barista

Canadian National Barista Championship in Globe and Mail by Jessica Lee

Jill Hoff from Calgary presents the coffee she made at the National Barista Championship in Toronto.

Jill Hoff from Calgary presents the coffee she made at the National Barista Championship in Toronto.

Last week, I got to photograph the best baristas in the country at the Canadian National Barista Championships for The Globe and Mail. It was a dream assignment for me because I love coffee culture and also geeking out to delicious coffee. It was also interesting to chat with people who love coffee so much that they devoted a significant amount of their lives to perfecting the skill of making coffee. What drives them? Why are they spending so many hours preparing for a competition?

Here are a few photos from the event, but also check out the interactive feature the Globe put out here.

TORONTO - (March 17, 2019) The twenty-two best baristas in Canada gathered at The Artist Factory to battle it out for the title of best barista at the 2019 Canadian Barista Championships. The event was held to select a Canadian representative to compete in the World Barista Championships in Boston next month.

To earn their spot to compete with the best of the best in Canada, the baristas spend months taste-testing and selecting the coffee bean they will use, rehearsing their routine and practicing to make the perfect cup of coffee. At the competition, each competitor has fifteen minutes to present to four judges their coffee creations. The baristas are judged by the taste and presentation of the cup they brew (latte art), their preparing technique, how accurately they describe the flavour profiles in the coffee they present, their efficiency and cleanliness of their coffee station and also the creativity of a signature drink they create. The event is a fun celebration bringing together fans of the steadily-growing third-wave craft coffee culture in Canada, which uses high-quality Arabica beans, usually sourced directly from a farm in a coffee-growing region, with many cafés roasting their own beans in-house.

Cole Torode, 27, from Calgary, presents his coffee creations to the judges at the 2019 National Barista Championship in Toronto. He was the 2018 and 2019 winner and will go on to represent Canada in the World Barista Championship in Boston later this year.

Cole Torode, 27, from Calgary, presents his coffee creations to the judges at the 2019 National Barista Championship in Toronto. He was the 2018 and 2019 winner and will go on to represent Canada in the World Barista Championship in Boston later this year.

A judge marks down flavour notes of the coffee he is tasting at the 2019 National Barista Championships in Toronto.

A judge marks down flavour notes of the coffee he is tasting at the 2019 National Barista Championships in Toronto.

Nelson Phu, 29, from Calgary, grinds coffee beans while judges look on.

Nelson Phu, 29, from Calgary, grinds coffee beans while judges look on.

Derek Hamers, 37, Toronto Independent  “I’m originally from Regina, Saskatchewan, so there’s not really a specialty coffee scene there, at the time. I think it’s now starting to happen but before there was nothing really for me so I moved to Toronto. It broke my mother’s heart. I had to tell her, it was like ‘Mom, I’m moving to Toronto to become a barista, she’s like ‘Oh my god, Dewey’ [laughs]. But it was the right decision and I met an amazing community here and we’re all good friends and I’ve worked at many places here since and it’s been an awesome journey.”

Derek Hamers, 37, Toronto Independent

“I’m originally from Regina, Saskatchewan, so there’s not really a specialty coffee scene there, at the time. I think it’s now starting to happen but before there was nothing really for me so I moved to Toronto. It broke my mother’s heart. I had to tell her, it was like ‘Mom, I’m moving to Toronto to become a barista, she’s like ‘Oh my god, Dewey’ [laughs]. But it was the right decision and I met an amazing community here and we’re all good friends and I’ve worked at many places here since and it’s been an awesome journey.”

Jann Meneses, 23, Toronto, Independent  “I’m really looking into finding myself a mentor. It takes some time to find the right one for me and I really need someone to look up to who’s going to guide me through my path and so it will just take some time. I want to meet someone that is very knowledgeable about the craft, knows the craft as much as I do and will teach me his ways.”

Jann Meneses, 23, Toronto, Independent

“I’m really looking into finding myself a mentor. It takes some time to find the right one for me and I really need someone to look up to who’s going to guide me through my path and so it will just take some time. I want to meet someone that is very knowledgeable about the craft, knows the craft as much as I do and will teach me his ways.”

Meaghan Biddle, 31, London, ON Locomotive Espresso  “I have a degree in anthropology and a degree in classical civilizations and also in fashion design. I started working in coffee at a Starbucks about ten years ago, I worked there and worked my way up the company in a couple of years, but then I moved into just coffee so I started working at a small café in Toronto.”

Meaghan Biddle, 31, London, ON Locomotive Espresso

“I have a degree in anthropology and a degree in classical civilizations and also in fashion design. I started working in coffee at a Starbucks about ten years ago, I worked there and worked my way up the company in a couple of years, but then I moved into just coffee so I started working at a small café in Toronto.”

Nelson Phu, 29, Calgary, Rosso Coffee Roasters  What makes a good cup of coffee?  “You need some acidity, ‘cause it’s interesting, definitely some sweetness and a couple notes, distinct flavor notes, make it amazing. A super long finish is also super nice.”  What does that mean? ‘Super long finish’?  “So imagine eating a caramel, and when you’re done the caramel, you’re still tasting the caramel. That’s the super long finish. It’s really rare to find that in coffee so it’s really nice if you do get one.”

Nelson Phu, 29, Calgary, Rosso Coffee Roasters

What makes a good cup of coffee?

“You need some acidity, ‘cause it’s interesting, definitely some sweetness and a couple notes, distinct flavor notes, make it amazing. A super long finish is also super nice.”

What does that mean? ‘Super long finish’?

“So imagine eating a caramel, and when you’re done the caramel, you’re still tasting the caramel. That’s the super long finish. It’s really rare to find that in coffee so it’s really nice if you do get one.”

Sameer Mohamed, 37, Toronto, Fahrenheit Coffee  “I competed about 15 years ago, that was my first competition, since then rules have changed, methods have changed and so there’s been a lot of adaptation, a lot of, I guess the industry as a whole has been steadied.”

Sameer Mohamed, 37, Toronto, Fahrenheit Coffee

“I competed about 15 years ago, that was my first competition, since then rules have changed, methods have changed and so there’s been a lot of adaptation, a lot of, I guess the industry as a whole has been steadied.”

Cole Torode, 27, Calgary, Rosso Coffee Roasters  2018 and 2019 National Barista Championship Winner  “We live in a very fortunate place in the world and coffee is not grown here but we appreciate coffee and I think the more, from a specialty coffee side, the more people we can bring into specialty coffee, the more we can pay premiums backward toward the supply chain to developing nations and to people who are just less fortunate than us, based on where they were born.”

Cole Torode, 27, Calgary, Rosso Coffee Roasters

2018 and 2019 National Barista Championship Winner

“We live in a very fortunate place in the world and coffee is not grown here but we appreciate coffee and I think the more, from a specialty coffee side, the more people we can bring into specialty coffee, the more we can pay premiums backward toward the supply chain to developing nations and to people who are just less fortunate than us, based on where they were born.”

Karine Ng, 32, Calgary, Phil and Sebastian Coffee Roasters  Describe how you trained for this competition:  “It’s almost like choreography. Kind of like if you’re a dancer you know exactly what moves you’re making at what time, at what point in time so it’s kind of like that, so repeating those movements a lot so you get to be very automatic about it. …all my spare time goes towards preparation for competition.”

Karine Ng, 32, Calgary, Phil and Sebastian Coffee Roasters

Describe how you trained for this competition:

“It’s almost like choreography. Kind of like if you’re a dancer you know exactly what moves you’re making at what time, at what point in time so it’s kind of like that, so repeating those movements a lot so you get to be very automatic about it. …all my spare time goes towards preparation for competition.”

Judges taste test coffee at the Canadian Barista Championships in Toronto.

Judges taste test coffee at the Canadian Barista Championships in Toronto.

Coffee in Hong Kong by Jessica Lee

Today was a pretty lucky day for me- I'll get around to why later.

I went to check out the coffee shops around Hong Kong.

At first, the coffee shop I originally wanted to go to was closed on Mondays. (These things usually happen to me- shops I always want to go to will be closed- I can recount so many times this has happened.)

But it turned out it was good that the shop wasn't open that day, because I discovered another coffee shop. And they recently opened, it turns out.

I discovered Rabbithole (that's what they're called) while walking up the mid-level escalators in Central. The location is really neat and lets you people watch.

But of course, something more interesting was going on inside the shop that day.

They were having a photo shoot!

I think a magazine or blog was featuring the coffee shop because there was a guy to take photos and another guy to ask questions.

And because of the press, they took out all these fancy coffee-making machines besides just espresso machines. That in the picture up there is a siphon. The photo below looks like a French press, though I don't know for sure. The silver metal plate thing is a thermometer I think. Baristas, can you help me out?


I have no clue what the below machine is, but everyone looks like they're having fun.

I also got to talk to a Danish gentleman there who happened to be a coffee aficionado. I told him I was going to Australia in my travels next, and he confirmed that the coffee scene there is thriving, which makes me excited.

But here comes my favourite part (and also explains all the cups of coffee at the top picture): because they had press over and maybe because they are a pretty new shop, they made lots of samples and I got to taste test a couple of them (for free)!

I discovered that the Kenyan brew was a little too acidic for me. The Ethiopean roast was way too strong for me. (It has to do with how they brew it as well)

This is their menu and everything you can order from them:

And this is the mocha I originally ordered:

I also have to point out the lay-out of the place. It's quite ingenious.

It is open concept, and they serve you in the middle.

And this is looking out:


Taking a closer look at the view:


And this is what it looks like if you happen to like drinking your coffee while poking your head out.

Doped up on caffeine, I headed out into the world again to Causeway Bay and did some errand shopping (this is what I call shopping for essential items like my hairdryer, as well as gifts for loved ones).

Afterwards, I wandered around looking for a coffee shop I had read about in Wallpaper guidebook.

I did not expect to be wandering around 2+ hours however, as I kept getting lost- however, I got some good photography out of being lost (will show in a later post).

What I wanted to do was "stumble" into this coffee shop, called After School Cafe. I wanted to be like "oh, I was in the area and I discovered your hip little coffee joint" when I walked in.

No such thing happened as the place was terribly hard to find. (I wandered to the same mall three times before even finding the street this place was on)

However, when I finally got there, it was worth it.

1. The entrance is shared with a furniture store, and you have to walk to the second level to get to the shop.
2. You have to ring a doorbell for them to let you in.
3. There is no sign on the outside that even says this coffee shop exists! You have to know the exact address.
4. They were "closed" on Mondays as well, however...

...the guy who owned the place saw that I was a tourist and he probably appreciated the fact that I searched long and hard for his cafe. And he was also there working on his things as well.

So he welcomed me in.

All you design fans, prepare your eyes! (The guy is an interior designer, which is why the place was so cool.)

One side of the cafe is the barista's studio (since he is also an interior designer), but take note of the little school desks and chairs at the back!

Theatre seats! (And my Hong Kong guide book and map haha)

This is what the bar looks like (with my cappuccino):

And a close-up of my hazelnut cappuccino complete with tiger-striping:

This looks like an ordinary exercise book...


But it actually is a menu!

I stuck around to doodle in my new sketchbook.

And this is what I came up with:

It is my interpretation of Hong Kong. It is buildings and buildings and buildings.

The barista and I had a little chat at the end, he thought I was half Japanese!

He also told me about all the things you can do in Hong Kong. At the end, he wished me luck with my travels.