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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.

Toronto Women's March in the Globe and Mail by Jessica Lee

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I recently photographed the Women’s March in Toronto for The Globe and Mail. The assignment ended up being featured in the Folio section for the print edition, and I was really excited when my photos were given a double spread. I am very grateful I got to photograph such a meaningful event as the Women’s March and document it historically. While there has been so much work done in the past to further women’s issues, there is still so much more work to be done.

Wedding in Pontypool, Ontario by Jessica Lee

Newlyweds Amy and Michael in Pontypool, Ontario.

Newlyweds Amy and Michael in Pontypool, Ontario.

I recently had the opportunity to photograph a wedding in Pontypool, Ontario, an area I probably never would have visited if not for this wedding. I love opportunities like these - opportunities that you don't plan for but rather opportunities that present themselves organically to you. It's how I ended up living in Saskatoon for six weeks, road tripping to Washington D.C., road tripping to Maine, road tripping to Sherbrooke, Quebec, camping on an island in Puerto Rico, etc. etc.

In this instance, the bride's family owned an RV park in Pontypool, Ontario, where the wedding was held. The reception took place in a barn, and all the food was cooked by the groom's father. It's always fun to witness how the uniqueness of each couple is shown by what they choose to splurge on (in this case, open bar), the location they decide on, and all those choices that make up a wedding - for example, the practical, no-nonsense bride wore Birkenstocks under her dress - whereas in some other weddings I've been to, the bride had seven outfit changes.

Vows written on the groom's hand before the ceremony.

Vows written on the groom's hand before the ceremony.

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Beyond making beautiful photos and experiencing each unique quirk about each couple, my favourite part of a wedding would be listening to the speeches; I've heard so many memorable ones throughout the years and I love hearing all those little anecdotes which reveal different sides of a person. It's truly an honour to be invited into someone's life to capture such a special day.

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Family members reacting to the ceremony

Family members reacting to the ceremony

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Congrats Amy and Michael!

Congrats Amy and Michael!

50 countries and my favourite highlights in all my travels by Jessica Lee

Budapest, Hungary - one of the stops on my Eastern Europe tour 2018

Budapest, Hungary - one of the stops on my Eastern Europe tour 2018

I recently visited my 50th country (Romania) during my recent trip to Eastern Europe. 

When I first started solo travelling roughly six years ago), I didn't imagine it would take so long to get to 50 countries. That is roughly eight countries a year, which doesn't seem like a lot but sometimes you get to a place and you love it so much you need to visit it thoroughly, from North to South, because usually every region is very different.

Do I plan to visit all 195 countries now that I've been to over a quarter of them? Maybe. Certainly a few people have done it. But most people will live their lives not even seeing 25% of the impressively awe-inspiring world we are on.

Transylvania, Romania, my 50th country

Transylvania, Romania, my 50th country

It's true. Travelling is not always easy. You have to plan where you want to go, take time off from work, save up some money, book tickets and accommodation and plan out an itinerary.

However, I've found that as I've been to more places with more miles under my feet, that like most skills, travelling does get easier. In 2014 when I first went to Morocco by myself, I was overwhelmed by their aggressive culture that preyed on tourists. I was not used to having a local follow me around (for hours) and ask for money. This time, four years later, the locals didn't stop following me around, but I was more confident. After four years of travelling experience, I was better at asserting myself and telling people to leave me alone when I felt uncomfortable. I sought out interactions with locals where I felt safe - authentic experiences which didn't involve any monetary exchange. I am better at reading situations now and this helps as a photographer carrying thousands of dollars in camera gear (and as a regular traveller) - being able to spot danger and when you need to leave a situation.

I've also gotten better at packing light through the years. On the left is all the luggage I brought with me for a month to Eastern Europe. On the right is all the luggage I brought with me to Indonesia in 2012.

I've also gotten better at packing light through the years. On the left is all the luggage I brought with me for a month to Eastern Europe. On the right is all the luggage I brought with me to Indonesia in 2012.

I'm not done with my travels though, here's to the next 50 countries. Thanks for joining me on this journey. :)

Here's a compilation of the highlights of my travelling so far:

Living aboard an 83 feet vessel in Airlie Beach, Australia, for three days and seeing the Whitsunday Islands to this day is one of my most treasured memories. My Australia abroad trip was a pivotal moment for me because it was the first time I ever really travelled by myself to such a far away place. I had worked three jobs concurrently to save up for the trip the summer before, and it was satisfying to set off on a self-planned and self-funded adventure so far away from where I was raised.

Living aboard an 83 feet vessel in Airlie Beach, Australia, for three days and seeing the Whitsunday Islands to this day is one of my most treasured memories. My Australia abroad trip was a pivotal moment for me because it was the first time I ever really travelled by myself to such a far away place. I had worked three jobs concurrently to save up for the trip the summer before, and it was satisfying to set off on a self-planned and self-funded adventure so far away from where I was raised.

In 2012, I rented a camper van with some friends and made a road trip down the eastern coast of Australia from Cairns to Adelaide. It was thrilling to live day-to-day not knowing what we would be doing the next night or where we would park - the possibilities were open and endless.

In 2012, I rented a camper van with some friends and made a road trip down the eastern coast of Australia from Cairns to Adelaide. It was thrilling to live day-to-day not knowing what we would be doing the next night or where we would park - the possibilities were open and endless.

Snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef was a life-changing for me. Being underwater is completely different to what I've known and grown up in - something clicked in my mind that day, that there are entire worlds unexplored, and entire worlds that are also sadly fading away. This experience was just the beginning in a lifetime of diving that would later lead to me getting PADI-certified and swimming with sharks in Thailand, also another memorable highlight while travelling.

Snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef was a life-changing for me. Being underwater is completely different to what I've known and grown up in - something clicked in my mind that day, that there are entire worlds unexplored, and entire worlds that are also sadly fading away. This experience was just the beginning in a lifetime of diving that would later lead to me getting PADI-certified and swimming with sharks in Thailand, also another memorable highlight while travelling.

Seeing the Northern Lights in Reykjavik, Iceland, was one of my most memorable experiences. This natural phenomenon is absolutely stunning and awe-inspiring. It is also free to see (if you don't count cost of gas and car).

Seeing the Northern Lights in Reykjavik, Iceland, was one of my most memorable experiences. This natural phenomenon is absolutely stunning and awe-inspiring. It is also free to see (if you don't count cost of gas and car).

Finally, the first time I climbed outdoors (and it was in the Blue Mountains in Australia too!) was a top highlight because I had never studied rocks so intimately and it was gratifying to see your progress as you climbed your way to the top. The novel/thrill aspect was also a huge draw - there was one point where I fell and thought that was the end, luckily I was clipped on and my partner "caught" me. The view at the end of the climb was absolutely stunning as well and also different from what someone who didn't climb the route would see (just from the look-out point).

Finally, the first time I climbed outdoors (and it was in the Blue Mountains in Australia too!) was a top highlight because I had never studied rocks so intimately and it was gratifying to see your progress as you climbed your way to the top. The novel/thrill aspect was also a huge draw - there was one point where I fell and thought that was the end, luckily I was clipped on and my partner "caught" me. The view at the end of the climb was absolutely stunning as well and also different from what someone who didn't climb the route would see (just from the look-out point).

Toronto Engagement session with Jess and Matt by Jessica Lee

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I recently photographed a young couple close to my heart. Jess has been my best friend since we were five years old. We played with dolls when we were young and always re-enacted wedding ceremonies with them. When I got a call one night with her excitedly telling me she was now engaged to her long-time boyfriend Matt, I was ecstatic with joy - the moment had come. We quickly organized a photo shoot.

Jess and Matt asked for a vintage look to their photos, so we decided to shoot in the Distillery District of Toronto which has an old-world feel to it with its cobblestone floor and heritage buildings. We also wanted to catch one of the last summer sunsets of the year so we drove to nearby Cherry Beach for a second round of shooting. The couple wasn't camera-shy at all and what you see in the photos is the real emotion of being in love coming through.

I am so happy to be a part of this couple's life and honoured that they asked me to do their engagement photos and to be their maid of honour. I'm looking forward to the wedding in 2016!

Gear: Canon 5D Mark III, 24-70 mm f/2.8 lens.