Whether you’re a first time visitor or a life-long local, the most intimate way to connect with a city is through its coffee scene. Canada not only boasts countless lovely cafés—but increasingly, more coffee roasting companies are cropping up to better control the profile of their signature brews. Herein, a nod to five Canadian coffee companies that all coffee aficionados should have on their radar.
Inspired by the small town Northern B.C. roasters he visited during his 15 years of tree-planting, Nova Scotia’s Jonathan Welch decided to bring fresh and local coffee culture back to his own rural corner of the Maritimes. In 2009, Welch and partner Erin Schopfer launched Sissiboo Coffee. The brick-and-mortar location, which opened in Annapolis Royal in 2014, has become a community hub, as the duo host local musicians and visual artists, and remain actively committed to nature (the company is named after Nova Scotia’s Sissiboo River). Each batch of Sissiboo coffee is carefully examined through observation of smells, sounds, and appearance—the certified organic and fair trade Arabica beans are manually attended to—it’s a hands-on approach as opposed to the automatic roasting systems many use.
Sissiboo Coffee, 262 Saint George Street, Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia.
A long-time Vancouver favourite, Milano Coffee moved east last year, opening their first Toronto location. Initially established on the west coast in 1984 by legendary Italian roaster Francesco Curatolo, Milano was put into the hands of husband-and-wife team Brian and Linda Turko in 2003—the former of whom had studied under Curatolo for 15 years, carrying on a style of traditional Italian roasts while continuing to explore the complexities of espresso. Christian Petronio (formerly of Toca at the Ritz Carlton and Buca) and Jerry Raso (formerly of Il Gatto Nero) have taken on the ownership of Milano’s Toronto theatre district location. The Adelaide Street espresso bar serves eight coffees of different origin on tap, which can be sampled three at a time in the tasting flight. Be sure to try the premium “cognac blend” when available (premium flavours are rotated), which earned Milano their seventh gold medal for Best Espresso at the International Institute of Coffee Tasters this year.
Milano Espresso Bar Toronto, 266 Adelaide Street W., Toronto, Ontario & multiple locations in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Four principles drive Transcend’s philosophy: celebrate taste; connect with people; not best, only better; and never stop learning. Founder Poul Mark leads the front is one of Canada’s first Q Graders (an international qualification for evaluating the quality of coffee). He’s judged international competitions, including the Taza Dorada 2011 in Ecuador, and spoken at the Ramacafe conference in Nicaragua. But Transcend is not just big talk: the company has implemented a “zero defect” quality standard—a term that refers to the absence of physical defects found on its green (i.e. unroasted) beans, which they maintain through relationships with growers in Africa and Central and South America.
Transcend, multiple locations in Edmonton.
Phil & Sebastian
When they first opened at the 2007 Calgary Farmers’ Market, Phil Robertson and Sebastian Sztabzyb were lauded by local food critic John Gilchrist as having created “Coffee Nirvana.” Now, with five dedicated locations in the Calgary area (one as a kiosk at the Symons Valley Farmers Market open three days a week) they’re an established local favourite. Having met as engineering students in university, Robertson and Sztabzyz’s are closely involved with the construction of each location, playing to the respective surrounding’s strengths, whether creating a cozy retreat inside the Chinook Centre, housing the neighbourhood hub at the Marda Loop flagship, or collaborating with other local businesses to form their newest endeavour at a combined roaster and concept café in the East Village’s Simmons Building. Yet regardless of location, Phil & Sebastian delivers a consistently solid brew—exemplified at the 2015 Canadian National Barista Competition, where three of their baristas placed in the top five.
Phil & Sebastian, multiple locations in Calgary.
When husband and wife Ben Cram and Terra Ogawa took over Victoria’s Parsonage Café, they originally planned to convert the space into a bistro. But, upon discovering a 1936 Barth coffee roaster in the back, they began to experiment and were inspired to take on the role of local coffee house, establishing themselves as Fernwood Coffee. It wasn’t a decision made lightly; Ben enrolled in roasting courses, workshops, and tradeshows throughout the United States, has travelled to El Salvador to see first-hand every aspect of the supply chain, and is a certified World Barista Championship Sensory Judge. Fernwood Coffee’s employees have accumulated nine awards in the barista championship realm, Cram himself placing second in 2011’s Canadian Cup Tasters Championships and is a certified World Barista Championship. Fernwood has recently crafted a carbonated cold brew coffee, available in a can or on tap at the café, where they also serve food from local suppliers (try the bacon) and hold training courses in subjects like latte art and coffee cupping—an industry term for “tasting” that’s sure to be the first thing you’ll learn.
Fernwood Coffee, 1-1115 North Park Street, Victoria, British Columbia.