Co-op student brews success in coffee and beer chemistry

April 12, 2018

Author: Julian Sketchley

Hot coffee and cool science make the perfect pair for fifth-year chemistry student Hannah Charnock. As the co-owner of local coffee roaster Smoke & Mirrors, she’s applying knowledge gained through co-op work terms in the beer and wine industries to create the perfect cup of coffee.

Charnock made her foray into the coffee business after gaining beer and wine chemistry experiences through co-op. She spent her first work term at Three Sisters Winery in the Okanagan as a viticulturist—cultivating grapes and assisting with quality-control testing in the lab. Her second work term was with local craft brewery Phillips as a beer chemistry researcher.

Inspired by the chemical side of the brewing process, Charnock pursued a directed studies course on an accelerated whiskey-aging technique, in collaboration with researchers at Phillips as well as UVic chemist Fraser Hof and Camosun College chemist Blair Surridge.

When Euan Thomson from Phillips suggested that he and Charnock apply these research principles to coffee, it led them to co-found Smoke & Mirrors Coffee Co.

Coffee chemistry, says Charnock, is all about extracting the best flavours from the beans and developing naturally sweeter coffee. “The quicker you cool the beans after roasting, the higher the sugar content and the sweeter the result. We’re developing a method for measuring this process right now.”

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UVic chemistry student Hannah Charnock experimenting with bean roasting at Smoke and Mirrors.Photo: Julian Sketchley

UVic chemistry student Hannah Charnock experimenting with bean roasting at Smoke and Mirrors.Photo: Julian Sketchley


Fernwood NRG: Social enterprise coffee roaster perks up non-profit community

December 4th, 2017

Author: Mila Czemerys

Philosopher Thomas Browne wrote, “One should never approach the ­temple of ­science with the soul of a money changer,”—but perhaps the inverse could be said too. Scientists aren’t known for their ­inclination towards business but three ­Victoria ­scientists are trying it anyway.

“We’ve given away almost every penny we’ve made so far,” laughs Hannah ­Charnock, the 21 year old co-founder of Smoke & Mirrors Coffee Co., Victoria’s newest small-batch coffee roaster. “Cash might rule the world, but we’d rather focus our energy on building social currency.”

The company was founded over the summer by Charnock and Euan Thomson, her co-worker in the Phillips Brewing & Malting Co. laboratory, after they took a hard look at the low yield, high stress world of non-profit fundraising.

“Getting grants is hard enough,” says Thomson. “But even when an ­organization is lucky enough to land one, the work involved can drive staff to work unpaid overtime so it looks better on the balance sheet. It’s a serious problem in the non-profit sector, and it isn’t getting better.”

They decided to direct their efforts at launching an enterprise with a single focus: applying their scientific and ­sensory training from the beer world to make good coffee, netting a reliable, and (for the organizations, anyway) low-effort revenue stream for local non-profits. The team has since added a third member, UVic ­biochemistry PhD candidate Karen Lithgow, who, as Thomson puts it, has an “advanced” coffee problem.

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