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Let’s Eat: Roasted and smoked in Thunder Bay

Dan Dampier started his coffee business, Wolfhead Coffee, in his backyard.

Former engineer Dan Dampier worked in the mining industry but started looking for another career that would be more compatible with family life. He eventually settled on coffee roasting, establishing Wolfhead Coffee in 2015.

“I started by just roasting some in a frying pan,” he says of his first attempt. “And I totally quit engineering and started selling coffee.”

Learning the roasting process didn’t take long, he says, because you can taste test the coffee a day after it’s roasted, and make adjustments to the process to get the result you want.

He also did some online research on his own, and learned from other roasters.

Over the years, the business has grown gradually, Dampier says. The roastery is still in his backyard, where he produces small batches. “We can do about 100 pounds of coffee an hour,” he says. “We roast about three days a week.”

A unique product Wolfhead Coffee produces is smoked coffee, where the beans are smoked after being roasted to infuse them with a subtle smokiness. “We built a smoker; it’s a one-of-a-kind smoker, built for coffee,” he says. “We do cinnamon applewood and hickory mesquite. It’s not super potent - it’s a light, natural smoke.” The cinnamon applewood smoked coffee is popular with customers who like their java with cream and sugar, he adds.

In addition to the two smoked coffees, Wolfhead Coffee advertises dark roast, medium dark roast, medium roast, and decaf on their website, but they also do limited batches of other coffees. “Every month we have at least one coffee that’s different,” he says. To find out what’s new, and where to buy it, Dampier recommends customers keep an eye on Wolfhead Coffee’s Facebook page.

Dampier, who usually takes his coffee black, says a coffee grinder is a worthy investment. “If you’re going to spend the money on specialty coffee, you should be grinding it yourself at home before you brew,” he says.

To brew the perfect cup, he tends to steer away from drip machines himself. “I know French press is a kind of a dirty coffee but I like it, it’s quick and easy, and a lot of people like the pour-overs too,” he comments.

Next year he hopes to introduce a new product, cold-brewed coffee.

Wolfhead Coffee is now sold at more than 70 retailers across Ontario. In town, it can be found at local grocery stores and delis such as Agostino’s and Brent Park Store, as well as boutiques and gift stores like the Authentique Gift Shop on Bay Street. If you just want to try a cup, head over to Up Shot Coffeehouse on May Street, where you can also purchase beans - they will even grind them for you, if you don’t have a grinder at home.

Sleeping Giant Brewery not only sells the coffee at their store, but also adds it to their beer. The Snow Goose, a coffee vanilla porter available in-store and online for a limited time, uses Wolfhead Coffee.

“We also do fundraisers with schools and churches. We enjoy that because it helps them, and for us, it’s a great way to reach new customers,” says Dampier.

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