Behind the Roaster: Rabbit Hole Roasters

For our next interview we find ourselves in the Eastern region of Canada. Rabbit Hole Roasters is located in Montreal, QC which has more coffee roasters per capita than any other city or province in the country. There are some amazing coffees coming out of Montreal and Rabbit Hole is not excluded from that list! Rabbit hole is making waves of change in the specialty coffee industry. Not only that but also making changes for the planet. For every order they receive, they plant a tree through the One Tree Planted program. Read the interview below to find out more!

Rabbit Hole Roasters David and Sophie (Photo Credit: Rabbit Hole Roasters)

BCB: Can you briefly introduce yourself to us?

David: For sure! I’m David Lalonde, co-founder of Rabbit Hole Roasters, based in Montreal. We are only 2 employees, so I wear many hats, but let’s say that my expertise lies in green buying and roasting.

BCB: What is your first memory of specialty coffee?

David: It’s a vague one at best. The day before I left for a 6 months trip (ha! I remember when we could travel :/ ) the first ‘’real’’ specialty shop opened in the city, Café Myriade. A friend brought me there. I can’t remember what it tasted like, but I remember the latte art as it was my first time seeing a rosetta being poured in front of me. (pretty crazy that 10 years later, they are now selling my coffee!)

BCB: What did you do before you started roasting at Rabbit Hole?

David: Lots and lots of things. Finding my calling was no easy task. I’ve been in and out (mostly in though) the restaurant and bar industry for around 10 years. I was also a poker player for a year (what?).

Coffee wise, I started as a barista, and I’ve been working for different roasters both in Montreal and Toronto as well. In between all that, I co-founded the Montreal Coffee Academy, where I was training mostly home baristas with my business partner.

BCB: How did you come upon the name Rabbit Hole for your company?

David: Like anyone who speaks English on a daily basis, it’s inevitable to hear the expression ‘’going down the rabbit hole’’ at some point. English is not my first language, and it was very interesting to me that this expression can’t really be translated without messing up the meaning.

While working with different roasters, and dealing in some others as a barista, I kept thinking ‘’what would I like my own company to look like if I ever start something’’?

I am not the best at following the crowd. I am easily bored and I need to experience crazy things. It was clear to me that Rabbit Hole needed to be vastly different, but still maintain a sense of reality. Isn’t that what the rabbit hole in Alice leads to? Wonderland is a place where everything is weird, yet you can still know what’s going on.

My wife and I where thinking out loud at night. She knows me well and Alice in Wonderland kept popping up. We said the craziest names, most of which didn’t make sense, before she called out Rabbit Hole Roasters. Et voilà!

BCB: How did you get into roasting coffee?

David: Working for 2 different roasters was enlightening for me. I was trusted with some pretty cool tasks with both and I could always pitch my ideas. One thing I remember though, is that it was kind of always the same thing.

Then while doing some consulting work for a third roaster, I saw, again, that everything was kind of always the same: same vibe, same origins, etc.

When I look at an average specialty coffee menu, it’s often similar: Colombia, Guatemala, Ethiopia, Kenya, Brazil. It’s hard not to find three of those on most menus.

I mean no offense by that by the way. If I could drink only one origin for the rest of my life it would be Colombia. Huehuetenango in Guatemala is in my top 3 coffee regions, and a black current tasting Kenyan is a thing of beauty.

I just don’t see the point of buying all those origins when there are multiple, lesser known origins out there. Those farmers also need access to the specialty market, and if we buy only from a few origins, diversity will eventually suffer.

I am not against having those on Rabbit Hole’s menu from time to time, but if we do buy from Colombia or Brazil, it’ll be to showcase a social or environmental aspect, or a profile that is not usually know from this country.

So the tl;dr version: I always look at new ways to work within an industry. Working with emerging origins is fun, and it was something that I felt lack in our industry, so I took a chance and here we are.

I also love cupping coffee. It’s my favourite activity in our industry. So where else could I taste so much coffee than in my own roasting company?

BCB: What are you passionate about outside of coffee?

David: I am kind of obsessed with language in general. I speak 3 languages frequently and my Spanish ain’t so bad either.

I am a big poetry, stand up comedy, literature and battle rap fan. Words matter. You can always find a thousand ways of saying something, but finding that special way of saying what you really want makes all the difference.

When I was reading a book called ‘’A house for Mr. Biswas’’, the author could have said ‘’as we rested under the refreshing shade of the coconut tree’’ and it would have been alright. But I remember the context very well, and he used ‘’dangerous’’ instead of ‘’refreshing’’, and it made all the difference.

I’m probably being weird right, but hey, this is my interview.

BCB: If you could change one thing in the specialty coffee industry, what would it be?

David: Half truths. Meaning we have to talk more, or talk differently about a lot of aspects of our industry.

I have green washing, green buying, and colonization in mind when I say this.

When it comes to green washing, I become so annoyed: just tell things as they are and stop misleading consumers.

There is no way around it: if you own a coffee business, you will take more from the Earth then you give back, period. The first step is to make decisions to lessen our impacts, but we then have to talk about those decisions openly, without grey areas. For example, some bags are advertised as compostable when they are not and should be advertised as biodegradable, etc.