Smoke & Mirrors Coffee Co. is a fascinating local company centred on the unusual trio of great coffee, charitable giving, and advanced science. Tasting Victoria was lucky enough to speak with two of the owners recently to find out all about how they started, what drives them, and what we can expect in the future.
Smoke & Mirror is co-owned by two couples: Christine and Blair Surridge, and John and Tanya Lee. John and Blair are both chemistry instructors at Camosun College, Christine also holds a science degree, and Tanya is a teacher with a knack for marketing. And, of course, all four have an obvious passion for great coffee.
At the moment, Smoke & Mirrors has three coffees available, all of which are organic and ethically sourced. There’s the dark roast Affinity blend, with bold flavours of dark chocolate, hazelnuts, and, fitting for Victoria, blackberries. The Chrysalis is a medium roast single-origin from Honduras, with a creamy mouthfeel and flavours of oatmeal, peach, brown sugar, and spice. The lightest roast is the Eyespot, a bright single-origin from Peru that tastes of butter biscuits, orange, and milk chocolate.
Fans will be pleased to hear that they’re rolling out two new coffees in the near future, a French roast and an espresso blend.
Smoke & Mirrors’ original founders were setting up their coffee business at the same time that they were establishing the UVic Women in Science organization. In pursuing the latter, they became aware of how difficult it is for organizations to get unrestricted funding, and inspiration struck! Their new coffee company was founded with a mandate to donate a full 50% of profits to local non-profits without restrictions.
When the current foursome took over, they were enthusiastic to maintain the same ethic. According to Christine Surridge, the decision to purchase the fledgling coffee company was a no-brainer.
“We enjoy an excellent relationship with the founders, and with great coffee,” she says. “So when the opportunity came along to continue their legacy of roasting fantastic, affordable coffee, and having a positive impact on the community, we jumped at the chance.”
The new owners may have brought a more scientific approach to roasting coffee, but they weren’t tempted to change the charitable nature of the business, according to Christine. “Unrestricted funding can be hard to find,” shey says, “so we wanted to fill that need.” They continue to support the UVic Women in Science, Habitat Acquisition Trust , Restorative Justice, and The Latitude Project: a diverse mix of projects that reflect the team’s core values of “equity, social justice, respect for the environment, and diversity.”
In keeping with these values, Smoke & Mirrors offers 100% omnidegrable packaging, which will decompose in any environment. They pay a little extra for this but consider it well worth absorbing the cost to keep their footprint small.
Building any new business is a challenge, and Christine talked about the difficulty of getting their coffee onto store shelves and introducing it to new customers. Then, of course, there’s COVID-19, which hit when Smoke & Mirrors was only a few years old.
Christine explains that while it didn’t interrupt their supply or roasting, it halted the momentum they had been gaining with consumers and their ability to promote the product. “The reduction in outdoor street markets,” she says, “was a definite impact.”
They were able to weather these storms through hard work, smart decision making, and being a part of an enthusiastic coffee community here in Victoria. “Victorians have an unrivalled love of coffee and enthusiasm to support small local businesses,” explains Christine. “Just as we have a huge craft brewing community, the Victoria micro roasteries are thriving, and it is a thrill to be involved with such a passionate and knowledgeable community.”
The extensive scientific background of Smoke & Mirrors’ owners is unique among local roasters, and it shows in the quality of their coffee.
Chemistry instructors John and Blair often engage their students in coffee-centred research projects. The students get access to inspiring hands-on projects, John and Blair get useful data about flavours, and the general public gets better coffee. It’s a win-win-win!
“We are lucky to have access to state of the art analysis instrumentation,” says John, “and have published a study on post-roast flavour profile of our coffee.” How many coffee roasters can say that?
Supporting small coffee roasters not only puts money into the local economy—reason enough to do it—but also promises you’ll be drinking better coffee. Freshly roasted beans are more flavourful, and local roasters know how to roast for local conditions, like Victoria’s soft water.
Indeed, when asked about his best tips for new coffee lovers, John advises, “Take advantage of the amazing variety available to you in Victoria, try everything, and support our small local roasters!”
If you want to try Smoke & Mirrors coffee, you’ll find it at Phillips Brewing, Mt. Doug Market, Mother Nature’s Market & Deli, and The Market Garden. Or you can order off their website and enjoy free delivery.
Address: 2010 Government Street, Victoria Instagram: @smokeandmirrorscoffee