Matt Johnson - Prototype Coffee
We are excited to bring our Roaster Series to you and introduce Prototype Coffee Roasters for August. This series is a celebration of our roasters’ commitment to bringing specialty coffee to life.
Meet Matt Johnson from Prototype Coffee. He tells us about his roasting journey, experimenting with innovative processing techniques and gives us some grinding tips.
RC: How did Prototype Coffee get started?
Matt: I started Prototype on a tiny scale, with one roaster, and did a little pop-up booth at a winter market. I had to submit a name to the market, and I hadn’t thought of one, so Prototype fit because it was the Prototype of a business I was considering getting into.
RC: How did you get into the coffee business?
Matt: I had my first job at Starbucks when I was in high school, and then a roastery opened up in my hometown of Los Alamos, New Mexico. I got to roast coffee for the first time on an old gas burner machine with one temperature gauge. I loved it and caught the bug, and even when I was going to grad school, I would roast coffee at home in an air popper popcorn maker. Once I moved to Vancouver, I worked at Revolver, and that was my entry into this third wave of coffee roasting. I got to taste some of the best coffee from around the world.
RC: What are some of the innovations in roasting have you experienced?
Matt: When I started out, the focus was on really dark roasts, but then roasters began experimenting with really light roasts. What I’m trying to do now at Prototype is this middle way; I don’t want to go too dark or too light. I’m trying to find the sweet spot where the coffee comes alive. We’re tweaking and experimenting all the time. I’m a perfectionist, ask my staff – when I get a new coffee in, I’ll roast it in many different ways; I’m trying to find the exact roast that the coffee needs.
RC: What’s your recommendation on when to start using a freshly roasted bag of coffee?
Matt: With our roasting style, I would give it five days after roasting before you start using it. Then it’ll taste good and hold its flavour and stay fresh for up to six weeks. It’s not just a freshness issue; it’s how you’re going to be brewing it. If you’re doing a full immersion, like a French Press, you could brew it right away on the day it was roasted. But if you’re using a pour-over method, it will taste best if you wait five days.
RC: Do you have a favourite coffee that you’re roasting right now?
Matt: That’s a tough one; it’s like choosing your favourite child! I’d say that the coffee we have right now from Colombia that’s a geisha variety is quite spectacular with really complex and intense flavour.
RC: What’s your favourite way to brew coffee?
Matt: My go-to right now is Aeropress; I find it’s the quickest way to get a cup that delights me. I’ve also done many V60 pour-overs at home, and I have an espresso machine that I use once in a while, but mostly, it’s the Aeropress, and I like to use it with metal filters.
RC: Any tips for grinding coffee beans?
Matt: When you’re just getting into it, I would say the thing you can do to improve your cup is to upgrade your grinder. Many people are using a blade grinder that chops the beans into inconsistent sizes, so if you can upgrade to a hand-grinder and then to an electric grinder, you’ll revolutionize your coffee brewing at home.
RC: What does the future look like for Prototype Coffee?
Matt: We were pretty new when COVID started, and then we had to shut down. But we are optimistic about the future. We’ve launched a couple of new things like our bottled drinks, which were kind of a COVID solution; they’re going to put us in a good position moving forward. We launched our food program; we had a cool local bakery that was baking for us, but then everything had to close. I did a lot of recipe testing at home; I was making waffles every day and testing them on my family, and I came up with this waffle-donut recipe, and it’s something we can make from scratch in-house. They’ve become extremely popular.
RC: What makes the experience at Prototype different from other coffee shops?
Matt: Instead of roasting our coffee in one large roaster in a warehouse, we have scaled things down to three smaller roasters that are right behind the bar, so our customers can see and smell the coffee as its being roasted. So we’re only roasting coffee in small batches. Check out Prototype Coffee at 883 East Hastings in Vancouver.
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