Toronto’s Best Coffee Comes From Pilot Coffee Roasters

Written by:
Claire Iverson
Photography By:
Magdalene Kan

When most Americans think of high-quality coffee roasters, they think of small, independent roasters like Onyx, Tandem Coffee Roasters, and Madcap Coffee. But north of the border, Toronto’s Pilot Coffee Roasters brews a quiet revolution.

After months of closure due to coronavirus, independent coffee roaster, cold brewery and wholesale provider Pilot Coffee Roasters re-opens three of their eight café locations (on Queen St. East, Richmond St. and Ossington Ave).

The scent of sweet, luxurious coffee will once again drift through the streets of Toronto. 

A History Of Pilot Coffee Roasters

Pilot Coffee Roaster Founder Jesse Wilkin Sampling Coffee

Pilot Coffee Roaster founders Andy and Jessie Wilkin know what it means to launch into a new business venture.

After observing the trend of Australian cafés that roasted their own coffee and informed their customers and community about the sourcing process, the New Zealand and Canadian natives brought the concept to Canada. 

In 2009, Andy and Jessie opened their first shop in Queen St. East, Toronto, under the brand’s original name, Te Aro Coffee Roasters. And over the last decade, they’ve become a Canadian leader for high quality, well-sourced coffees.

In 2013, Te Aro underwent a rebrand.

“It’s the pilot light which kickstarts the roaster,” says co-founder Jessie Wilkin. So the couple found their new name: Pilot Coffee Roasters.

The Pilot Coffee Roasters Mission

The Coffee Products Made By Pilot Coffee Roasters

As per their mission statement, Pilot wants “to roast great coffee, and work with great people to do it.” 

To this end, Pilot runs eight locations around Toronto. They also provide equipment, training, support, and services to those bold enough to dive into the coffee business.

In 2014, Roast Magazine recognized Pilot as Micro Roaster of the Year. In 2019, the company was recognized by Growth 500 as one of Canada’s fastest growing companies. 

What The Brand Different?

The Heritage Blend From Pilot Coffee Roasters

The Community Coffee blend — a delicious amalgamation of black cherry and candied pecan — is a perfect distillation of the idea behind Pilot: to build community using coffee. The Wilkins’ created the blend in collaboration with Central and South America producer partners Nicholas Hammond and Chalo Fernandez.

After visiting coffee producing countries to meet his suppliers and learn about their processes, co-founder Andy Wilkin takes what he learns back to Canada, leading training sessions for the roasters and servers. 

“We take a long term approach to direct trade,” says Jessie. “We worked with Nicholas Hammond in Guatemala to create our Catalan de Las Mercedes coffee. But we didn’t just want to take the best of his crop. We bought the whole harvest. Hammond is using that money to make a better, even more delicious bean.”

The Pilot Coffee team aims to not only bring joy to their customers in a cup of coffee and sweet treats, but they also want to “educate customers as much as we can.” 

Pilot has been recognized as a great workplace for inclusion, Millennials, and female management. Pilot Coffee also aims to give back to Toronto: “We involve our team in as much as we can,” says Jessie. “We do a lot of work with the Red Door Family Shelter.”

The Pilot Coffee Roasters Experience

A cup of coffee at Pilot Coffee Roasters in Toronto, Canada

Pilot Coffee has a well-practiced balancing act of maintaining consistency between cafe locations while adapting to unique community aesthetics and values. 

For example, cafés in the business areas are not going to have the same leasurliness and comfort as do their residential cafés, but will of course have the yellow walls and wood highlights — every location takes on yellow-paint tones and wood accents that defines their first and foremost cafe, Te Aro. 

If you’re brave enough to indulge bold, fresh flavors, pop into one of Pilot’s newly opened stores. The soothing ambiance and friendly faces are quintessential Canadian hospitality. 

What’s Next For Pilot Coffee?

Espresso at Pilot Coffee Roasters in Toronto, Canada

Pilot Coffee’s Jessie is optimistic about the brand’s future. 

“We’re planning to expand to Montreal next, and we’re building a virtual training tool,” shares Jessie. Visit one of Pilot Coffee’s cafes today at one of their open locations, or order online.

Learn More

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