Squamish-based entrepreneurs Emily Lehnen and Tim Knutton have created a local favorite brand with Counterpart Coffee. We caught up with the co-owners to give us an insight into their roasting journey, the seasonal blends and what makes Counterpart so special.
RC: How long has Counterpart been part of the Squamish community?
Emily: My partner, Tim Knutton, and I started building out our roastery in 2014, and we were roasting coffee by the spring of 2015 here in Squamish.
RC: What is your background in the coffee industry?
Emily: Tim roasted his coffee at home, so he had experience roasting and working in coffee shops. At the time, I didn't have a background at all in coffee. We went on a road trip to visit friends that had a roastery, and we got talking about buying some green coffee, thinking we'd roast it at home and start up a little business, and from there, it just snowballed, and we decided to start a full roastery.
RC: Has the whole experience lived up to expectations?
Emily: Definitely! It's gotten more interesting as we learn more about coffee and sourcing, and over the years, we've developed our business model to better reflect how we want to showcase coffee. And also how we want to have our business in the coffee industry and show our ethics.
RC: Tell us a bit about the coffee that you bring in.
Emily: We work with a couple of different Canadian-based importers who do a lot of direct sourcing. We get coffees from all over the world, and now we have longer-term relationships with coffees from Colombia, Guatemala and now Peru.
RC: How are you roasting those coffees?
Emily: We generally try to roast on the lighter side of things to showcase the coffee. That way, people can get a sense of coffee from different parts of the world. We also do some medium roast blends because we want to be approachable to the average coffee drinker. We really want to bring our customers' expectations for quality up.
RC: You've had an incredible response to your instant coffee.
Emily: Our instant coffee went over so well that we sold out! We get a lot of people travelling through Squamish and going camping, mountain biking and hiking. At the same time, some of the locals were buying instant coffee to have at their workplace for an easy afternoon cup. Instant coffee has gotten popular in the last year or so, and a lot of the roasters today start with a higher quality coffee, and we are roasting it carefully. We're in the process of trying to get another batch done.
RC: What are you roasting right now at Counterpart?
Emily: It's fresh Ethiopian season right now, and that is one of our favourite origin countries. Usually, it comes in a little earlier in the year, but it's a bit late this year because the whole world is dealing with all sorts of shipping logistic issues.
RC: What's your favourite way to brew coffee?
Emily: We mostly make pour-over coffee at home, so that's probably our favourite, and even in the shop, filter coffee is quite popular. We also drink a lot of espresso and dial in our espresso every morning, and taste it. Even when I go out to other coffee shops, I'll often get their filter coffee.
RC: Can you tell us how you've managed through COVID?
Emily: I feel like we were pretty lucky because we have the roastery and wholesale accounts. We also have our coffee bar in front of the roastery for coffee drinks and coffee sales. And even before COVID, we had our website for online orders and mail-outs, so our business was already diverse, which helped us weather the storm. Because everyone was staying home at the beginning, our mail-outs and deliveries around town just skyrocketed.
RC: You've got quite a following in Squamish.
Emily: We do have a lot of regulars who have been coming here for years and watching the business grow and watching us add different elements to the business. Squamish is a big tourist destination, but there were fewer travellers the first summer, but we've seen a lot of that comeback this year.
RC: You have some unique staffing issues in Squamish.
Emily: The whole sea-to-sky corridor relies on international travellers who want to come for a year or two on a work visa, and that has pretty well stopped since the start of the pandemic. There's definitely a shortage of workers in Squamish, so we're putting in a lot more hours ourselves, and we're constantly on the lookout for people who would be a good fit.
Emily and Tim are true masters of their craft – offering long term favorites and new blends that complement the seasons. Counterpart coffee has done a fantastic job in captivating the Squamish community and has definitely won our hearts at Roaster Central.