Curating Coffee

My (almost) 40 year quest for the best coffee.

I was once advised that if I wanted to get a handle on my finances, I had to cut down my coffee expenses. This person was clearly from another planet, not that it was a surprise, as I’ve always had these suspicions of my mother. Coffee motivated me to start my day and if you, like me, are approaching your forties you may remember a 1996 Folgers Coffee jingle, it is “the best part of waking up.” I can’t honestly say the same for some of my other modern lovers. A quick internet search may reveal my mom could be right in her determination to save a few bucks by cutting down on your every day lattée, but I’m not talking lattées, I speaking simply about coffee.


I am part of the craft coffee revolution. I believe coffee is more than a quick brew you pick up at Tims and now with Tim Hortons being procured by an American franchise there is no need to hold onto its former glorious Canadian title. Indeed, I visited the original Tim Hortons in Hamilton, Ontario (65 Ottawa St. N at Dunsmure) and when living in Hamilton I would buy at least two cups a day of their medium balanced original roast, but that was in my twenties when my taste for coffee was quite not yet refined. Not to say paying a few extra cents more for Starbucks makes me more refined but at least there, in my early thirties, I got the chance to experience what it felt like to order a specific blend, tailored to my needs rather than to the masses. It was here I discovered the ‘Tall Pike’ and an appreciation for black coffee. Coffee straight up. You wouldn’t just go to a bar and just order any beer so why would one do this with coffee? Although still an amateur at this time, in my early thirties, Starbucks became my coffee bar, with specific blends, textures, aromas, sourced from more places than just Central and South America.


It wasn’t until a recent visit to France, I noticed Starbucks was more for the caffeinated elite and not for a true self-proclaimed coffee aficionado. It was a way to flaunt that you could spend 4 euros on the exact same brew I could get back home for half the price. The free wifi was a welcome treat but I started to find myself at more independent cafés enjoying delectable blends at half the price while improving my French. I developed higher standards, just as one does with dating. I no longer was into blondes, I wanted something bold, something with body yet smooth and consistent. If you are twenty something and looking for Tim Hortons it does not exist in Paris, France. However, it came as a great shock that, in the land of perfect Arabic coffee I found a Tim Hortons. The United Arab Emirates, with all its refined taste and expensive experiences in living a life of luxury, one can find several locations of our once Canadian brand of coffee. Thankfully (Hamdullah), I was exposed to the finer side of coffee in the UAE and developed a taste for coffee that came from what looked like a swirly tall fancy tea pot with Japanese type tea cups as compared to ordering something that came in an uninspired brown paper cup. In the middle east I learnt about coffee pairing and how dates should be something you take with pride with your coffee and not just to coffee. I learnt that there was recipes for coffee, and even a RAW Coffee in Dubai.


Finding the best brew required training, experimentation, a well developed palate, mindfulness, and reflection.
Now, having returned from France and a year into living in Montreal, (Yes, I, an Anglophone chose to move here from Toronto: that explained in a later article) discovered the home brew out of necessity. Still in transition, most my work is conducted in Toronto and online. In an attempt to plant myself here and develop roots, I refuse to parler anglais at the local coffee shops. It’s my moment pour pratiquer français, which I encourage my ESL students to do the inverse. I learnt how to say coffee in French, Arabic, Mandarin, and Italian (including the new translation of how to say coffee in Italian: Lavazza). I enjoy how one cup can influence the start of your day, but also motivate you to become a master in linguistics. I am grateful for an Italian friend from my Jewish community that helped me to explore and gain geographical knowledge of Montreal through coffee. I tried Cafe Olimpico, Cafee Italia, Cafe Myriade, Cafe Sfouf, basically every Cafe ‘____’ shop in Montreal. I even went on an Indie Coffee Passport discovery, sans passport, and hoped for its return in 2018. But alas, this weary traveller discovered the home brew is the best brew.


Finding the best brew required training, experimentation, a well developed palate, mindfulness, and reflection. I have entered a period of my life where I take coffee as seriously as any knowledgeable sommelier, specializing in my chosen beverage. I managed to get my finances under control by not cutting down on coffee, but curating my taste for it. I prefer now to make my coffee at home, habitually searching for the perfect blend and the complimentary way to brew. The Bodum is great for large groups, my stove top Espresso maker is perfect for intimate after dinner aperitifs, but the V60 is the ultimate tool in coffee chemistry perfection. Its perfect consistent and smooth taste, is an amalgamation of science and art obtained through a precise and calculated pour over a carefully cradled and placed cone shaped paper filter. It took almost fourty years of self study to become a coffee aficionado and I will continue to discover and document coffee recipes, some of which my mom has requested, and with each carefully crafted cup I passively remind her I never had to cut it out of my budget.


Janine Parkinson

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