Author: Shirley & Mike Wong
“It’s time to begin, isn’t it?”
-Imagine Dragons (from “It’s Time”)
Spent Grounds Coffee Roasters co-owner Karen Lopez is not like everyone you meet. In fact, when she asks us where we parked, she’s immediately concerned our car is at risk of getting towed.
To our surprise, she immediately insists we take her own spot in front of South Surrey’s newest coffee shop.
It could be that the energetic individual behind Spent Grounds Coffee Roasters is simply a genuinely kind person, and nothing more. But our hunch? It’s probably more than that.
Make no mistake, this lady is a go-getter. On Stop 135 of our Search for Vancouver’s Best Coffee, what impresses us during our visit is her focused determination to get the word out on her business. With almost two decades of experience as a former sales rep in the health food industry, she knows what it takes. Plain old hustle and word-of-mouth are key to the success of Spent Grounds Coffee Roasters.
It’s been two weeks Spent Grounds Coffee Roasters has been open. And the wheels are turning as Karen says she’s going to introduce herself to the neighbours, “knock on doors”. If you’re not familiar, her shop is in a commercial plaza that’s home to other small businesses – and some not-so-small businesses like competitor Tim Horton’s.
More than sales experience, she has good roots in coffee. She’s Jamaican and her grandfather Keble Munn used to travel the world selling coffee. He actually has a significant footnote in developing the name of Jamaican Blue Coffee.
But as a coffee pioneer in her own right, Karen’s also the owner of U-Roast-It Coffee. It’s a small business that sells coffee roasting/brewing equipment – plus organic, fair trade and conventional green coffee beans in small quantities. In other words, her target market is the DIY home roaster.
Upon our arrival, Karen invites us a short tour of Spent Grounds Coffee Roasters.
There’s four specific spaces: a big warehouse at the rear (filled with green beans and a Probat roaster to cook beans); a small room with plans for future cupping/roasting classes; a little lounge/retail area where you can check out coffee brewers and roasting equipment; and finally, a stylish “café” at the front featuring a coffee tasting bar. (No doubt, you’ll get the same red carpet treatment if you head here.)
If you like the framed photography throughout the shop – closeups of coffee beans and coffee brewing – you can compliment Karen for her work. A DIY’er herself, she credits the reno and decorating as a family project with her parents and partner.
Our favourite space in Spent Grounds Coffee Roasters is the tasting room. It’s modern with warm touches like wood block counters and potted plants. Sometimes tasting rooms can veer off into a coffee-nerdy direction, too masculine and hard edged. But this space has an inviting feel, like hanging out in someone’s kitchen. The softness looks intentional: you want people to come here and feel welcomed, not intimidated.
There’s been some other good thought put into this room. When you enter, there’s a few menus (beverage and food) on the wall to your right. One of them lists the different brewing methods they offer: Hario V60 pour over ($3), Clever dripper ($3), Bonavita Dripper ($3), AeroPress ($3) and espresso ($2).
Prices are very good. As Karen explains, they priced it for a customer base that won’t pay “downtown” prices.
So Mike orders a V60 ($3) and Karen asks which bean he wants to try. There’s a pour over menu on the counter
We like that there’s a choice of four beans: Organic Colombian Sierra-Nevada (wildflower honey, blackberry, citrus notes, syrupy body, currant); Organic Ethiopian Yirgacheffe-Washed-Adame Gorbota Microlot (lemon, honey, jasmine, stone fruit, floral); Organic Brazilian Nossa Senhora de Fatima (sweet chocolate, rich body, clean stonefruit notes, consistent and well structured); and Kenyan AAA (bright complex berry/fruit, sweet, intense acidity).
Featured beans will change during the year. Plus, starting this week they are selling 340 g bags of roasted beans for customers to take home.
Mike selects the Organic Colombian Sierra-Nevada.
We should mention that because of the limitations of Spent Grounds Coffee Roasters’ space,/licensing, you’ll find they are not like a typical coffee shop.
There is some fairly healthy snack food that’s available, but only for customers to “grab-and-go”: vegan banana bread, power balls, flourless brownies and gluten free products (bars, brownies, biscotti), protein bars, granola bars. You can even email them to pre-order food from their menu (ie. soups, salads, wraps and entrees) to pickup.
And while there is some bar stool seating plus the lounge – Karen tells us later they will add a low communal table – currently it’s not somewhere you’d park your laptop and hang out for hours.
I don’t expect them to have an espresso machine for a small space, and Karen confirms they don’t. But I am curious because why there’s espresso on the menu.
Karen explains they can actually make espresso manually, though I won’t be able to have a latte since there’s no milk that day. She also cautions me by saying she doesn’t do fancy latte art.
A manual espresso maker is placed on the counter, called the Flair Manual Press Espresso Machine. To explain how it works: it’s made of different parts that you kind of disassemble at the start, then reassemble as you go along, to finally extract espresso.
Karen demonstrates by pre-heating a small cylinder, letting it sit in a cup filled with hot water. Then she gets the portafilter, adds a funnel, fills it with ground coffee (a slightly coarser grind than for an espresso machine). She gently tamps the portafilter. The portafilter and cylinder are screwed into the machine. Hot water from a kettle is poured in. She places a cup under the machine.
By slowly pulling the lever down and not exerting much effort, after just a few seconds, an espresso shot is extracted with a little crema.
Then Karen begins Mike’s pour over using a Bonavita Electric Gooseneck Kettle. They generally use paper cups here so we brought our own mug. We suggest you do the same; or you can buy one of their Keep Cups in store and get a free coffee.
She shares that her favourite bean is Colombian, and darker roasts is where she leans naturally. But she’s quick to say her coffee does not taste like “downtown” coffee. And when Mike has a sip of his Colombian brew, he says he understands why. It tastes different in that it’s dark with a slight acidity but doesn’t have the typical bitterness.
By the way, Spent Grounds Coffee Roasters will be having their grand opening Dec 2nd with prizes and giveaways. If South Surrey is out of your way, you can still meet Karen and try their coffee at Vancouver’s Beanstock Coffee Festival on Nov 26th. They’ll be there along with other micro roasters like Milano Coffee, Pallet Coffee and Agro Roasters.
On our tour, Karen shows us coffee roasters that are simple to use at home. It’s eye opening to see you can make as little as a pound of coffee or a quarter cup. Spend as much a few hundred, or as little as $35. Did you know you can even use an air popcorn popper (though you’ll have to watch it constantly)?
As Karen explains encouragingly, it’s all very doable. Which goes to show. You can accomplish just about anything, if you set your mind to it.
VANCOUVER BARISTA REVIEW
Name of coffee: Spent Grounds Coffee Roasters’ Organic Colombia-Sierra Nevada
Location of roaster: Surrey, B.C.
Brewing method: pour over, Hario V60 (ceramic dripper)
Roaster’s tasting notes: “Wildflower honey, blackberry, citrus notes, syrupy body, currant.”
Mike’s comments: Dark chocolate and blackberry flavours. Slight acidity. Very light body. Medium to dark roast with no bitterness.
- Attentive and passionate service by owner. This is the place to ask questions, learn and taste.
- Fascinating setup with various rooms with different purposes.
- Variety of coffees to try, with different brewing methods.
- Very good price point at the tasting bar.
- A niche with some limitations since it’s not a conventional café. Though if you think about it, there are other roasters that would envy this kind of setup.
Seating availability: 2/5
OVERALL RATING by VANCOUVER BARISTA: 4.06/5
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Want to visit?
Unit 108, 19140 28 Ave, Surrey
Operating hours currently: M-F 8am-3pm, Sat 10-2pm. Follow their Instagram for updates.