Kevin West, Tim Hortons' director of coffee operations.(Ted Chai)

Kevin West, Tim Hortons' director of coffee operations, is one of just five people in the world who knows the secret formula for making the company's signature coffee.

Twenty minutes outside Hamilton, Ont., tucked away in Ancaster's business park, lies what may be Canada's most indiscriminate corporate building.

The office plaza's polished glass window façade gives way to a nondescript brick-walled factory out back. A sign in the front says "Maidstone Coffee."

But what even its neighbours may not know is that Maidstone Coffee is a wholly-owned subsidiary of an iconic Canadian brand, acting as a kind of front for what truly goes on behind its walls.

There is no sign, nor even is there an odour, to give away the fact that I've reached the place where most every cup of Tim Hortons coffee is born.


If Tim Hortons' brains are its official headquarters in Oakville, Ont., then here is the company's tongue. Inside the sparkling roasting plant in Ancaster, opened in 2009 at a cost of $30 million, is a staggeringly complicated operation where the beans for your neighbourhood Tim's are manufactured.

Much of the 75,000 square foot facility houses the roasting plant, which is itself a testament to industrial efficiency. A vast complex, the roasting plant is a jumble of familiar factory sounds: chirps of air and dry gusts of machinery at work.

But as silos and roasting vats churn and boil the beans to produce more than 1,000 pots of coffee each minute inside the massive plant, the real action is in a classroom-sized lab off to the side.

This room is where Kevin West, Tim Hortons' director of coffee operations, calls home. West is the coffee giant's main taster, which is to say he's the man responsible for every cup of java served across the restaurant's 3,295 Canadian locations.

West tastes, or "cups," about 75,000 cups of coffee each year, sipping and spitting the brew around a giant stainless steel table. Together with a small team of tasters, West oversees a great experiment in consistency.

Tim Hortons' coffee is not made from just one type of bean. At any given time the cup you're drinking has been brewed by beans from as many as six nations (beans from Brazil, Guatemala, El Salvador and Kenya are the most common).

Giant shipments arrive each day to Tim's Ancaster roasting plant, where up to 1.5 million pounds of beans are stored at a time. Coffee beans are a natural fruit, so they're susceptible to wild variances in taste; sweet one day, bitter the next. Anything from weather to altitude can change how a coffee bean matures and tastes.

* How Tim Hortons coffee is made

So in his lab, then, is where West confronts fluctuation in the taste of the bean he loves.

Most days West will take a chair alongside his team and start a ritualistic brewing process. Over the course of ten minutes, several times a day, West will taste coffee brewed from the beans shipped to the plant.