Companion brings coffee roasting to Florence

Emma Tanner, Managing Editor

Companion Coffee Roasters had their grand opening on Mar. 4 after a series of soft openings. 

Companion was created by Kyle West and his wife. Both are North Alabama alumni. Kyle majored in nursing. He now works as a nurse anesthetist.

West’s love for coffee began when he was a UNA student. 

“It was just like everyone else comes to love coffee,” said West. “It’s medicinal in that you drink it just to keep you awake, keep you caffeinated. That’s how I started out. I started out just tons of cream and tons of sugar but I never drank it in my childhood years. And that passion for it sort of grew as I just weaned myself off of the cream and sugar and I started drinking coffee black. That’s the only way I drink coffee now.”

He began coffee roasting after trying craft coffee for the first time. The experience opened his eyes to the world of different flavors and roasts of coffee. His biggest struggle was finding the freshest cup of coffee, which he only found possible when he roasted his own beans. His first roasts were in a popcorn machine, but he eventually deemed the hobby fruitful enough to warrant buying an actual coffee roaster.

West sees coffee roasting as a combination of art and science.

“The science is all the literature behind roasting coffee and what people have done in the past and all the different processes and things like that,” West said. “There’s certain things that happen in the coffee process such as the Maillard reaction, first crack, second crack, browning phase, all of that and things that you have to watch and just write down notes like a mad scientist… I think it’s funny that my hobby turned into a business.”

He originally gave his roasts to family and friends, which evolved into selling the roasts. As word of mouth spread, West could not keep up with the demand. He eventually decided to buy a bigger roast. However, the roast did not fit in his home and required a rented space. He found the space that is now Companion Coffee Roasters.

West also takes pride in the fact that the roaster has an attached cafe. The cafe allows customers to taste the roasts. While the cafe is a nice addition, the sole purpose of the business is to sell his coffee roasts. His barista experience is minimal, but helped by the addition of cafe staff. 

Despite the presence of the cafe, West wants to partner with Shoals coffee shops to wholesome his roasts.

“The heart behind this whole business is wholesaling coffee for other coffee shops or for restaurants or whatever it may be because I’m a coffee roaster, as you know, and so I kind of did this whole business backwards,” West said. 

Companion also keeps their pricing consistent for all products. A 12 ounce bag of coffee beans will stay at $14.95, despite the type of roast. There are a few exceptions with specialty roasts, but the prices of main roasts remain consistent. In the two weeks that they’ve formally been open, their bestseller already appears to be their dark roast. West finds this ironic, as it’s his least favorite one.

“I think a lot of people confuse the dark roast for extra bold and highly caffeinated and that’s not true,” West said. “Actually a light roast carries more caffeine than a dark roast.”

Another thing West is proud of is the ethical sourcing of his coffee beans. 

“We want to support these farmers who are truly doing the hard work and give them a fair wage for what they’re doing,” West said. “Because coffee is the second most traded commodity in the world behind oil. Because of that, [companies] will pay these farmers pennies on the dollar for what they’re doing and they have to pick up two or three other jobs to support their families. We’re just not behind that.”

West began the roaster with his wife and wanted the name to reflect that. 

“With a lot of things in life, coffee is best enjoyed with a companion, with somebody,” West said. “There’s a lot of things in this world that are not enjoyable just by yourself. It’s always more enjoyable with another person, and coffee is one of those things, like whether it’s a business meeting that you’re having at the coffee shop or a first date or just a get together with your friend or whatever it may be. That’s why we named it that. It is absolutely our favorite way to enjoy it.”

The logo also mirrors Companion’s name as it’s “man’s best companion,” a dog. The logo was modeled after West’s golden retriever, Angus, who passed away in 2022. He made the logo to honor Angus.

Companion also encourages UNA students to visit. West is hopeful of partnering with the university to obtain Mane Card benefits.

“With how fast life is and so we’d love it if you guys would come in and just study and hang out with your friends,” West said. “That’s what we love. We love to see people come in and stay a while and drink coffee. We would absolutely love it if all the UNA students came.”