An Interview with Oughtred Coffee’s Director of Coffee & Co-owner Michael Oughtred

Oughtred Coffee & Tea has been roasting and selling coffee in Nanaimo since 1973. Over the years they have grown to serve much of Western Canada, although they still make their home and business here in BC. I coordination with the opening of a new corporate office here in Victoria, I interviewed Michael Oughtred who (along with his brother, John) presently runs the company. We cover the history of the company, some details about light vs. dark roasts, what the corporate coffee wars mean to small roasters, and also advice for young people looking to get into roasting.

Oughtred's Earth Day unveiling of their new green tech roasters. Michael Oughtred, Co-Owner, Oughtred Coffee & Tea, Deputy Mayor/Councillor Bruce McDonald, Delta, John Oughtred, Co-Owner, Oughtred Coffee & Tea

Oughtred’s Earth Day unveiling of their new green tech roasters. Michael Oughtred, Co-Owner, Oughtred Coffee & Tea, Deputy Mayor/Councillor Bruce McDonald, Delta, John Oughtred, Co-Owner, Oughtred Coffee & Tea

EAT: Can you tell me how you first got into coffee roasting, and who taught you how to do it?

Michael Oughtred: I was born into the job, literally. My father met and married a woman from Brazil back in 1972 and, a year later, started a coffee company on Vancouver Island. Two years after that, I was born.

Some of my earliest memories are from our family vacations back to Brazil where we met some amazing coffee families in the Minas (Cerrado) region. Our family had connections with some of the farming families in the region, and this is where I was first exposed to the agriculture of the area and coffee. When it comes to roasting itself, I have been fortunate to work with a few different mentors/teachers over the course of my coffee journey.

Three that I would like to make mention of would include: David Schomer from Vivace in Seattle. In the early 1990s, we started importing his espresso onto Vancouver Island via the Clipper. I would take trips down to see him at his roasting facility to observe his technical and artistic approach to coffee blending and roasting. Not to mention his early vision for coffee extraction through a modified, PID controlled espresso machine… feels like only yesterday. He was truly innovative yet incredibly structured and committed to achieving balance in his coffees.

Another strong influence in my coffee journey is a young man by the name of Matt Miletto (and his father Bruce), who own and operate the American Barista School in Portland, Oregon. Don’t let the name of his company fool you, Matt and his dad are legends in the coffee education business, and both my brother and I have spent countless hours working with them to improve our awareness and skills in everything coffee, including coffee roasting and profile development. They have had a huge part to play in growing awareness and education in the specialty coffee industry of North America, and we feel very fortunate to have built such a close friendship with Matt and his dad over the last 10 years.

One other person that has helped shape some of my early roasting techniques is a local artisan, who I believe has been a positive influence on some of the current crop of young roasters in BC. His name is Doug Graf, and we have been working on and off together on various projects since the mid to late 1990s. His family has been around coffee almost as long as ours has, and I have always appreciated Doug’s approach to coffee. Recently, Doug and I reconnected after the installation of our new Loring Roasters. Doug happens to represent Loring in BC/Canada now and we have spent some quality time together trying to push our knowledge base when it comes to working with these amazing pieces of equipment.

Loring Roasters

Loring Roasters

EAT: What does a Loring machine give you that a manually controlled roaster doesn’t?

Michael Oughtred: To be completely transparent, the Loring Roasters actually give us the benefit of both worlds. It is true that Loring’s technology includes computerized control systems that can help guide our team throughout the entire roasting cycle. The system is capable of measuring temperature (PID temperature control in four different locations within the roaster), develop and store various roasting recipes, provide complete roasting curve analytics (turnaround time, change rates, first crack, airflow, etc.), micro temperature adjustments (1 degree), and so much more, which certainly proves helpful during the process of roasting coffee.

Similar control systems are now available as modifications for older manual roasters, from after-market providers. All across North America, many roasters are opting to purchase these control systems in order to help improve their roasting consistency. The truth is we (and many good roasters) prefer to roast our coffees manually, as it allows us to explore the coffee in different, yet important, ways. There is a certain enjoyment and reward that comes from feeling your way through a coffee’s development during early stages of roasting, where we rely on both our senses (sight, sound, smell, and taste) and the information provided to us from our farming and milling partners. We also believe that paying close attention during a manual roast can uncover subtle nuances that technology simply does not instinctively identify. The technology, without question, provides our team with important statistical analysis and confirmations when attempting to unlock a coffee’s true potential; however, our coffee team also loves the journey and discovery that only manual roasting can provide.

One of the most powerful advantages is that the Loring technology has proven to improve is our roasting consistency, roast after roast. For example, the Loring’s computer system will automatically store details of every roast completed and will then follow up with an email to our QC email address with every piece of statistical information we desire. This proves invaluable when attempting to track consistency of roasts, especially during the shoulder seasons when outside weather (temperature, humidity, etc…) is typically unstable.

EAT: I’ve been noticing that the dark roast/light roast divide tends to splay along the manual/computer roasting divide.  Do you think there is anything to the idea that the technology is changing the way people roast beans?

Michael Oughtred: I am not certain that I would qualify or explain the divide that exists between dark and light roast coffees (or consumers) with any correlation between companies that choose manual and computer driven roasters. As a matter of fact, I am aware of many manual roasters in North America that successfully produce so called “dark roast” coffees for their customers and equally aware of computer-driven roasters producing “light roast” coffees.

From our experience, we have found that every roasting company has some motivating factor as to why they became interested in roasting coffee in the first place. Some may be motivated by sheer profits, others by the love of coffee and, in some cases, both.

For us, it was love, just in another way…my father fell in love with a Brazilian woman and from there, we were exposed to the world of coffee from an agricultural perspective. We saw the passion and love for coffee from the eyes of a producer, not a barista or board of directors. Not for money or fame, but from a need to produce a sustainable legacy and future for the next generation. It left a powerful and lasting impression on my family, which has helped spark a passion for coffee that is still in our blood today.

We believe that consumers are often in the driver’s seat with it comes to popularity and it is our job to provide our customers with a wide range of roasts, flavours, and origins. I am not particularly interested in arguing the merits of right and wrong with a consumer, whether or not to produce dark or light roasts. Our goal is to help connect our partners in the producing world with consumers at home, as both sides look to learn more about the other. The more consumers become aware of the producers capabilities, the more they are encouraged to adjust their consumption patterns. Technology may help some companies in the way they choose to roast coffees; however, for us, education and collaboration are key drivers in turning our customers on to a variety of new coffee flavours…beyond light and dark.


EAT: How much do the so-called coffee wars between major players like Starbucks and McDonalds matter to small roasters?  Is it the small roasting resurgence that has driven all this?

Stacey Lynden, Head Coffee Roaster

Stacey Lynden, Head Coffee Roaster

Michael Oughtred: We have witnessed firsthand the ongoing coffee wars being waged between Starbucks and McDonalds, and they do inevitably affect small to midsize roasters all across North America. At last check, Tim Horton’s claimed to sell seven or eight out of every 10 cups served in Canada (outside of the home). Add to that the impact of McDonalds and Starbucks, and it is hard to believe that small roasters have a chance.

In fact, back in 2008 I had an opportunity to sit and chat with the largest, independent McDonalds franchisee holder from the New York area, when he first unveiled McDonalds plans to compete for the Starbucks-dominated, morning coffee ritual in the US. Now, seven years later, the battle for this highly lucrative part of the “out of home” breakfast market rages on with little or no end in sight.

In many parts of North America, improved consumer awareness and education has formed part of the impetus behind McDonalds (and others) desire to improve their offerings. There is little argument that Starbucks played a major role in helping increase consumers’ appetite for more expensive coffee, and smaller craft roasters have been ever thankful.

However, not even the marketing power of players like Starbucks can claim full responsibility for improving consumers’ educations, that road has long been paved by the hard work and dedication of many craft roasters and specialty coffee shops all across North America.

Their passion for better coffee, transparency, quality, flavour, etc…helping drive the movement for an improved experience. Similar parallels in the food industry are evident, with more and more consumers demanding quality choices, improved transparency, and fresh selections at their local eatery. Smaller roasters are more nimble and have the ability to adapt more quickly than their larger competitors have; nevertheless, larger chains will at some point be forced to react when competing for consumers’ loyalty. Both have a part to play in the development of our industry, but so long as quality is a key driver, small craft roasters and specialty coffee shops will remain a strong and viable option in the market place, regardless of how much free coffee you can throw at a customer.

145EAT: Have the tastes of your customers been changing and what, if anything, have you done to help and educate them?

Michael Oughtred: One thing that never ceases to amaze me anymore is the speed in which the coffee industry has developed over the past 15 years. Farming, milling, roasting, and preparation standards have all shown tremendous growth and development, driven by a tenacious appetite to push the boundaries and to explore new and innovative ways of making a better cup of coffee. There are so many factors that help determine the final quality and or flavour in a cup of coffee.

In fact, coffee has proven to be one of the most labour intensive products to produce from seed to cup—one small misstep during the chain of custody and the product is compromised. Every step in a coffee’s journey is critical to its ultimate success, requiring precision and attention to detail along the entire chain of custody. Consumers have been the benefactors of this precise and measured approach to coffee at every level.

We see consumers beginning to understand origins, roast levels, tasting notes, etc…rather than simply ordering another cup of joe. Or for that fact, a dark or light roast coffee. We still see a large percentage of consumers that simply require the boost and or stimulation that the caffeine from coffee provides, but, as social constructs change and people begin to discover the possibilities of a cup of coffee, they begin to shift their way of thinking and patterns for consumption.

Cashews, Meyer Lemon, Honey, Graham Cracker, and Chocolate are all examples of flavour descriptors that consumers are now using to identify their preferred cup of coffee. Language of high acidity, nice body, and delicate sweetness are now replacing dark and medium when placing orders at the counter of their local coffee shop. This is such a massive shift in consumption patterns for our industry, and an important point of differentiation for craft roasters. Our goal is to have consumers understand and identify with local, fresh, transparent, and seasonal offerings yet make it approachable and delicious. Transparent labelling, educational seminars, roasting works tours, and public cuppings are things that we began to offer our customers over the last six or seven years and we have seen a major shift in demand as a result.

EAT: What advice would you give to young people looking to get into roasting?

Michael Oughtred: Find a good banker or investor. All joking aside, we have seen a proliferation of smaller roasters popping up all across BC over the last 10 years. And it is not the first time we have seen this cycle in our market place.

Similar to many other market segments (the grocery market seems to be following a similar curve as of late) consumers were subjected to the domination of larger, national roasting companies with little or no alternative in their local communities. Once a market reaches a tipping point, the emergence of smaller, craft roasters was inevitable. Small batches, local, organic, quality, freshness, direct trade—all buzz words used by smaller more nimble roasters to create identity and uniqueness.

As consumers were exposed to the quality difference that new coffee specialists were able to produce, line-ups around the corner grew. This in turn sparks interest from other investors and companies keen to capture the spoils of this growing market. Smaller roasters began to open up everywhere with the goal of creating consumer loyalty.

Unfortunately, I believe we are quickly approaching another saturation point where the cost of entry is becoming more and more prohibitive and the sustainability of loyal customers increasingly difficult to achieve due to market pressures. Although my initial advice might appear a bit tongue and cheek, with an overdeveloped market, capital quickly becomes a very important tool for any small or large business. For those that don’t have an issue with capital, then I would suggest finding a way to somehow vertically integrate with farmers and millers to improve the supply chain side of the business. For those with smaller budgets, it will prove difficult to carve out a niche in an already heavily saturated market.

EAT: What is the last batch you roasted?

Michael Oughtred: We just received a new, direct trade, single origin coffee from Guatemala’s Acatenango growing region. Finca San Diego Buena Vista is an award winning, Rainforest Alliance coffee that really impressed me on the cupping table during my trip to Guatemala last year. This 100% Red Bourbon Cultivator delivers a wonderfully sweet and balanced cup with tremendous mouthfeel. We are still unsure on the final roast parameters for this coffee, but we are initially really enjoying the complexity and brightness that the lighter roasts can offer. Stay tuned…

EAT: What is next for Oughtred?

Michael Oughtred: That is an interesting question. The truth is, we never try to get too far ahead of ourselves in this business because the pace of change has historically been quite remarkable. Attention to details is what we focus on with our team every day. Currently we are focused on two simple goals: produce the highest quality coffees possible and deliver the best customer service possible.

Although from experience, sometimes the simpler the goal, the more difficult it is to achieve success. We are very fortunate to have so many great, long term employees, suppliers and customers as our success relies greatly on working closely with each of them along the way. We are constantly trying to improve our procurement, roasting development, sustainability, training and service programs, relationships and consistency while always remaining open to learning and development. What is next? We hope that the local community will continue to embrace our dedication to producing spectacular specialty coffees and support our company in its second generation of local family ownership.

Oughtred Coffee & Tea

Head Office:

723 B Vanalman

V8Z 3B6

Victoria, BC

Tel: (250) 384 7444

Toll Free: 1 877 384 7444




#140 – 10050 River Way

Delta, BC V4G 1M9

Tel: 604 581 4419

Fax: 604 581 5519


Director of Coffee: Michael Oughtred

Email address:

Director of Manufacturing: Jaime Shannon

Email address:


This photo is of Oughtred Staff including: the two owners (brothers Michael and John Oughtred), Sandy Klassen CFO (fifth from the right), most Delta staff and a few Victoria staff.

This photo is of Oughtred Staff including: the two owners (brothers Michael and John Oughtred), Sandy Klassen CFO (fifth from the right), most Delta staff and a few Victoria staff.

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Born and raised in the mysterious East (by which I mean Ontario and Quebec, not Asia), Adam migrated out to British Columbia in search of adventure and fortune. He had been at different times a scholar, a musician, a poet and a ...

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