Hello all,

It’s been a while since I’ve last posted and I can’t wait to get back into regularly updating this blog.  Mike has done a fine job creating some literary masterpieces and as a result, enjoying some writing groupies so now it’s my turn to get some of that sweet action.

Lots has happened over the last little while.  I’ve travelled alot, eaten alot and drank and prepared alot of coffee.  As many of you likely don’t know, I recently competed in the Canadian National Barista Championship in Toronto.  While I will post on this in more detail later, I wanted to share with you the coffee I competed with.

Ethiopian Wollondi.

Region: Wallega (West Ethiopia)

Processing: Natural

In my very short time in the industry I have encountered very few coffees that I have truly fallen in love with.  Most of them have been naturally processed coffees, and most are from Ethiopia.  I was very privileged to be able to use Wollondi as my competition coffee.  This is an extremely rare and unique coffee for a number of reasons.

With the institution of the Ethiopia Commodity Exchange, many independent mills / farmers now can only sell their coffees to exporters through cooperatives or certain representatives.  This is making certain famous regions like Yirgacheffe or Sidamo now more generic as cooperatives (albeit being ‘separated’ for more higher quality to lower quality) still lump different coffees together at the mill.  It’s limited the availability and traceability of these amazing coffees much harder.  However, Wollondi was sourced by 90 Plus coffee, an organization headed by Joseph Brodsky who spends enormous amounts of time on the ground in Ethiopia hunting these rare gems and working with farmers and millers, sharing his technologically advanced methodology.

Wollondi is from a region of West Ethiopia called Wallega.  This is another reason why this coffee is so damn cool, because this is such an unheard growing region.  The region itself is quite deforested, yet in a rare patch of beautiful forested area grows this coffee, planted neatly under these rare trees.  It’s comprised of two numbered varietals, 74110 and 7487.  Joseph told me that the coffee plants live harmoniously with the wildlife and other plants there, something that you don’t often see as in many coffee farms, the plants are grown separate from other types of growth and animals.

Tole Narian grows this coffee and him and Joseph are helping train and educate the pickers to go beyond “picking ripe cherry”.  A sugar content analysis is done on the cherries to determine the maximum sugar level.  Doing this allows the maximum level to be correlated with the appearance of the cherry at this level.  This appearance is then visually shown to the pickers so that they pick the cherry at its maximum sugar level.  Just because a cherry is bright red doesn’t mean it’s at its optimal picking time.

Drying is being advanced here too.  The drying process, especially for the naturally processed coffees, is a stage where lots can go wrong.  Uneven drying or lack of movement and airation for the cherries can result in fermenting fruit and a dirtiness or ferment note in the coffee.  Drying beds are raised here, and cherries are sparsely layered and moved around often to promote proper and even drying.  However, Joseph and Tole are going beyond this by creating “Drying Profiles”, meaning they are determining the specific rates of drying that prove to be optimal for the coffee.  In this case, Wollondi is dried quickly at first, then as the cherries become drier, the drying is slowed.  This is what gives the explosive natural tasting berry notes in addition to a high-quality acidity.

My tasting notes for this coffee:


Aroma: blueberry, stone fruit (peach/apricot).

Profile: blueberry, subtle baking spice, peach, cherry, hint of marzipan, dark chocolate.

Acidity:  juicy, clean acidity, sometimes tart like green apple acidity.

Extremely sweet with creamy body.

In a cappuccino, notes of:

Dark brown sugar, oat/malt, dark brown sugar-like sweetness, blueberry / dried fruit.

In the competition I likened it to eating a big bowl of oatmeal with a nice scoop of brown sugar.

It’s an incredible coffee, and has such distinct and popping flavors.  I love the sweetness and the huge amounts of fruit that this coffee has.  What’s incredible is that there is so much potential at this farm/mill/area.  Plans for lot separation, new drying profiles and upgrading the drying beds will all lead to making this coffee even cleaner and more outstanding (which is pretty hard to comprehend).

I can’t wait to try this coffee with a roasting profile for more drip style brewing methods.  What an incredible and truly special coffee.  Pictures to come.



CNBC 2010

First off, mad congrats to all the competitors but especially the PRBC representatives. I sense a shift in the dominance of Canadian coffee eastward where it is more flat and oily.

I was proud to find out that Jeremy and Ben made it to the finals as they are two top notch guys. They both supported me immensely (as did Phil & Seb, obviously) last year when I competed and I could not be happier for them. I had no idea about competitions or anything like that. I believe going through the process had pointed me in the right coffee direction and only then did I begin to understand coffee. A post documenting the first day of competition can be found here. Also a shout out to Chris (I have little to say because I had zero involvement with his presentation).

Ben got second place. I am ecstatic. He’s a passionate person and the embodiment of a what a REAL barista should be. He is passionate about his craft, passionate about his co-workers and passionate about the customers. I am proud to be trained by him as he brought me from Pallet town to where I am now. Salut!

Jeremy got fourth place and as a first-time competitor he truly looked like a polished veteran. Jeremy has a connection with flavours that is unparalleled and his ability to rope people into the excitement with him really showed on the stage.

I was not able to be there and therefore have no pictures to [legally] share.

Kudos friends, you done good!

CNBC 2009: #4 (In my defense for the love of Mariah)

Much has changed (I’d say for the better) in my attitudes towards coffee competition. Initially I thought that barista comps and such things had nothing to do with the actual day-to-day experience of coffee. As I went through the process I eventually got to look deeper into what the competition has to offer. Things such as professionalism, making every shot of espresso “count”, passion for coffee, knowledge of coffee and community are easily transferable to the daily grind of the coffee professional.

Finally, Mariah. I’m not going to say it …

Guinness World Record.

Canadian National Barista Championships: #2

Preparation is TEDIOUS!

Last week I spent a fair amount of time sorting out my competition coffee after the roast. Looking for quakers (bad beans that add bitterness) and picking them out. Also looking for general bad beans that I think will ruin my coffee for whatever reason. I may have gotten a little crazy because a few hours into sorting, I was chucking out “bad” beans simply because I didn’t like the way it looked. Anyways, about 5 hours later, I had 5 pounds of competition coffee sorted out and bagged, ready for nationals. Woohoo!

Then I sorted out the rest of the roast for practice sessions. That was probably another 2 hours of sorting. If I had to sort for a living…I may just jump off a cliff or something like that because I was SO drained.

I'm not quite as happy as these people while sorting

I'm not quite as happy as these people while sorting

Man is it a long, arduous process. In-house competition was mid-August, regionals was mid-September, and now nationals are mid-October. This makes 3 months worth of preparation or thinking about preparation. It is draining. One of the things I’m thinking about during these prep times is what to change, what to keep the same and what to tweak ever so slightly. For noobs like me, I find that these past three months has been a STEEP learning curve and it’s pretty cool. Huge progression. Huge knowledge gaining. Hugeness. Each comp is like a new one I’m preparing for and not really a continuation from the comp previous.

Anyways, can’t wait to get to Vancouver. Can’t wait until its all over and we’re all partying.