Q&A With Shelby Merrithew of Zombie Queen
-How did you get into roasting?
I started getting interested in coffee when I was working as a barista in a small town cafe. I would roast coffee at home on a popcorn maker and burn a lot of coffee. I was always chatting with my local roaster and he ended up giving me his little countertop air roaster. I played around with it and I would roast for friends and family. I moved to Kitchener-Waterloo to study hospitality management and ended up getting to know the roaster at Smile Tiger Coffee Roasters. She was leaving and needed someone to fill her role. I applied and she gave me the job. I went from home roasting to full commercial roasting very quickly.
I worked there for 4 years and took some specialty coffee classes. Then I met Ron who owns a home roasting business, Contrabean. He had an idea to open a coffee collective and shared roasting space. We ended up starting the collective together. We opened KW Coffee Collective about a year and a half ago; I am the education lead and the Director of Coffee. I started roasting for Zombie Queen out of that space as a passion project on the side.
-Can you tell us more about the KW Coffee Collective?
It is a shared roasting space where people rent time on roasters to create their own roasting businesses. The goal is to make roasting your own coffee easier and more affordable. It’s a big investment to start roasting; the machines are expensive and you have to have permits. So we have two 10-kilo Mill City roasters in the space that people can rent time on through our website. They can come in with no experience and Ron and I will show them the ropes. We basically want to create a coffee incubator, we have a lot of different businesses coming out of here. We also have a big coffee lab, green storage, packing station, and classroom for seminars.
-What’s your personal approach to roasting?
I always try to find balance in coffee. If I find coffee has a lot of acidity or tartness I try to find the perfect balance of it all so you can enjoy every sip from hot to cool. I will typically roast 2- 3 different profiles when I get a coffee and then I test out which works best for balance. I usually like to source coffees that are interesting or surprise me. Either an origin I have never tried or coffees from origins I am familiar with that don’t represent the typical profile of the origin.
That’s why I chose this Arara varietal coffee, it didn’t have the typical Brazilian notes in it; it was more unique.
-You have pretty bold branding. Can you tell us the idea behind it?
I wanted a brand that represented feminism. There aren’t as many female roasters so I wanted to showcase that. I wanted to step away from minimalism and have something that would stand out on a shelf. The name comes from the song Zombie Queen by Ghost. I am really into metal music which often surprises people!