Earlier this month we took part in Barista Nation Montreal, a gathering of coffee professionals, enthusiasts, and observers from across North America, hosted by our friends and partners at UNIC. This was an intimate, congenial gathering, our 7th time attending a Barista Nation event, and a wonderful introduction to the people and personalities who make up the Montreal coffee scene. This event was hosted by Docteur Bean.
The day kicked off with a keynote address from Barista Nation founder Anastasia Chovan on how the traveling event came to be. “It’s because of that machine,” Chovan told the crowd, gesturing towards the UNIC Stella DCL. “I started working for UNIC and we were looking for a way to launch the Stella in a market that’s quite competitive.”
Chovan went on:
Sometimes you have to step outside what you normally do and be creative. Whether you’re a barista competing, or a cafe owner, or if you’re an espresso machine manufacturer trying to launch a product in a very competitive market. This event is for creating an open forum to talk about how people can help each other — and people have gotten jobs, advanced their career because of Barista Nation.”
And she’s right! Stories of career advancement abound at Barista Nation, and we ourselves have hired writers and featured their writing on Sprudge based on pitch sessions given at Barista Nation events.
Among the featured speakers at Barista Nation Montreal were Marie-Eve Laroche and Mitchell Simon of Pikolo, one of the city’s best coffee bars. Located near McGill University in Downtown Montreal, we had a chance to spend extensive time at Pikolo during our visit, and enjoyed a variety of coffees from roasters there like Counter Culture Coffee, Phil & Sebastian, and Heart Roasters. Larcohe and Simon used their time on stage to engage in a lively Q&A with the audience, what she called “more of a forum kind of approach.” “We all have days where we say ‘oh, we know so much about coffee,'” Laroche told the crowd. “And then the next day, you know nothing. It’s a really confusing, wonderful world, and it’s nice to have different people here together to help put this together.”
Pikolo opened in 2011, and has seen much of the new Montreal coffee scene grow up around it. “Three years ago you could jump in and be third wave and be different,” Marie-Eve told the audience candidly. “If you weren’t a chain, you cared about things other cafes didn’t. Now many more cafes have opened that are doing similar things. How do we differentiate ourselves? How do we stay unique?”
We’d wager to guess these are concerns facing a great many cafe owners around the world right now, and they echo some of the issues brought up in our recent interview survey of cafe owners in Hong Kong. The interaction between the crowd and the team from Pikolo was lively, in an hour of Q&A that seemed to fly by in minutes.
Another highlight at Barista Nation Montreal was the short lecture and hands-on playtime facilitated by Clayton Jones, a full-time machine tech and install expert at UNIC’s headquarters north of Seattle. Jones is a coffer nerd’s nerd, forever in pursuit of new gear to try or new coffees to order, and this infectiousness shines through in his speaking engagements. “I would promote everyone to find out everything you can about equipment,” he told the crowd gathered at this talk. “There are many chefs who are fantastic cooks who have no idea why they’re using a cast iron pan, but they know that pan makes a huge difference. If you can’t give a moment of bliss, you’ll never get it yourself.”
Other notable speakers included Anthony Benda and Keaton Ricci of Montreal’s renowned Café Myriade:
UNIC tech Jedi, single-shot basket expert, and Cuban cigar enthusiast Sauro dall’Aglio:
And Sarah Allen of Barista Magazine, who led a panel discussion on “How Did I Get Here?” with several guests at the event:
The evening concluded with a lively latte art throwdown, featuring the musical stylings of DJ Sprudge and prize packs for the top three, including a beautiful maplewood knockbox for first place and tampers (both furnished by Reg Barber Enterprises), coffee from Montreal local roaster Saint Henri, and more from Barista Nation Montreal’s roster of sponsors.
Barista Nation returns this summer for an event in Denver, happening on July 26th. Save the date, and we’ll see you there.