has its own story to tell, we tailor each profile to enhance and showcase what we think the coffee has to say. For us, that means trying to maximize sweetness, balance, and versatility across brew methods while trying to avoid roasty notes. The goal is to use roasting as a way to give the coffee a voice without getting in the way too much. We don't want to flavor the coffee; we want to let it speak.
Any machines, coffees, special equipment lined up?
Yes! We've got a really exciting lineup of equipment.
Aillio Bullet R1 roasters: we'll be lining up three right behind the bar for all of our roasting.
Modbar AV: The new AV has a gravimetric function with scales built into the drip trays, so every shot comes out at the exact weight you want. This makes for fast, consistent precision.
Nuova Simonelli Mythos II: We're going to be running the gravimetric Mythos II as our primary espresso grinder. The gravimetric feature will allow us to be really precise in our shots every time, especially in combination with the Modbar AV.
Lyn Weber Workshops EG-1 grinder: This single dose grinder is a game changer. We're going to be using it on our espresso bar for alternative espresso options. The build quality on these things is just insane—such a well designed piece of equipment. It'll add some really exciting flexibility to the espresso bar.
Gina drippers by Goat Story: We'll be using these brewers for a hybrid immersion/pour-over recipe. Elegant and versatile design on these.
Marco UC8 undercounter hot water tower: We chose this not only for its its sleek and minimalist profile on the counter, but also for its multi-temperature versatility. It'll give us the flexibility to brew at multiple temperatures as needed for both coffee and tea.
Mahlkönig EK43S: Our brew bar and batch brew will run through this grinder.
How is your project considering sustainability?
One of the most important aspects to us about coffee sourcing is ensuring that the supply chain is ethical and economically sustainable. To us, this is even more important than how the coffee tastes (which means it's super important because taste is key for us!). We only buy from importers who pay significantly above the C market price for the coffee they source and who care about investing in long term and economically healthy relationships. So sustainability is one of the central considerations in our coffee buying decisions.
In the roastery, our production roasting model is an attempt to optimize the roasting system by reducing waste. By using three small roasters, there's no risk of having to throw away large quantities of coffee while trying to get the profile just right—our sample size is essentially the same as the production batch size. This approach allows us to really treat the coffee with respect and extra care. We're applying this sense of respect and care to every aspect of our bar. Our gravimetric espresso systems and our single dose grinders minimize the amount of coffee that is just thrown out while dialing in.
We'll also be using an energy efficient electrostatic precipitator for our smoke elimination system, which will reduce our roasting emissions basically to zero without huge energy costs.
What’s your hopeful target opening date/month?
Are you working with craftspeople, architects, and/or creatives that you’d like to mention?
Definitely. I've got some really great people on this project.
Bill Uhrich and Liina Pikk from Simcic + Uhrich Architects: I met with Bill at the beginning of all this and pitched him some of my ideas, but I was blown away by the fresh take he brought back in his first design proposal. Bill is an incredibly gifted interior designer and architect and a joy to work with.
Evan Creedon from Milltown Contracting: I've been so impressed with the quality of Milltown's work on this project. When they build things, they build them perfectly with no compromises. The project is in great hands.
Sarah Annand and Cody Allmin from Boxset Designs: They've done some incredible work to give Prototype's brand a facelift. We're going to be launching a new bag design soon, and we've got some really exciting new branding that we'll be rolling out when the new location opens.
Kat Pino Ceramics: We’ve been working with Kat to develop a line of custom ceramic cups for espresso drinks. After four rounds of prototypes, we’ve arrived at a cup design that will look and feel incredible with coffee in it. It's been really exciting developing this design with Kat and has taken a lot of work and patience to get to this final stage.
ByNature Designs: We've got some really interesting preserved moss installations coming in from ByNature that I think will give the space a lot of character.
The Build-Outs Of Summer is an annual series on Sprudge. Live the thrill of the build all summer long in our Build-Outs feature hub.