Q&A with Portfolio Coffee
Portfolio Coffee has only been roasting under their own name for a few years but they have already started making waves in the industry. We chatted with their Head Roaster, Rodgert Zheng, about how he went from working in tourism to roasting coffee.
- How did Portfolio Coffee start?
Initially, we were doing a lot of white-label roasting. In 2019, the goal was to operate more wholesale and have a commercial space for offices, but then, of course, the pandemic happened, and there was no interest in office spaces. They transferred to operating more online e-commerce with a focus on introducing specialty coffee to average coffee drinkers and making it approachable.
We have a lot of direct trade with our Brazilian producers, so we can offer our coffees at a lower price because we cut out the middleman, making the coffee less daunting pricing-wise. We focus on familiar coffees but also have entry points into more adventurous coffees.
- How did you get into roasting coffee?
I joined the team in 2021. Before that, I was a barista for a couple of years. My background is in hospitality and tourism. I was working in hotels and just dabbling in coffee on the side. But when the pandemic hit, that industry shut down, and I was laid off. I loved coffee, so I took that time to learn everything I could about coffee during the pandemic, and when things started to open again, I started working as a barista. Then I saw they were hiring a junior roaster here. I didn't have much experience with roasting, but they were willing to train me and show me the ropes, which I am super grateful for.
- What is Portfolio Coffee's green sourcing ethos?
Right now, we are focused on creating long-term relationships with the farms we work with. We want to feature them year after year and maintain that relationship regardless of quality or if the price goes up. For example, there was that huge frost in Brazil and then the drought afterwards. So the quality went down, and the price went up, but we maintain those relationships with our farmers, and we're still buying from them.
The second is quality but with specialty, there can be a compromise in that. Let's say a farmer has a coffee that produces an 86 cup score, and then they produce one that gets 81; we aren't going to leave them in the dust. We want to focus on helping them out.
- What are your plans for the future?
We are still relatively small and new, so we are trying to get out there and showcase our stuff to the average coffee drinker. But we're also trying to source unique and interesting coffees and bring other origins. The next step would be to get into cafes. I am still new to the industry, I have only been roasting for two years, so I still have a lot to learn. I'd like to become a Q Grader, develop my skills and compete in some competitions. I competed last year in the Toronto AeroPress regional competition, which was really fun.