coffee culture

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.

Day 5: A solo walk through Melbourne by Jessica Lee


I never really feel I've travelled to a city unless I navigate through it by myself on foot.

It was great having Tom, Lachlan and Scott showing me around the city and relying on them find places throughout this week but it was just too easy.

I needed to get lost and to panic and to find my own way through the transit system.

Today was the day.

Tom and Lachlan had gone back to their hometown and Scott just never came home one night- leaving me to explore the city on my own.

I had the idea that I wanted to go out for a nice fancy breakfast so I headed to Hardware Lane in the CBD, which is a cute little street with patio seating.


I never found the place I set out for (I wasn't really trying anyway), but I found out that Hardware Lane is one of my favourite places to shop.

It had a lot of camping/outdoor equipment shops. Lately, I've been into the whole camping/outdoor rock climbing adventure thing so naturally, shopping for camping gear excites me.

I just bought yet another backpack for hiking last week so I didn't really need anything (not urgently at least), but I really do like to look at things.

For example, I know in the near future that I am in the market to buy a warm sleeping bag (not the summer ones) and possibly a tent. I'm probably going to buy both these things back in Canada at Mountain Equipment Co-op just because it's cheaper there, but I like to be an informed shopper and to look around. I'm also in the market to get a bunch of climbing gear (carabiners, bolts, etc). It's nice to check out what colours everything comes in, how much it costs, if it's cheaper to buy in a bundle, etc. and take note.

I also found out they sell funky rock-climbing jewelry. (tiny carabiners or quick draw earrings!)

For everyone else not into camping gear, there's also a lovely selection of cute little stores scattered around the area.

Lately I have been interested in shopping for mugs and teacups and dinnerware so I only took photos of the aforementioned, however, in these stores, there was also stationary, clothing, bags, accessories, etc.


So far, I think I prefer Melbourne more than Sydney if we were to compare shopping.

I enjoy mall shopping, which Sydney represents well with Westfield, but I like shopping at quirky little independent shops like these in Melbourne much more.


More cute little stores:

(This was in Fitzroy)


I didn't want to be the weird girl taking photos of every store, so the photos I've shown you are only a small selection of the shopping here in Melbourne. Trust me, there's lots more.


After a while of shopping, I just gave up on breakfast and settled for lunch (it was 2 pm at the time).


I had Japanese Udon noodles with beef. I ate this on their patio while reading Kerouac's On the Road. It was perfect.

For those of you who don't know, On the Road is a classic travel novel written in the Beat generation. A must read for anyone backpacking. It really gets you into the mood of winging it when you're reading about the main character Sal, who hitchhikes his way across America with only $5 in his pocket. 

After that, I was ready for something sweet so I scouted out a coffee shop Scott was telling me about the other day, Manchester Press.


As far as indie coffee shops go, this coffee shop was pretty hidden and underground. The entrance for this coffee shop was in an alleyway and wasn't advertised from the street. You had to have heard about it from someone or read about it online.


Still, there was a good crowd going.

I ordered a mocha (I love chocolate too much) and was quite satisfied.


After that, I was on the road again.

It was 3 pm and I had a mission. I wanted to get to the Melbourne Museum before they closed at 5 pm.

This is one of the cool buildings I walked past on the way there.


The architecture in Melbourne is just lovely.

I got to the museum at 4 pm.

Here is a photo of the inside:


The outside of the museum is nicely designed as well but I couldn't get a decent photo since the building is so big. I couldn't fit everything into the frame. You will just have to take my word for it that the outside of the museum is nice as well.

Here is a photo of the exhibition building beside the museum. They were having a quilt exhibition. Needless to say I did not check it out.


 The insides of the Melbourne Museum were quite impressive. I really liked its minimalistic design.


It reminds me of the Ontario Science Centre we have back home.


Except this museum has a more modern design.

If I spent the whole day here, it would have been fun to bring a sketch book. But sadly, I do this thing called "waking up at 10 am and finally leaving the house at noon" and it really limited my day.

I really enjoyed the rock exhibit. It brought back memories of our "Rocks and Minerals" studies from grade 4. If I didn't like arts and culture and literature so much, I quite possibly would have become a geologist.

There is a great 10 minute 3D film in the rock exhibit. It's free to watch.


 I should also mention that if you have a student concession card, entrance to the museum is free!

I think this is great because it gives students an incentive to visit and see cool things, possibly learn a thing or two.


Look at this architecture:


I thought this room was the most impressive. I think these are all stuffed animals because they looked quite real from close up.


There was a psychology section in the museum and I flipped out! Loved it. I really wish I went there earlier before they shut at 5 pm.


There were also many other exhibits like the human body exhibit and a dinosaur bone exhibit. It would have been nice to visit with a science major and to feel their enthusiasm.


Look how freakin' artistic this museum is!


And here's a last photo I took while leaving.


This is Southern Cross station where I left from to go visit a friend in her hometown. I love the wavy detailing of the roof.


Melbourne, I am not done with you yet!

I am coming back sometime and going to:

1. Eat a really nice meal out for dinner or "tea" as Aussies call it
2. Go to the Australian Museum for Contemporary Art
3. Finish walking through Melbourne Museum
4. Go rock climbing at the gym below
5. Eat at Hardware Cafe
6. Rock climb at the Grampians

Coffee in Melbourne + a little bit of everything else by Jessica Lee


In the early 2000s, Starbucks opened up 84 stores in Australia, only to have to close down 61 of them by mid 2008. Why?

Because there was already a thriving coffee scene in Australia.

Before coming here, I had heard and read that Aussies are pretty picky with their coffee and as a result, most of the coffee here is really good.

I haven't had a single bad coffee in Australia so far, but I wanted to check out more of the cafes in Melbourne before leaving and seeing how the scene compared to Toronto.

I was pretty happy with the result.


We went to Seven Seeds cafe which is in a warehouse-like room. I liked the vibe there. It was busy and there were lots of people chatting.


(The photo at the very top of this post is a mocha from Seven Seeds)

Something else that was really hip and urban about this joint was its bike racks! In the corner at the entrance, you can just leave your bike there.


Here is an obligatory photo of baked goods you can get there.


They also make meals there as well.

I took a picture of this guy eating and reading because I thought he was really hip. (Not creepy at all)


Next, we headed to the Victoria Market because it was close by and I was told that this was one of the attractions of Melbourne.


It was okay. Reminded me of the St. Lawrence Market back home. It's basically little shops that sell cheeses and meat and fresh fruit.


They also sell soap, which smelled excellent-all nice and fruity. I couldn't afford to buy them all so I took a photo.


After that, we headed to our next coffee shop stop to do a cupping.

This is De Clieu, in the Fitzroy suburb.


I liked how the atmosphere was nice and casual. Everyone was really laid back. There was even a nice breeze blowing through the window while I read my book.

We sat there and waited until the cupping, which is like a wine-tasting except with coffee.


Previous to the cupping, the barista who described it to me said at the end of it all, I would be able to distinguish between different coffees- possibly become a bit of a coffee snob.

I was excited by the prospect of this! Imagine going to a coffee shop, sipping an espresso the barista has handed to you and casually saying "Ah, this tastes just like coffee from Burundi!" and being right about it! Of course, you would come across as a real snob or a refined connoisseur , depending on how you said it.

I was extremely enthusiastic about the taste testing. Over the summer, I spent two days covering a coffee-making competition, which you can read about here. It was amazing hearing the baristas describing the different flavours and tasting notes while they brewed and added subtle flavourings. It made a difference where the coffee was roasted and what region it was from.

At the cupping, we were given six coffees to try. Here is a score sheet on how we're supposed to rate them:


I'm not sure if you can see the words really well, but we had to rate each coffee on sweetness, acidity, mouthfeel and the aroma the coffees gave off when they were dry.

We first did a sniff test when the coffee was dry and we were told to circle what smells we could identify. Some examples of smells would be flowery, fruity, herbal, citrus, caramel, nutty, chocolate or spicy.


Then, hot water was poured into the samples and we were encouraged to try each brew.

We were given spoons and told to slurp the communal pots and spit out the brew into a cup after tasting. This prevents you from getting caffeine poisoning from having too much coffee.


I had a slurp of the first one, I thought it was great. Then after that, everything tasted the same to me.

According to the barista, the more caffeine you have in your system, the more bitter and acidic the next coffee will taste and so on. This is probably why everything started tasting the same for me.

Everything was just sour and bitter and acidic all at once!

I was pretty frustrated because I had hopes of becoming a coffee snob and now I will probably never be one.


It's okay though. I learned a lot about coffee. 

I loved hearing the barista describe the different cups. He used phrases such as this one has a "honey sweetness" or that one is "grainy", this one is "a little aged or woody", that one has a "clean transparent body". I throughly enjoyed it though I didn't know what he meant.

One day I will though.

This is a chart of all the flavours you can get from coffee.


I will have to try a flat white in Aussie before I leave. It is basically just espresso and steamed milk. It was invented in Australia, so it has to be good.