Prototype Coffee Q&A with Matt Johnson:
We featured the Itumirim Espresso in our June Espresso Pack from the Vancouver roaster, Prototype Coffee. We caught up with the owner Matt Johnson, to learn a little more about Prototype's origin story, his coffee roasting ethos, and waffles donuts!
What's the origin story of Prototype? What inspired you on your journey?
I guess it all started when I worked my first coffee job back in high school. I still remember a few memorable cups that sparked my curiosity. When I joined the team at a local roastery in my hometown in New Mexico and learned to roast, then I knew I was hooked. I took a few years away from coffee (as a job at least) to do an undergrad in music and grad school in philosophy (meanwhile hobby roasting at home). Then I returned to the industry in 2014 to work at Revolver here in Vancouver, where I spent some amazing time before launching Prototype.
Prototype started as a placeholder name for a holiday market where I set up a small booth in November 2016 selling 100g jars of coffee and bottled cold brew, but I ended up liking the name so much that it stuck. In March 2017, I officially launched Prototype as a part-time gig using a single Aillio Bullet R1 coffee roaster. By October 2017, I started realizing that it had gained enough momentum that it needed a bit more energy to keep it growing, so I took the leap and committed to it as my full-time job and started looking around for somewhere I could expand into a roastery and cafe space. In August of 2018, just a few days after my son was born (what a crazy time!), I finalized the deal on the space that would become our roastery and tasting room space.
What is the ethos behind your roasting?
There’s so much potential locked inside an unroasted coffee bean, so what we get to do as roasters is try to figure out how to get it to best express itself. It’s an exercise in curiosity and listening, trying to uncover what a coffee is and what it’s capable of. In general, we design our roast profiles to try to maximize balance--once you get the balance right between sweet, sour, and bitter, the flavours come alive most clearly. Less abstractly, we roast somewhere in the light to medium range, depending on your point of reference, and we do an omni-roast, which means our filter roast is the same as our espresso roast.
How did the waffles donuts come into being!?
Waffle donuts were born out of necessity during the first lockdown. We had been getting our baked goods from a rotating selection of really cool local bakeries, but when COVID hit, it became clear that we needed to come up with our own food program to make ourselves more self-sufficient. The biggest problem was that we don’t have a kitchen.
So I spent a lot of time during lockdown doing recipe development, which meant that our apartment was always filled with waffles (which my family got pretty sick of). But I finally ended up with a recipe that I loved and that fit the ethos and workflow of Prototype. Waffle donuts are a great solution because we can make them completely from scratch even without a full kitchen. The situation and the particular constraints of our space forced me to come up with a creative solution, and I burned through a lot of ideas (and waffles) before I landed on a solution that felt possible to do in our particular circumstances at the level of quality (and deliciousness) that I felt was non-negotiable.
What are you most excited about for the future?
I’m very excited about this upcoming year of coffees! We’ve got some really exciting new coffees landing in the coming months that I can’t wait to start roasting. Some old favourites, a few new friends, a couple of high-end things we can’t wait to drink. Stay tuned!