Firebat Coffee’s story goes back to 2013 in El Salvador, when Leena and Gustavo Castelar were planning a move and had the desire to bring great Salvadoran coffee to Canada. At the time, their friend Rodrigo was heavily involved in the Salvadoran specialty coffee landscape, and so gasoline met fire. A great friendship started that day, and it was a few years later that Firebat Coffee came to be.
In 2016, taking a leap of faith, Gustavo and Leena moved their family to Canada and after a few spins ended up finding a place for the roastery in Oakville.
Now, with 2021 marking Firebat’s 50-year anniversary, the local community has truly become their ‘home’ and their passion extends from sourcing and roasting coffee to building new relationships with every sale.
“We’ve continued roasting delicious coffee at the “Bat Cave” on Speers Rd since 2017, and serving the local coffee community by retailing freshly roasted beans directly from the roastery,” said Gustavo. “Our passion for coffee goes beyond our love for specialty coffee flavor exquisiteness. It is a combination of continuous curiosity about unlocking the flavors that single origin coffees reveal and a definitive commitment on how to source amazing quality coffees authentically and sustainably.”
What do you look for in a good coffee bean?
For us good coffee means as starting point the flavour, a coffee that not only meets the general standards of cleanliness, sweetness, aftertaste, body and aroma but also has something exciting. A sort of character. Besides the flavour we also look at the integral story behind the bean. We have partnered with coffee producers who who take care of the soil, the local forests and local communities.
We only work with beans from El Salvador because it’s our homeland and we want to help as much as we can. But also we want to be able to do direct trade with all the farms we work with. We do our sourcing based on flavour profiles. The high-quality-producing farms, produce a relatively small amount compared to the total coffee output in El Salvador. We work currently with three regions of El Salvador and more than a dozen farms through our co-founder Rodrigo, who lives permanently in El Salvador involved in the specialty coffee landscape for more than 10 years and is our “boots on the ground”. We use different beans — only single varieties and premium ones — like Pacas, SL34, Pacamara, Bourbon, SL28 and different drying methods like washed, honeys and naturals. Our coffee offering varies throughout the year to keep showcasing different bean varieties from different farms.
Ultimately each customer becomes part of that chain of empowering high quality, sustainably grown coffees and that alone can be transformative force at the origin and mitigate current social challenges such as economically forced migration and climate change.
What has been your most memorable moment with Firebat Coffee thus far?
There’s not really a one single moment. For us these past five years since we moved to Canada have been transformative and years of enormous personal growth. We left the comfort and safety of our corporate careers in the aviation industry, migrated to a new country with two young children, and started building Firebat and our social network from ground up in a new country. It has been an humbling experience and we have grown so much as persons. Seeing today what we have managed to build of Firebat so far, brings us so much joy and gratitude. All the challenging moments have made us stronger and given us inner confidence that we can raise to the occasion, you just get the things done and keep moving forward.
What are the steps in the roasting process?
Roasting coffee is an amazing transformative process from which dense, green, vegetable-tasting coffee seeds (aka beans) change into a brown, porous and aromatically intoxicating drinkable beans. We roast our beans in small-batches using a 15 Kilo Giesen roaster from the Netherlands. These type of roasting machines allow the operator to have many tools at disposition to control and influence the final outcome.
Before roasting, coffee beans are green in color and have a beany and grassy aroma. After putting the green beans inside of the roasters drum, the conversion process starts. In the first stage, called drying stage, coffee looses its moisture. Second stage, browning stage, is when the beans reach an inner temperature of ~ 160 degrees celsius, coffee undergoes a process called maillard reaction and caramelization in which many chemical compounds change its composition inside of the bean. Last phase is when the roast reaches development and is defined where to stop the process and what profile is the desired one for any particular bean.
With roasting one can highlight or mute some properties, but they must exist in the seed, for example a coffee that lacks its inner sugars due to poor farming techniques will never turn sweet. We roast most of our coffees as light or medium roasts which happens after a moment called first crack. As a specialty roaster we find the beans produce its most tastiest qualities around the first crack.
What’s your favourite Firebat Coffee these days?
We have been drinking and enjoying La Revolucion brewed with AeroPress. La Revolucion has a chocolatey and rich in flavor – a perfect match with a breakfast before starting the day. On weekends we like to enjoy coffees like Topacio or Shangrila with more time using pour over methods like Chemex or Clever.
What prompted the two of you (Gustavo & Leena) to open your shop here in Oakville?
We arrived as new immigrants in Canada June 2016. As a family with small kids we saw in this city and community a lot of things that resonated with us such as the slower-pace feel of a small city with its natural spaces and vibrant diversity. We wanted to live in a family-friendly city where we could raise our family but also good place for doing business, Oakville and Halton in general to us seems to be just that!