E4: Will Thorburn, Dir. of Coffee @ Balzacs on Baristas, Beans & Roasting

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Will Thorburn has spent his entire career in the coffee industry. Having worked for some of the most well respected coffee roasters in Canada as a barista, staff trainer, roaster and cafe consultant, he now holds the enviable title of ‘Director of Coffee’ at Balzac’s Coffee Roasters. It is clear from this interview that coffee is his true passion and the info he shares may well open your eyes to aspects of the coffee importing and roasting business that you didn’t know anything about.

Will is also dedicated to understanding organizational success and the key to amazing customer experiences. As Director of Coffee, Will has a broad set of responsibilities at Balzac’s. These include ensuring the customer experience at each one of their 12 cafes is the absolute best it can be, liaising with coffee exporters and tasting samples of new types of coffee beans.

Balzac’s Coffee Roasters

Balzac’s was named for the 19th Century French novelist, Honoré de Balzac, who was possibly one of the first coffee aficionados of his time. Founded by Diana Olsen in 1996, she opened her first cafe in historic Stratford, Ontario and the company has grown since then. Based on four key values; local, sustainable, artisanal and natural, the staff and management at Balzac’s make every effort to ensure these values are infused in to every aspect of a customer’s experience.

This interview was recorded live with Will at the company’s Ancaster, Ontario, headquarters where I was lucky enough to receive a tour of the roasting and distribution centre (Balzac’s use a Loring Smart Roaster, one of the most environmentally sustainable roasters on the market today). Will and I sat in the beautiful, antique, coffee tasting room which also doubles as a board room and is certainly one of the coolest looking board rooms I have ever been in. One caveat, the fridge in the coffee tasting room does interrupt the sound from time to time, so I do apologize for any loss of sound quality, though this does not distract from the great insights and info Will has to share.

In this Episode We Cover:

  • The history of the specialty coffee industry
  • Coffee sourcing and importing
  • Pathways to a career in coffee and roasting
  • Key players in the coffee roasting business in North America
  • How different coffee types are made
  • Advancements in technology and tastes in the industry

Other Cool Stuff:

Enjoy!!