Tyler Hagan’s journey into the specialty coffee world is what happens when you find a thread of inspiration, and keep pulling it until it unravels into a full-on passion. Speaking with him reveals an honest and true desire to always be learning more about the wide world of coffee, while also emphasizing the need for community, and the celebration of growers/producers. In this conversation, Tyler shares the story behind the cup of “blueberry bomb” that hooked him in, the day and time dependent ways he likes to enjoy coffee, and the many ways he connects with the coffee community online and in real life.
Can you take us back to when you first fell in love with coffee? Do you have a sensorial memory of your first taste?
I grew up in Vancouver, BC, a city long associated with great coffee and a great coffee-culture. My first real experience with coffee was drinking old-school cappuccinos, with very dark, roasty espresso and super foamy, dry milk on top, with my Dad whenever we’d go out to restaurants. It wasn’t until many years later where I began to discover specialty coffee.
My journey (to specialty coffee) began on a trip my wife and I took down to Costa Rica. While I wasn’t fully aware of what it meant to be in origin (and I regret not having visited any coffee farms), just the thought of being in a country so renowned for coffee began to pique my curiosity. Coming home, I began to research more about Central American coffee, and from there it quickly expanded to South America, and especially to Africa.
Fast forward a few more years later, and it was actually while down in Phoenix, Arizona where my wife and I were walking around old-town Scottsdale. We stopped by a cool looking cafe that turned out to be Cartel Coffee Roasters. I walked up to the bar and asked the barista what was good. They recommended a Chemex brew of their Ethiopian Natural. Yup – the “blueberry bomb”. At that moment my eyes were opened. The clear note of blueberry sent my mind into overdrive, and in an instant I knew there was far more to coffee than I knew to that point.
This really was what catalyzed my journey into specialty coffee. It's remarkable that I can trace it all back to that one moment, that one cup, and what that did to begin this incredible journey.
When did you decide to start your blog and social media accounts under “Commonly Coffee”? Was there a tipping point where you saw a need to share what you were experimenting with and learning with a larger audience?
I began my blog and really got serious about social media back in 2018. I joke with people that it was because a few close friends got worried when they saw more and more coffee pics on my personal Instagram, and less and less of my family.
But in all seriousness, it began out of a conversation at Sought x Found Coffee here in Calgary, with the team at Rooftop Coffee Roasters. They were in town to catch a flight and so we met up. They had seen some of the content I was just starting to create, and really pushed me to consider doing it more. They were super encouraging and so I asked if they’d let me share their story as my first real article. The rest (as they say) is history.
What I wasn’t expecting (and none of us were) was how much of a boost the pandemic gave for content creation. This certainly was the tipping point for seeing this casual hobby become far more of a passion-project. I love storytelling, and getting to connect with people, and if I wasn’t really able to do that in-person then using my blog and social media would be the next best thing. Five years of doing this now, and I am in awe of the friendships I have formed, and the opportunities all of this has created.
I mean, even this opportunity to be a part of this feature with Ratio would not be possible without the blog and my socials, and the relationships they have created.
As someone who’s been in coffee for a while and has experience with *lots* of various coffee gear, we’d love to know more about how you decide which tool to use. Is it by type of coffee, time of day, mood, etc.?
When it comes to specialty coffee, you’re so right that there is an abundance of coffee gear. There is truly something for everyone when it comes to coffee gear. When it comes to my personal routine of brewing coffee, and what I choose to have on my coffee bar, there are certainly a few key things I look for.
When it comes to making coffee, I tend to choose one of three distinct methods for three different times of the day/week. This is what informs the tools I use.
It may come as a total shock to some, but even with the abundance of gear that I have, most mornings you’ll find me making batch brew. I have two kids and limited time in the morning to make coffee before I head out the door to work. Since getting my hands on the Ratio Six and recently the Ratio Eight, I’ve consistently brewed great tasting coffee with minimal effort.
I don’t think anyone should have to sacrifice the quality of their coffee for convenience, and so having a batch brew machine that can effortlessly make fantastic coffee is very important. This has been what’s always stood out to me about Ratio’s lineup. Not only are they incredibly user-friendly, they also look great on my brew bar. I appreciate when a company understands form and function. Ratio does just that.
When it comes to late afternoons and evenings, I tend to prefer a decaf pour-over, and on weekends you’ll find me pulling copious shots of espresso. Both of these methods usually require more of my time and focus. I love the opportunity that each of these permits for me to experiment, to have fun, and to nerd out.
But, if it's simply needing great coffee in the morning, or making a lot of it when friends and family come over, there’s no other way I’d rather brew that than on a Ratio product.
What about the tradeoffs between complexity/programmability to tease out the last bit of nuance and simplicity/repeatability? Is there room for both?
Great question. I feel like there is always room for both. The reason being is that there ought to always be room for everybody and their preferences when it comes to specialty coffee.
My preference when it comes to the choice between complexity/programmability and simplicity/repeatability is that I will most often default to the old adage “Keep It Simple Stupid.” At some point the law of diminishing returns really does begin to kick in and getting swept up in the latest craze, or obsessing on the newest piece of gear, only leads to minimal improvements at the end of the day.
And while I know there are many people in the specialty coffee community who possess a far greater knowledge of coffee and gear than I do, I feel that for the majority of customers, what they are looking for at the end of the day is simplicity, repeatability, and quality. Do those three things well, and we might all come to see there is less need for complexity if the product delivers on what it promises.
What is your process for seeking out, testing, and learning about new ways to brew and experience coffee?
Would you be surprised if I said that much of my process for learning about new ways to brew and experience coffee comes from conversations with friends?! One of the best things to come out of the pandemic was so many home-brewers who began to share their love for coffee across social media. Having gotten to know them over the years there are a close few that I really trust when it comes to their opinion.
One place I often go for inspiration and to learn more about everything coffee-related is the Eight Ounce Coffee HQ here in Calgary. They are easily Canada’s foremost source for coffee gear, and knowledge. Their team has always supported my work, and is always willing to share gear, insights, and their love for coffee with me.
They were even the ones that first let me experience the Ratio Six, and even gave me the chance to film a fun how-to video for their YouTube channel! This again speaks to the heart of specialty coffee that always focuses on helping others.
When it comes to the actual practical aspects of testing and learning, I tend to take a very hands-on approach and focus on one thing at a time. Whether that is gear, or a specific coffee, etc., I like to not get distracted and find it helpful to narrow in on whatever it is and learn as much as I can about it.
When you are on the road, visiting a new or familiar location away from home, how do you map out your “coffee plan” for the trip? Do you have any tips for others who’d love to structure their travel around coffee?
Such a fun question. I am a bit of a planner and when I find myself heading to a new city, or even a familiar one after some time away, planning out a coffee crawl is something I love to do. I often find myself being the one asked by others to plan their trips for them. Over the years I have developed quite the data-base for cities and roasters/shops that are worth visiting.
For people planning a trip, there are some incredibly helpful resources out there (shoutout to Sprudge City Guides). Check them out if you want to see some great write-ups about great cities. You may even find my name a couple of times!
But honestly, some of the best advice I can offer is to ask the local barista at your favorite specialty coffee shop in your hometown. They’ll likely know of a shop or roaster where you’re going. The specialty coffee community is small enough that many people know at least one good spot in every city.
If you don’t know anyone who is well connected in the specialty coffee scene then ask me! And lastly, a quick google search for “Specialty Coffee Shops in _______” is never a bad idea. And when you get there, chat with local specialty coffee shops/roasters. I am confident they’ll point you in some good directions.
Do you find you are constantly learning new things about coffee after blogging about it and researching it for over five years? Or, do you find that you reach a point where you end up going back to methods you’ve already tried and refining them instead?
There is always more to learn when it comes to specialty coffee. And while after five years I have some tendencies and preferences, the constant innovation in this space really doesn’t allow for a lot of complacency.
Having had the chance this past year to attend the SCA Expo, was a truly eye-opening experience for me. Being in a place surrounded by so much gear, so many new and exciting innovations, and so many passionate people was a moment I’ll never forget. This experience alone did so much to excite me for the next 5+ years.
Even with all the innovation and growth in specialty coffee, there are some tried-and-true methods that I always come back to. You’ll never catch me without my $10 dollar plastic V60 or my old AeroPress on my brew bar. There are just some methods that are dependable, consistent, and make a killer brew. Great coffee doesn’t necessarily have to require expensive gear. And in fact, learning how to master these iconic brewers is still something I am far from. This is what keeps people going down the rabbit hole of specialty coffee…the relentless pursuit of that truly incredible cup.
What is your ** current ** favorite way to brew coffee, and how do you most often start your day with coffee?
Oh man. That’s like asking me to pick my favorite kid! This might surprise many readers, but lately I have really been enjoying specialty instant coffee. I know I know. I really feel like this is one area of specialty coffee that is poised for some really innovative and exciting things in the next few years. And what I love the most is that specialty instant allows an incredible level of accessibility to great coffee.
But, if we’re talking about what my go-to is most days for brewing coffee then that’s easy, it's my Ratio Eight. I make batch-brew almost every morning. What I love about the Ratio Eight is that it's brewing coffee with a work of art. I love the simplicity of this brewer, and the quality of coffee it makes is as good as any pour-over I would do. I’ll usually make enough to fill up my Carter tumbler for the office, while still being able to enjoy a cup (or two) with my breakfast.
“Specialty Coffee” is a world that always seems to be evolving and changing! Where would you like to see the industry go in the next 5 years?
I am really glad you asked this question. I feel like the most important aspect of growth I hope to see happen in the next 5 years is the further amplification of farmers and producers. I see some specialty coffee roasters really doing a great job of sharing more about those in origin who are playing such a vital role in the supply chain. I would love to see more roasters sharing the stories of those at origin in the coming years. Sharing more about the relationship they have. Sharing more about the prices they paid for the coffee. The more transparency we can bring to this aspect of specialty coffee the more educated consumers become, and the better we all become.
And I’ll tell you what would be a dream of mine – It would be to one day get to travel to origin myself and be able to connect directly with the farmers, producers etc., and to come back to use my blog and my social channels to share their stories. That trip to Costa Rica years ago may have ignited this whole passion for specialty coffee, but like I said, I regret not having had the chance to visit an actual farm.
On a more personal note, I’d love to see more coffee events and festivals, especially here in Canada. Coffee is all about community and about bringing people together. Events and festivals are such a fun way to expose more people to specialty coffee and allow for networking and fun opportunities to celebrate the drink we all love. I feel like the more we can do together the more growth we’ll see in this space.
We’d also love to know your favorite brew recipe to use on your Ratio brewer of choice! Do you have one you especially love?
In terms of a specific recipe for either my Ratio Six or Eight, I tend to follow the advice of James Hoffmann. His recommendation is using 60g of coffee per 1L of water. Following this has been my default brew-recipe for much of my time owning these machines. I grind my coffee at a 7 on my Fellow Ode Gen2.
Most days I end up doing around 750ml of water and 45g of coffee. When it comes to my Ratio Six I tend to prefer using the Ratio-brand paper filters. However with my Ratio Eight I have actually enjoyed using my Able Kone metal reusable filter.
I should also note that when it comes to my water I primarily use Perfect Coffee Water (which is a mineral pack) that I add directly to distilled water and then mix. I cannot stress enough the importance that water plays in your coffee-brewing experience. It makes a bigger difference than perhaps you realize.
To learn more about Tyler, and for more tips and tricks for perfecting your at-home brewing, visit the links below!