Archive for September, 2006

Canadian Coffee and Tea Expo… breakdown

The last two days were the Annual Canadian Coffee and Tea Expo, held at the Vancouver Convention Centre as well as the Canadian Barista Championships. I attended on Sunday after my shift at the cafe, but was unable to attend the Monday events due to a day at school that couldn’t be missed.

I was very impressed with most of the show. The percentage of serious/interesting booths was more than I expected, probably a 40/60 split with the old/dull/irrelevant booths. Mind you, I am a barista, not a prospective cafe entrepreneur. My interest lay in the innovative coffee booths. Or, if they weren’t innovative, I had to see them regardless. I’m pretty biased, I admit it. Most of my time was spent at either of three: Elysian, Intelligentsia/Wicked and Specialty Coffee Solutions/La Marzocco. Elysian had the slickest booth, with a well thought out presentation, a 3 group Synesso Cyncra and a Clover 1s. They were continually pumping out drinks every time I went by. SCS/LM had a big collection of LM machines from the current lineup including the LM Mistral based on the Kees Van der Westen design. Lindsay, of Artigiano, was pouring shots of the 49th Parallel Private Reserve and it was very, very good. Her shot was the best of the day and competition was stiff from over at Elysian (and my own at the Intelly booth).

I watched one competitor’s routine, Jimmy Oneschuk, representing his cafe, Caffe Sola in my birthplace of Saskatoon. He performed well, at least from what I know, but talking to him afterwards there were some kinks not visible to the audience.

The results are below:
Colter Jones – 574 (Artigiano)
Barrett Jones – 509 (Artigiano)
Bob Blummer – 478 (Food Network)
Mark Krause – 445 (Espresso Post, Collingwood ON)
Katherine Piramo – 370.5 (Fantastico, Victoria)
Morgan Allen – 344 (Muddy Joe’s, Regina)
Jimmy Oneschuk – 340.5 (Sola, Saskatoon)

Maybe next year I will compete… (fuel some speculation…)

All in all, it was a great time, and due to school work I regret not being able to attend either the second day or the after parties. Great job to all the exhibitors and all the competitors.

Crossing paths with the Black Cat

The adjustment to a previously known and used set of machinery and a cafe is an odd experience. You return to a place that feels normal but there are subtle differences (or not so subtle) that affect your performance. Especially so if you are coming off of a period of work at another cafe, like myself, where things were quite different.

That being said, I am readjusting fairly well I think, going back to Wicked, finding different people, equipment and ways of doing things. It’s really not all that different though. It does highlight the myriad of ways to run a cafe.

The GB5 is such a great machine in relation to commonly available commercial machines in Canada. Sure, us GB5 users (or Synesso converts) complain about the ergonomics, the reality of its temperature stability and its aesthetics, but try using another machine without the level of stability or the design that accounts for high volume use and you will miss the GB5 dearly. I know I did. But I am back.

Maybe I am an espresso person

So, yesterday I finally made it down to the Elysian for an espresso. I think I breathed a sigh of relief when I found I really enjoyed the espresso when I was able to ponder it’s complexity and substance. Fortunately too, I was able to look at it from a critical eye and see it’s faults too (which I am not blaming at all on anyone… apparently the finish had been a bit rough all day). See, I had been worried about my palate having to readjust itself to nuance in coffee. After a summer of typically lower complex coffee it’s extremely tough for me to begin tasting coffees in Vancouver that are small production, complex cups. Maybe I will get back into the world of espresso!

Moving away from espresso

I’ve discovered something about myself. Like fellow barista Stephen Morrissey, I believe I am not an espresso person anymore. Sure, I appreciate espresso. It is the most concentrated representation of coffee and brings out characteristics that are not apparent in any other mode of preparation. But, it has to be done well. That’s the issue I think. There are so many intricacies in getting that proper extraction. If anything goes wrong, it is magnified in that little demitasse more than if I made a nice 12 ounce press of a microlot offering from a world class roaster.

What’s really interesting is that in the ten days I have been back in Vancouver, arguably one of the better North American centres for top quality espresso, is that I have had one macchiatto and no espresso. I even worked a shift at Wicked. However, I have had a lot of french press (at home… mmm… Intelligentsia Honduras La Tortuga), a fair bit of Clover coffee at both Elysian and Artigiano (Cup of Excellence…) and a few americanos at the Boulevard before I got the Intelly beans (I’m not counting those americanos though). I’ve thought about getting espresso, but when I see a list of coffees available on the Clover at Elysian, it’s too tempting. Those cups can exhibit a complexity not only in depth of flavor, but also a complexity that evolves over the course of drinking. This happens with espresso too, but it’s quick and can have rather unpleasant results if you let it cool too much. Ideally, espresso would have that pleasant evolution, but I haven’t witnessed it much.

Maybe it’s not the espresso though. Maybe it’s the current availability of incredible coffees in Vancouver on incredible equipment. I haven’t been a part of the scene here for very long, but it seems as if all of a sudden, there is a wealth of stunningly diverse and carefully produced coffees at several shops. The scene has expanded too, with even more people sharing their ideas and coming out for tastings with other like minded folk. And… since the incredible CoE coffees, the microlots, the little estate coffees aren’t available often as single origins (or, one wouldn’t want to do that to them), you drink them on the Clover or press them. Makes sense, right?

Then again, maybe I’m just a whiner, not trying hard enough for perfect extraction and not paying enough attention to my work.

Today I am making it a priority to get an espresso from Elysian (no pressure guys!). I hope, and think, it will convert me back to espresso.

Back in Vancouver

I made it back to Vancouver for the school year as of Saturday. I’m living on campus but in an apartment style residence, which makes for an interesting transition to wholly independent living (well, at least day-to-day living). Already, I am feeling the entirely different vibe of the industry here as compared to Calgary.

There are people in this city who care about coffee (warning: understatement). I definitely feel as if the four months I had in Calgary have set me behind the times… I think the scene here has even opened up a bit, with more open discussion between people. It’s all quite incredible.

That being said, I haven’t been off campus much for coffee. I’ve been ridiculously busy getting everything set up and such so that I can live comfortably in my new place. I’m almost done all that, so I’ll be out getting myself back and drinking coffee soon. One of the first cups of coffee I drank was a microlot Nicaraguan from Intelligentsia (not sure which of the two) from the Clover 1s. It was a great cup of coffee, but my palate is noticeably out of touch with the subtleties that accompany a cup of coffee like that one. The day after that, I toured a couple shops with Nick of JJ and Matthew of Elysian. We tried all three Cup of Excellence offerings off of the Clover at the Hornby Artigiano. All three were excellent coffees with quite diverse profiles. (This was several days ago, so don’t bother me for notes….) Then, we head off to Prado, where Amy (I believe that is her name… someone please correct me if I am wrong) served us three excellent macchiatos. It was an impressive little coffee crawl.

But, more exciting than all of this is that there is a place for good coffee on campus now. Or, at least, way better than any previously available coffee. The Boulevard is a student owned shop in the UBC dentistry building. They have awesome decor, with the menu projected onto the large wall behind the dual La Marzocco FB70s. Prices seem to be pretty reasonable too. Though I’ve yet to go for an espresso there (they use a Swift), the latte and americano I have had were both very good. I’ve yet to see art, but that seems to be a goal of the folks there, with microfoam milk being the standard. Just watch out for the “traditional” cappuccino. It’s really a standard American wet capp, with foam spooned on. Mind you, the one I had was reasonable.

So there you go, an update from Vancouver.

I start at Wicked on Saturday afternoon for another year of caffeinated goodness.


On tap

49th Parallel El Salvador La Montaña
Excellent coffee for everyday drinking. Well expressed acidity and classic El Salvador profile.

Bulleit Bourbon
By far the best bourbon available in BC for the price. $35 for a bottle gets you the highest rye content bourbon on the market. Lots of spice and typical bourbon corn sweetness. Excellent on its own, but also makes a mean Old Fashioned. Better than Knob Creek in my books and pretty close to Woodford Reserve.

The Phonograph

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