Who is Rosso Coffee Roasters (Calgary, Alberta)
Rosso Coffee Roasters began as a coffee shop in the Ramsey neighborhood of Calgary, Alberta, in 2007. Initially called Caffe Rosso, the cafe was run entirely by owner David Crosby. In 2009, he opened a second location in the Telus Convention Center and, in 2012, a third location in the Arriva Tower.
That same year, Crosby's half-brother Cole Torode who was just two years out of high school joined the company as a partner. With a larger business plan in mind, Crosby and Torode spent time in the States learning to roast and immersing themselves in the coffee industry. Upon returning to Calgary, the team acquired a Probat L12 roaster and began roasting their own coffee.
Rosso is B Corp Certified, has five cafe locations throughout Calgary, and has been awarded the ATB Small Business of the Year 2016 through the Calgary Chamber of Commerce. Crosby and Torode have been named Avenue Magazine's Top 40 Under 40. Torode has won the National Barista Championship twice and placed 5th and 3rd in the World Barista Championship out of 54 countries.
In 2023, they worked alongside Boram Um, this year's World Barista Champion, and roasted the coffee he used at the finales in Athens, Greece.
Approach to Roasting
The SOVDA machine
A SOVDA machine is an optical sorter that looks for and removes defect coffee beans. Rosso has not only one SOVDA but two, to ensure the best cup possible. The two serve different purposes - one is for green coffee sorting before it gets funnelled into the roasting drum, and the other is for post-roast sorting. Rosso told us that they are the only roastery in the world that has the first SOVDA, green sorting before roasting. They are also one of only dozens of roasters around the world that also use a SOVDA post-roast sorting machine.
“We do it before roasting so we are able to take out black defect beans that wouldn’t necessarily show up after being roasted. The pale defect beans like quakers we remove after they are roasted. It has definitely improved the quality of our coffee. When we roasted on a batch roaster, we were able to pick out defects by hand but now, roasting the amount we do, that is impossible,” Paul Stephens, the Head Roaster at Rosso Coffee Roasters, explained.
Approach to Green Sourcing
Rosso realized that the model of purchasing coffee was not meeting the needs of producers. To combat this, Rosso organizes prices directly with producers or their representatives rather than following the commodity market price. In the past five years, the commodity price has been, on average $1.42 USD/lb ($1.88 CAD/lb). In 2022, Rosso paid on average $4.03 USD/lb ($5.44 CAD/lb) to producers.
In addition to co-owning Rosso Coffee Roasters, Torode is the Head of Coffee and Operations at Fotrward Specialty Green Coffee Importers. They work directly with producers to import unique, thoughtful and transparent coffee to North America. Rather than operating as a bridge between producers and roasters, Forward aims to facilitate a community of coffee lovers that pushes the industry forward.
The Coffee Profiles
In addition to offering a seasonally rotating selection of single-origin coffees, Rosso has year-round mainstay blends.
Tasting notes: dark chocolate, mixed nuts & smooth
This is Rosso's best-selling coffee. This cup has minimal acidity and a medium body.
Tasting notes: citrus, balanced, sweet & smooth
This espresso is smooth, easy to extract, sweet and balanced.
Tasting notes: dark chocolate & molasses
This is a classic dark roast coffee with a rich body and no acidity.
Roast: Bright & Juicy
Tasting notes: fruit medley, honey, juicy
This roast is light and juicy with honey sweetness.
Process: Swiss Water Process
Tasting notes: milk chocolate & raisin
The Swiss Water Process minimally impacted the cup and retained its sweetness.
Q&A with Cole Torode
- What is the ethos of what you guys are trying to do at Rosso?
The goal is to bridge the gap in consumer education with the hardships of producing coffee and try to potentially shift a more economic value towards the beginning of the chain to really help the lifestyle and the livelihood of these people we're working with.
In 2020, we went to Myanmar. The Coffee Quality Institute (a US NGO) and Winrock (an international non-profit) partnered up with the goal of taking farmers in Myanmar who are planting opium and educating them about coffee because their conditions for coffee are pretty outstanding. The aim was to shift their mentalities with the hope that they would change their crops. They'll have better sustainability and less danger or risk in their lives. These guys went from selling their coffee internally where there was little to no export internally for probably like $0.20 cents or $0.30 cents per pound. We paid FOB $3.80 a pound for the coffee.
- You’ve been competing as a competitive barista since 2011. Why do you put such a heavy focus on that?
Great question. I just love to torture myself. No, I’m kidding, I’m kidding.
When I first competed, I was not part of the business - I was just working as a Barista. The amount of knowledge that I was able to extract from the competition and the knowledge of coffee - you get to go up there and present a coffee, and I have to understand what I'm saying if I'm going to say it, but also the fundamentals and the approach. How do I make this coffee taste the way I'm going to describe it to taste?
I think it works in our eyes as such a solid template to grow our understanding. I think the reason I still compete and might compete again is to lead by example.
It's really been a platform that has continued to push us forward as coffee professionals, and Dave and I are both very competitive people. I think when we found out that there's a coffee competition and we were both working in coffee, we’re like, ‘Oh yeah, yeah. Let's do it, man. Let's win this thing.’
Q&A with their Head Roaster, Paul Stephens
Paul Stephens, the Head Roaster at Rosso Coffee Roasters, has been roasting coffee for 21 years and has been roasting for Rosso since 2016. During his career, he has gone from keeping pen-and-paper notes of roast temperatures to operating some of the most high-tech machinery in the game. We caught up with Stephens to get some insight into how the industry has changed over the years and what it was like working at one of the first roastery/cafes in the UK.
- How did you get started in roasting?
My first barista job was in 1996 at a sandwich shop. They had an old espresso machine, and they would grind all the espresso for the day into a bin and scoop it into a portafilter when they needed a shot. At the time, people thought it was the best coffee in town.
I started roasting in 2001 when I got a job at Red Roaster; it was one of the first cafes in England to have a roaster inside it. I started as a barista and took over roasting after a couple of months. When I first started, there was very little information about roasting. It was a secretive industry where people had blends, and no one would tell you what they put in them or how they roasted. That has definitely changed now there is so much information out there that you can get on coffee. I worked there for 15 years then in 2016, I immigrated to Canada and started at Rosso Coffee Roasters.
- How would you say your approach to roasting has developed?
When I started, we were just using pens and paper to write down temperatures and times as we roasted. There was no computer connected to the roaster. Now, we have so much more information and feedback. I have far more fine control now; it was more hit-and-miss back in the day.
When I roast now, I am more instinctive, and I know better how coffee will behave when we get a new one. Initially, it was a voyage of discovery because I didn't know how things were going to turn out. I am less surprised as to how things turn out now, and I have more control. In general, in the industry, the quality of coffee has gone up. The best coffees we had 20 years ago would be average coffees nowadays. Everything from the processing on the farm to how it is transported and roasted has gone up in quality.
Recent Roasters Pack Features
The 2023 World Barista Championship coveted title was won by Boram Um, whose family owns the farm Fazenda Um in Espirito Santo, Brazil.
Um trained for the competition at Rosso Coffee Roasters, and Paul Stephens was the one responsible for roasting Boram’s coffee that helped him take first place.
We were lucky enough to feature a coffee from Fazenda Um in Issue #8 of the Light & Adnverous Pack with tasting notes of chocolate ganache, lavender and Lemon.
“First you will notice the mouthfeel; it’s creamy and coating, which combines with the chocolate flavour to create a sensation of a chocolate dessert. A soft apple and lavender note with gentle acidity follows this. The finish is bright with a burst of lemon and lime.” - Paul Stephens