Talking coffee with Troupe Racing Roastery
How does a former speedskater become a coffee roaster?
It's easier than you'd think. You just need a serious love for good beans, and passion for whatever you decide to do.
Just ask Tim Vangilder, one of the guys behind Troupe Racing Roastery.
Vangilder says he "spent years skating in circles, chasing Olympic-sized dreams."
A few of those years were spent in Calgary, Canada, where he trained with some of the world's best athletes, as a speedskater at the city's famous Olympic Oval.
When Vangilder's Olympic dream ended, he went to art school and became a graphic designer, working for a while with the Creative Collaboration (at the time, one of the city's coolest design collabs.)
Eventually, however, Vangilder moved back to the US., this time to Southern California, where he immersed himself in cycling — first as the in-house art director for a well-known brand and then, eventually, on his own.
Now he's combining his love of cycling, design and coffee into one. (That's him, on the right.)
A couple of years ago, he and his business partner Travis Clater (perhaps not surprising to hear, Clater is also a big-time cyclist) created Troupe Racing Roastery, a California-based coffee roaster that focuses on hand-roasted coffee for cyclists...and, well, anyone who appreciates good beans.
Q: Tell us a bit about yourself. You were a speedskater. Then a mountain biker and designer. Now a coffee roaster who still rides and designs. Why now coffee?
A: Yeah, I’ve done a lot of weird things! Cycling and endurance sports have always been a huge part of my life. Cycling has this great culture of coffee, and the coffee scene has been evolving just like craft beers, wine and cocktails has. And, best of all, I can drink it non-stop. I’ve always appreciated a good cup, and there are so many variables to work with in the cupping process. It’s fun to try all the different methods, experiment, explore different bean varieties.
Q. Tell me a little bit about your roastery. How did you get started?
We started roasting in the oven, which did not work. But it was a learning experience, for sure.
Then we built a stove top hand-crank roaster which was awesome. It worked really well, but we smoked out the house pretty quickly. Now, we’ve got a nice roaster that can handle small batches which is perfect for us right now. We even have a really small air roaster for special bean tests and small requests. I like to do espresso roast in that. It’s crazy how good coffee can taste when it’s fresh.
Q: What is your favourite blend?
A: That changes as we find new beans. We were really into our Panama Roast when we started. It’s one that virtually everyone would like. But right now we’re into some Ethopian beans and some of the unique, fruity flavours those can have. Lighter roasts are getting more popular too, so we’re experimenting with those, but we tend to like medium roasts best.
Q: What makes your coffee different from others out there?
A: As cyclists, we’re excited to bring a really good coffee to events and offer roasts that reflect what we’re into.
Two of our roasts are named after local trails (Motorway and The Luge) that are popular with Orange County’s mountain bike scene.
And we often take pre-orders and will deliver to bike races that we’re at. If we have a booth at a race, we pour coffee for free for all riders. We’re different in that we try to cater to the mountain bike and cycling scene.
Q: Where do you source your coffee?
A: We have a source for green beans here in SoCal. They bring in every variety in massive quantities. At the beginning, we’d buy a pound of this one, and a pound of that one. Super small quantities but it was fun for us to learn the differences. Each bean roasts differently.
Q: What inspires you?
A: As a designer, I love shaping the brand. Part of the fun is creating packaging and all the elements that go with coffee. Setting up a booth and bringing a nice experience to our customer — that's inspiring too. The thought that someone is making coffee that we created as part of their morning ritual is really an honour.
And we love the smell of roasting coffee (very different from brewed coffee or finished roasted beans) and the process of roasting. It's kind of peaceful, relaxing, and we go to sleep thinking about the next morning’s coffee — what will we have, how will we brew it. It’s kind of an obsession.
Q: What do you listen to when you're roasting? Do you have a favourite playlist, anything to mention?
A: We listen to our beans! The bean goes through different stages during roasting, as it heats up and moisture evaporates, called “cracks." We do time all our roasts, but changes in the daily temperature and humidity affect that. So, we have to listen for the cracks.
Q. Where is your coffee for sale?
A: Online, and at events and races. We’re the racing roastery, after all. Racing is a huge part of our lives, so when we’re not putting a number on and racing ourselves, we want to be there supporting the racing community. We want to be the go-to coffee for cyclists, starting here in California.