Best coffee is in Victoria B.C.

Coffee Cupping at HABIT CAFE & CULTUREAs a semi-professional observer of the Specialty Coffee phenomenon in North America, I meet a lot of very passionate people – I mean, the very best of the very best. And some of that most intense passion is right here in Victoria B.C. Canada.

Buon Amici Cafe owners Derek and Gina Lucas have all the qualities of virtually any randomly selected successful business people: They are intensely passionate about coffee, its origins, the people in the industry and yes, their devoted clientele.

Buon Amici’s Coffee at 110-645 Tyee Rd. is the home to Western Canada’s best barista. Derek has the experience and energy to back up the challenge.

Derek Lucas was one of three Victoria area coffee experts to claim bronze, silver and gold at Wednesday’s Western Regional Barista Competition in Vancouver. Vancouver might have the rep, but the numbers reveal that it’s Victoria that’s ground zero for best of bean in Western Canada.

Coffee Cupping at HABIT CAFE & CULTUREIn past conversations with Derek he has revealed “It is not enough to have a reputation as a good cafe – you need to deliver time and time again without fail” he said, taking out a moment to pour personal latte art at a surprised customers table.

The recent Vancouver event places 12 skilled baristas against each other to claim a trip to Toronto for the Canadian championship. The fact is, barista competitions are now a big deal and they are international. A Vancouver victory is only one step in a growing list of internationalization in coffee World.

Here is the skinny on the competition: Each coffee expert is given 15 minutes to prepare four servings each of espresso, cappuccino and a signature drink for a panel of judges. Competitors are judged on taste, speed, design, creativity and showmanship.

I watched contestant Paul Reimer (of Discovery Coffee) in the weeks leading up to the event. He is a picture of youth, a University of Victoria student in Computer Science Engineering as well as one mature dude with an air of wisdom beyond his years “This is the pinnacle of my career this far – going up against so much talent” Reimer offered as he brought sample after sample of his best drinks for me to taste..

Sam Jones cups at HABIT CAFE & CULTUREAmongst the best that Victoria has to offer, I could not help but feel that there was a Fifth Element that gave the Victoria crews a distinct edge.
Silver medalist Logan Gray of Discovery Coffee, Victoria gave me a hint, “We work together and play together sharing some of our secrets…” Discovery owner and partner John Riopka offers the following: “You can take the best that HABIT Coffee & Culture, Cafe Fantastico and Buon Amici’s has to offer and find some of that energy here. It is positive and friendly. We can only do better if we cooperate.”

And cooperate they do. Discovery Coffee is part of an amazing program called “Cup of Excellence” — it has international roots in the coffee growing regions and brings fairness and justice to those that toil the hardest in the industry – the farmers.

“(On some level) people like Sam Jones (owner of 2% Jazz espresso bar on Douglas Street) are more partner than competitor… fellow messengers (if you would)” Shane Devereaux infers. Shane manages Habit Coffee and Culture on Pandora avenue and sees opportunity for virtually limitless growth in the city. Sam and Shane as if one person, “Coffee is like wine. No one hesitates spending 7 to 12 dollars on a glass of good wine.” I agree. One day more and more people will be better acquainted with the similarities between fine wine and great coffee.

Habit Coffee and Culture hosts weekly coffee tasting (cupping to be precise) on Tuesday afternoons at 522 Pandora Ave. It is a somewhat more relaxed and informal version of the staid cupping that goes on in the varied brokerages and green coffee clearing houses. Rows of cups are lined up with samples of ground coffee. Ground coffee is splashed with hot water. Coffee is allowed to brew and then tasters are turned loose in the ritual of sniffing, slurping and spitting – a dance only truly understood by the initiated. It’s fun and informative.

In the weeks leading up to the Barista competition, I skulk in the background watching the creme de la creme of Victoria’s coffee scene hone their skills. From time to time I get offered a great drink to express an opinion on. I am always impressed and excited at the level of energy here, the generosity and humility. And so it goes. There is something truly amazing happening in the Victoria coffee market. If you live here, get out and order a drink. If you are visiting, make sure you get in some of the action.

Colin Newell lives in Victoria B.C. Canada and finds himself at Ground Zero of the specialty coffee revolution.