cafe

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.

Au revoir Montreal, hello new adventures! by Jessica Lee


I recently came across a journal entry from two years ago. In 2013, I had been travelling in and out of Montreal for work when I was in public relations and communications.

During those weeklong trips, I spent time on St. Denis and St. Laurent street, and St. Catherine of course, but time seemed so fleeting. My dream back then was to live in Montreal for six months to get the "wake-up and casually walk down to the coffee shop/patisserie" experience.

I want to wake up, stroll down to a local bakery/patisserie, order a fresh, hot croissant, sip my coffee and read the news in French. Then I would call up my French boyfriend and we would have lunch together. After that, he would go back to work and I would go back to my coffee shop work. We would cook a nice meal at home over wine and call it a night.

It's done. I've been in Montreal for over a year now and I found out Montreal is more than just stereotypical French lovers and cafes. 



I am trying to synthesize my collective experience of a year and a little bit more in Montreal into a blog post, but it's difficult, so I'll just share my favourite memories.

I lived in cafes for the year, no doubt. Cafe-life is a part of me which will never change. I will continually enjoy the smell of coffee, the stillness of a relaxed work-space and the carefully curated design of cafes. Montreal did cafes well. As a freelancer, I spent a majority of my time in Montreal with the other freelancers, busily typing into a laptop and occasionally looking up at life.



But if you were to ask about Montreal outside of coffee, I would tell you about the times I biked down that big hill on rue Berri on my way to rock climbing at Allez Up in the Fall, seeing the faces of the sweating, struggling cyclists going uphill, knowing that would be me on the way back. And on that bike ride down, if I could catch all the green lights on the way, I knew it was going to be a good day. 

As I got along further, while biking on Canal Lachine in the middle of the day on Wednesday at 2 pm, there would be impeccably-dressed hipster-chic office folk, sitting with a picnic spread out on the grass facing the water like there they were done work for the day or as if there were better things to in life than to spend it all working - they were probably right.


There were the times biking to lesser-frequented parts of the city in search for new work space, and discovering gems. Verdun. St. Henri. Wellington. That time I spent a weekend on the balcony reading at a friend's apartment on a quiet residential street and listening to the sounds of a French child's birthday party down below. Little joyous moments like these characterize my stay in Montreal. The experience was much more though, these are just fragments.

I remember endless afternoons lying in the sun in Park Lafontaine or Mount Royal, sometimes with friends and sometimes with a book. Many times, with both. Afterwards, we would all cook together and enjoy each other's company.


Then there were the "barely-surviving but glad to be alive" days. Cold Winter nights shivering back to my apartment on Bishop street after a movie at the Forum. Trying to cross the street in the Winter but finding the snowbanks are too high. 3 am poutines after a night out dancing. Quiet nights in the summer on balconies with friends, pondering about our futures while sipping wine. Terribly awkward French parties when you find you're the only Anglophone there.


I never got to visit all of the breakfast restaurants I wanted to go to. There was also a 90's music dance club I never managed to drag friends too. And maybe the next time I step into Montreal, the businesses will be gone, the rising rent driving out tenants, or things would have changed so dramatically they wouldn't be the same.







But nothing ever is. The very last week of my time in Montreal, I discovered a cute, little tea shop just a five minute walk from my apartment. I met a new group of people I knew I could be close friends with, but there never was enough time to let those friendships blossom. C'est la vie. Life is full of goodbyes and hello agains. There will be other times. There will be other people. Always. But this is what I have, these are the memories of Montreal which I hold in my heart.


If you ever visit Montreal and walk down the same streets I did, frequent the same cafes and bars I did -  please know, I lived here. I had some of the best times of my life here. It was fantastic. But I had to leave because there is so much more of the world out there, more memories to make, more strangers who might become close friends. I just have to go out and open myself to the world. I know if I do, it will give back to me.


Photos of me by Dale Tidy

Letters from a small town: Boonah by Jessica Lee



I got dropped off in a strange little town in Queensland called Boonah today. The boys wanted to go climbing at the nearby mountains and I just wasn’t up for it.

Growing up in a big metropolitan city such as Toronto, it feels quite different being here. I don't want to be cliche and say that the pace of life is slower in a rural town than in a big city, but it is quite true. People here have time to chat.

It is a little weird to be a stranger in a small town all by yourself. It's obvious I don't live here. 

I stick out from the locals quite easily being that I’m Asian and everyone else is white. Everyone is friendly though, asking me where I’m from and wishing me well on my travels. I get a few long stares from teenagers- maybe they haven’t seen many Asians being that Boonah wouldn’t really be a town Asian tour companies stop at with their huge tour buses; I’m sure you know the kind of tour buses I’m talking about - the ones with the tour guides who hold little flags while talking and explaining sites with flocks of Japanese, Korean or Chinese tourists following behind with cameras.

The fact that not many tourists stop here is great news for me. The people haven't developed a dislike for tourists (some tourists can be quite rude and not fun to serve) and the town isn't commercialized and catered to tourists; thus giving me a more authentic small town experience, which I quite like.

Boonah is a typical small town. The fashions of the men are flannel shirts and jeans and the teenagers wear hoodies. The women wear jumpers with long skirts or jeans. You don’t see sharply dressed business people with their briefcases or stick-thin fashionistas working their heels here when you look out the window. This could be a small town in rural Ontario or anywhere in North America.

It’s a charming little place. The population is just over 2,000 and there is one main street. Right now I am sitting in a cute café writing this and people watching from the window at the same time. I feel a little like a 21st century Kerouac, minus the moleskine but with the addition of a laptop. I had a mocha but now am drinking chai tea.


The coffee shop/ bookstore I am in is called The Story Tree. It is quite artsy with crochet throws, little plants, rustic wooden chairs, cookbooks displayed on the counter and acoustic music softly playing in the back. There is a small play area in the back and a lounge area with a table for new mothers to chat while their kids play. Sometimes I wonder if that is the life I would be living had I been born in a small country town and secondly would I enjoy it because from a glance it doesn’t seem too bad.




Exploring a Newtown cafe in Sydney by Jessica Lee


I took a break from studying today to hang out with and say goodbye to my friend Matt in Newtown.

What's crazy is that I may never see him ever again. I've never had this problem before. Most of my friends live in the general Ontario area so I've always assumed we would eventually bump into each other at some point in time. I've met people in my travels before but our interactions would be small and it wouldn't matter much anyway if I never see them again.

In movies or novels when people are parting, the narrator will sometimes say something along the lines of "that was the last time we saw each other again. He moved on Arizona, made it rich, then died of a cocaine overdose." In the story, the circumstances will be quite dramatic, but the narrator usually passes this information off nonchalantly. I however, am pretty sure I will be heartbroken if I never see some of my Australian friends again.

I met Matt at the Pastizzi Cafe on King street. I had walked by there plenty of times on my way home from the rock climbing gym and I liked the menu on the door.


We decided to order a pastizzi for an appetizer because the place was called the Pastizzi cafe after all.

This is what a pastizzi looks like: 


It is a tasty savoury pastry. The one we had was chicken and mushroom, however there was also a spinach and feta one and a chilli con carne one as well.

This is the mocha I had. So far in Australia, I haven't had a single bad coffee. It's been a great experience. However, is consistently good coffee a worthwhile tradeoff to the crappy internet and rampant cockroach problem here? I am not so sure about that, Australia! (These are just the facts, don't get mad Aussies!)


Usually at Italian places, I have a routine established where I order either the seafood pasta, carbonara or spaghetti bolognese. This is because it is extremely difficult to screw up any of these dishes and I love eating these dishes anyway.

Needless to say I am not a big risk-taker when it comes to eating out since I like to repeat things that work for me. In psychology, this is called the Law of Effect, according the father of cognitive psychology, Ed Thorndike. He discovered this while playing with cats and decided it could apply to humans. It's silly how he didn't study humans right from the start. I'm sure he could have found lots of people with similar eating strategies to mine. Maybe he just liked playing with cats.

I think animals are different from humans though. For my main, Matt convinced me to try something new, so I ordered the cannanoli, which is pasta sheets filled with minced meat in between.



Picking something new on the menu was a pretty big move for me but I'm glad I did it. The cannanoli was really delicious and seemed authentic (unlike that chain-restaurant pasta crap you can order in North America). If I stayed in Sydney longer, I could definitely see myself coming back to the Pastizzi Cafe often and trying out all their dishes.

We followed up our meal with a tiramisu. Just lovely.

If you look at the photo below, you can make out Matt's face in the reflection of the spoon (how mysterious!).



I haven't had the opportunity to fully explore (read: shop) Newtown yet, but walking by the shops cursorily, I get a sense that I am going to regret not browsing this area when I leave Sydney. Newtown is like the Queen Street West of Toronto- a really fashion forward, hipster-y place filled with bookstores, skate shops, clothing stores, thai food and cafes.

There are so many thai places that I would like to try, but sadly not enough time.

Driving, coffee and a comedy festival! by Jessica Lee

Today's photos are all going to be black and white!

Because everyone needs a little excitement in their lives...

And it's always good to try new things as long as you're not harming anyone or yourself.

Or so I was taught...

Today started off slow with us leaving the house at around 2 pm.

Tom and Scott (the other housemate) had some script writing to do (they are filmmakers) so I sat around and played some guitar, did a bit of reading and did a little writing.

And then I was bored out of my mind sitting around waiting for them to finish so I grabbed the car keys.

(This is what I was talking about when I mentioned excitement in people's lives)


It was the first time I had driven an Australian car where the driver is on the right side of the car and the roads are on the left side.

It's completely opposite back in North America.

I think I did pretty well. We didn't crash into everything and everyone is still in one piece.

This is Lachlan and Scott in the backseat of the car.


What can I say? They are just anxious people.

After driving around the neighbourhood for a while (I drove through roundabouts!), Tom took over again and we went to the city.

We headed to a cafe called Pellegrini's, which was recommended by two guidebooks (Lonely Planet and Rough Guides).


I was a little disappointed.

The food was just average.

Don't get me wrong, the food (I had lasagna and a mocha) tasted great, but it wasn't worthy of being mentioned in both books.

It seemed like to me one guidebook author just copied the other. There was just too much hype for a regular mom and pop store.


Back in Toronto, we have so many options comparable or even better than the cafe we were at.

From this day forward, I am going to rely less on guidebooks and more on my own intuition.

And maybe more on Urbanspoon.

But then again, I like to discover indie cafes for a less-crowded atmosphere where I can read in silence.


I wonder if all these people are locals who actually enjoy this place or just tourists fooled by the guidebooks.


After fuelling up with carbs, we headed to the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

It was great for laughs, but not spectacular until...


Tom got picked by the comedian to be a part of the show!

We were all so proud of him (and also laughing our heads off).

Here he is second from the left doing a disco dance:


I have always wondered how performers decide how to pick people from the crowd to be volunteers.

Tom says they pick the good looking ones but now that I think about it, I think they just pick the ones who are silly enough to allow a performer to order them around to do ridiculous things with people laughing at them.

(Of course I am just kidding Tom. I think you are really cool. Please drive me to the zoo tomorrow! Yes they definitely pick the good looking ones!)

Since he was feeling good about himself, for dinner, Tom made me Australian "tea". That is what they call dinner in Australia according to him.


We had Kangaroo meat, a balsamic salad with feta cheese and also Australian beer. It was a pretty good end to the day.