For Ilana Cameron, there was a time when coffee was just, well, coffee. But several years ago, while touring with her band in Victoria, she visited a coffee shop that provided a new experience by letting customers know the name of the African farm the beans were from, and the tasting notes on the brew.
“I discovered this whole world of coffee,” Cameron said.
That was what she calls her “aha cup”, and she’s excited to bring that experience to Creston, opening Lark Coffee Roasters for regular hours from Tuesday-Thursday for the first time this week, offering beans (whole and ground) and samples.
Prior to that, Cameron was a fixture at the Creston Valley Farmers’ Market and other events, having taken the Local Entrepreneurship Accelerator Program (LEAP) through Kootenay Employment Services. Her business was then called Honeybird, and won the people’s choice award at the “barn raising” public presentation, which made it possible to buy her first roaster.
That roaster was a small one — she can now roast seven times as much — but it gave her a lot of opportunity for experimentation, with thousands of roasts under her belt by the end of 2016.
“It’s kind of like falling in love — I didn’t know that’s what I wanted to do until I just did it,” said Cameron, who noted that female roasters are a minority in the industry.
Lark is part of the third wave coffee movement, which considers coffee an artisanal food whose consumption experience can be enhanced with greater education and sensory exploration — tasting notes, for example, number in the hundreds. For the roaster, that means being aware of all aspects of a bean’s composition, including moisture, flavour, density and sugar content.
Cameron roasts beans from about a half-dozen countries, mainly in Africa and South America, and her blends usually include two or three countries. But while their origins are different, the brewing process is pretty much the same for all.
“What you’re trying to do is dissolve what is soluble,” she said. “You’re trying to find the sweet spot — with the grind, water temperature, brewing — to get the best flavour.”
Born at home in Sirdar, Cameron attended Wynndel Elementary School while her parents ran Pure Coincidence, a whole food store that is now home to Buffalo Trails Coffee House. After moving to Vancouver, she spent summers in Creston, and after helping her dad build a straw bale house, began attending music school in Nelson.
While in Nelson, Cameron noticed that a friend who worked as a barista was friendly with many others in town.
“She got to know everyone because she was at the heart of the community,” said Cameron.
Upon returning to Creston, that discovery led to her first coffee job at Kingfisher Used Books. Nine years later, she took home the people’s choice award — the event’s tickets sales plus $500 from Regional District of Central Kootenay Area B — at the LEAP presentation.
It took a couple of years before her business outgrew the small roaster, which led to buying a larger one, produced by Deidrich Roasters near Sandpoint, Idaho. It’s handmade, and uses 60 per cent less fuel than traditional roasters, as well as infrared burners.
And it also took a couple of years before Cameron opened her shop for tasting and sales. But that allowed the business to grow naturally, she said.
“It’s super important to understand how to grow your company with what works for you,” she said.
Having understood that, Cameron was able to discover the things that she loves about her business.
“The quiet part of it is finding really, really delicious coffee,” she said.
And the other part?
“Having the experience of giving someone a coffee and seeing their face light up.”
Lark Coffee Roasters is located at 237 11th Ave. N., and is open 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday and by appointment. Learn more at www.larkcoffee.ca.