Backroads Coffeehouse & Cakery: Life Is A Highway With Plenty of Detours

Imagine stumbling into a café whose owner sees you run down by life’s unexpected hit & run disposition. She reaches out her hand and says, “I feel you. I’ve been there, too.”

Just when I thought London, Ontario was void of any decent third-wave coffeehouses, my hometown pulls a fast one and Backroads cruises into town.

Presenting…

Backroads Coffeehouse & Cakery

[680 Dundas St N5W 2Z4 (London, Ontario, Canada)]

Arriving at the height of summer 2017, Backroads has become a shining beacon of hope for Old East Village (OEV). For anyone who grew up in London, the OEV or anything east of Adelaide St (known colloquially as EOA) for that matter was stigmatized as “sketch city”; complete with old decrepit buildings, broken storefront windows, and gang-related graffiti. This part of town wasn’t a place you would want your mother to find you hanging around. Well thanks to recent and much-needed urban renewal, this area is redeveloping, restoring, and repurposing those old decrepit buildings, welcoming in plenty of millennial-approved establishments: third-wave cafes like Backroads and 10Eighteen, independent art studios like East Village Arts Collective, 100% organic restaurants like The Root Cellar, weekend farmers’ markets overflowing with local goods, and refurbished factory-turned office spaces/craft brewery such as the former Kellogg’s plant. It’s become a blossoming hipster’s paradise: London’s very own Williamsburg.

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Quality of Service:

With 10-year coffee veteran Sarah Levine at the wheel, Backroads has opted for a We Heart the Environment mentality, and why not? Caring about one’s impact on our lovely planet is a natural and sometimes profitable attitude in this day and age. Separate paper and plastic recycling bins are placed ceremoniously by the exit to encourage customers to recycle; instead of plastic stir sticks, metal spoons are provided to encourage the reuse of materials; as well, take-out cups and napkins are made with 100% decomposable paper to encourage a reduction of waste. If Backroads was a car, it would be a solar-powered coffee mobile.

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Quality of Product:

Sarah and her team of baristas are no amateurs when it comes to good coffee. The cappuccino I ordered was made with the deservedly-named Punch Buggy Espresso from Hamilton-born roaster Detour Coffee and was worth every 375 pennies. Giving these beans the TLC that they deserve, they were ground with the sleek ‘n shiny Nuova Simonelli Mythos One Clima Pro and brewed with none other than top-of-the-line La Marzocco GB5. The barista who looked after my order was sweet and darling, but don’t let her pretty face and kind demeanor fool you. She served up an expertly poured cappuccino topped with a delicate foamed milk flower. But the star of the show was Sarah’s handmade dark chocolate cupcake with raspberry frosting. To. Die. For. Did I mention that she’s a cake goddess!?! Check out her Insta here!

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Leading with her empathetic nature, Sarah chose to buy coffee beans from Detour Coffee not just for their amazing product but also for their incredible service. They really care about their clients and do everything in their power to make sure their customers have all the know-how of serving a cuppa joe Detour-style. They even go as far as providing in-house barista training by coffee gurus. Bought a new batch of beans? Don’t know how to brew them? Ryan (@detourbrews) to the rescue! Detour also cares deeply about fair, incentive-driven labour practices, choosing to source their beans through direct trade, which is one step beyond fair-trade. This means Detour spends the time to develop a relationship with each individual coffee farmers and are then each farmer is given full credit for their product: full credit can be found slapped on the bag’s label. It goes without saying that Backroads and Detour go hand-in-hand like a twins on a tandem bicycle.

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Quality of Atmosphere:

Like a classic ‘66 Ford Mustang with a 412 horsepower 5.0 litre engine, Backroads is where the warmth of antiquity meets the incandescence of modernity. Under the floorboards lies a century of laminate on top of vinyl on top of hardwood; the displayed antiques such as a wrought iron Singer sewing table, and vintage brass scales are points of attraction throughout the café; and a stack of turn-of-the-20th-century books invite you to curl up in the upholstered winged back chair and snuggle beside the cozy fireplace. On the contrary, new life is brought in through a smorgasbord of local craftsmanship. A luminous painting placed above the mantelpiece adds a touch of colour to the room while the handcrafted ceramics which encompasses the beverages and baked goods add a touch of energy (@Amy Leigh Art); locally grown plants grace the tables (gifts from landscaping friend); and several wood crafts (a wondrous raw wood window-front bar, adorable tree-trunk-cross-section coasters, and refurbished sewing table turned self-serve station) are marvelous additions to the salon.

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Last Remarks:

Backroads didn’t have the easiest beginning and required taking plenty of backroads before opening day. Delayed construction, discouraging customers, long commutes, and dishonest contractors, the setbacks seemed endless, but evidently this wasn’t Sarah’s first time experiencing life’s many unexpected twists and turns, and has since mastered its terrain.

Life doesn’t always go as planned… and that’s ok! The important thing is to keep driving and enjoy taking the backroads… and why not with a coffee in hand and a fresh-out-of-the-oven cupcake on the seat next to you!?!

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Comfort Rating:

five out of five

5/5

Helpful Coffee Tips:

Ten benefits of direct trade coffee:

  1. Prices are flexible and agreed upon by the farmer and the buyer
  2. Ensures the farmer gets paid a fair wage despite the highs and lows of the market of the buyer’s country
  3. Revenue goes directly to the farmer and not through a co-operative
  4. No Fairtrade licensing fees
  5. The Fairtrade Foundation doesn’t take a cut of the profits
  6. Increased demand encourages higher quality crops
  7. Producing higher quality crops is an incentive for farmers
  8. Chance to build relationships with the farmers
  9. Benefits the farmer’s community (e.g., employment opportunities)
  10. Opportunity for the buyer to invest in the farm

Now go out and impress people with your random coffee knowledge.

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Go ahead! Take the road less traveled.

Journey Update: To Quit or Not to Quit

Il faut toujours viser la lune, car même en cas d’échec, on atterrit dans les étoiles.

~Oscar Wilde

(Always aim for the moon, then even if you fail, you’ll be among the stars.)

QUIT:

It’s a simple four-letter word, but when it happens, causes us an insane amount of distress, not to mention, inherent disapproval from our mothers and unspoken disappointment from our friends. It can be quite a dramatic event when we decide to quit something. “OMG! You want to leave your xyz!?!” Yet despite our guilty conscious, we’re not likely to pass up on a well-deserved quit. After some consideration, we quit schools, we quit jobs, we quit hobbies… we even quit people! Don’t like your job? Not happy in your relationship? No problem. Just quit! Toss that stress from your life! All power to you.

I’ll admit it! I’m a quitter. In fact, I’ve quit so often that it’s become kind of a past time of mine. As soon as something requires too much time or energy… *BOOM! “Peace out, mothaf*ckas” for example, I put together six memorable times I’ve quit something (or someone) and why I thought it was a great idea at the time:

  • High-school chemistry class (culprit: too difficult) *definitely had a major meltdown after this quit because at the time I wanted to become a sports doctor (I know, weird, right) and chem is a must-have.
  • Playing clarinet (culprit: stage fright) *my grade 9 teacher made us perform solo in front of the entire class for the final exam, which is basically a death sentence for an introverted-omg-my-hands-were-shaking-too-much-to-play-properly-despite-having-practiced-a-million-hours-beforehand-and-I’m-getting-anxiety-just-thinking-about-this teenager.
  • Teaching English in Japan (culprit: lack of inspiration) *there’s only so many times I can hear “see youuuuu” from students before I start to question my impact as a teacher. Haha… silly kids! o.O
  • Running/Swimming/Cycling daily (culprit: exhaustion) *I’ve always liked the idea of doing a triathlon. It’s definitely doable… it’s just so exhausting to train for. *newsflash*
  • Living at my parents’ house (culprit: not enough independence) *independently owned and operated since 2009, baby!
  • Numerous romantic relationships (culprit: all of the above… lol) *boys are weird and stupid. Duh.

Gosh! Now that I think about it, I’ve even quit this blog… it’s definitely been a year since my last post. Oops! Although, there’s nothing like a really good quit! It’s such a relief to let something (or someone) go after an intense internal struggle, and in return, focus on something/one new. I mean why continue putting your precious time and effort into something/one that starves you of energy and happiness!?! Seriously, what’s the point? If whatever you are pursuing doesn’t bring you satisfaction nor contentment, why struggle for it? Quit.

Just to recap for new readers, after I quit teaching English and left Japan in August 2015, I set out on a new adventure: to learn about the world of coffee, become the queen of baristas, and to eventually open my very own café with the aim of helping my fellow traveling souls. Simple enough, right? Hahaha, too bad that having dreams are a b*tch.

A year of wild globetrotting and hectic job searching passed by, and soon it was November 2016. After countless rejections, I finally scored a job at the French franchise: Columbus Café, finished a one-month training program in Reims, and started at the brand new café at the Marché Rungis in the suburbs of Paris. Life got crazy and I honestly couldn’t find the time to write since then. So, what has been happening?

Now it’s September 2017: two years since I parted from Japan and a year since I arrived at Columbus Café Rungis. I’ve returned to my old Canadian stomping grounds and have a little time to reflect on life in the coffee industry. To tell you the truth, I wanted to quit every day. E.V.E.R.Y.D.A.Y. Because working in France as a barista in a newly opened café is both a dream and a nightmare, and here’s why:

The Nightmare:

  • My boss: was, at times, very difficult to work with. You might have heard of the stereotype that the French are horribly cheeky, cynical, and haughty. Picture the flamboyant chef from The Little Mermaid. Obviously, this is an exaggeration, but as much as we hate to admit it some stereotypes are hidden under a blanket of truth and my boss was no exception to this stereotype français. Call it cultural differences if you must, but he thought it was perfectly normal to make jokes about my weight. If I munched on a cookie during my break, he’d chuckle and nonchalantly tell me to be careful of becoming fat because then our customers will stop coming to our café. He said it was just sarcasm after I called him out on his obnoxious humor, but still WTF, he totally overstepped our employee-employer boundaries. As for his pessimistic tendencies, he would refuse to acknowledge even our small victories; for example, one time I told him we raked in our highest revenue to date (which is a huge deal for a new business), another time I told him we sold out of our signature ice-teas, but he dismissed them with a “It’s nothing. We can do better.” I realize that keeping a business alive is astoundingly stressful, but you’ve got to have at least a sliver of optimism and positivity, or else you’re going to drown under the pressure and never feel content with your accomplishments. Above all, the hardest part of working alongside him was the shame in watching dollar signs gradually embezzle his sight. Because of his fixated concern of being financially successful, he slowly lost his love for the coffee world, shut out the joy being part of this world created, and became blind to its beauty of bringing people together. His obsession became so prominent that he kept tabs on the surrounding restaurants and would throw tantrums if he perceived them to be more successful than his cafe. Of course business is business, but when one’s happiness is fully dependent upon the amount of revenue coming in, one’s mood will inadvertently fluctuate like a middle-aged woman going through menopause.

 

  • My customers: could be critical at times. They were my ever-vigilant audience, and I their dancing marionette. Honestly, it was as if my every move was on display purely for their amusement, which undoubtedly, created an unhealthy cycle of stress, anxiety, and insecurity, which then, effected my work efficiency. Things got messy! If I changed anything about my appearance or if I looked tired or unhappy (heaven forbid), some of my customers would make a stupid comment about it. I couldn’t dress as I normally would and I dare not show my true emotions. Basically, I couldn’t be myself. So every hour on the hour, I felt the need to check and re-check my clothes, my makeup, and my smile, aiming for that delicate balance between sweet and sexy. In the end, it was rather emotionally taxing having to market myself all the time. “Dance, barista, dance.”

 

  • My experience: hadn’t always lived up to my expectations. Before I landed my first barista job, my mind swam with images of laboring in hipster-perfect cafes, alongside eager-hardworking coworkers, while making Instagram-worthy lattes, for my pleasant-considerate clientele. In reality, I worked at a café where coffee goes to die. Columbus Café is basically the “Starbucks of France”. Neither the baristas nor the customers cared how good ‘n tasty the coffee was, as long as it was served instantaneously upon ordering. So, there was no time or reason to add those pretty hearts and delicate flowers on top of our lattes. There was no time to explain the difference between brewing methods or the difference between coffee beans. “Ain’t nobody got time for that!” and frankly, no one cared. As for my coworkers, I personally watched 10 hired girls up and quit since the café’s inauguration (Nov 2016). I don’t blame them. Working as a barista can be monotonous as hell and the pay is abysmal. If you’ve ever worked in the food industry, you’ll know that we spend more of our time cleaning floors and scrubbing toilets than creating anything earth-shattering. We work afoot for more than 40 hours a week and come home with a paycheck that barely covers the rent. It’s a little disheartening. And then to top it all off, you have to deal with the ridiculous requests and expectations of our customers. “Can I have the cheese sandwich without the cheese?” “I would like an iced coffee with an ice-cube… just one!” “Oh are you closing in 5 minutes!?! Ok I’ll order a meal with a dessert and a coffee… for here.” Sometimes you have to laugh to stop yourself from crying.

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Of course, it wasn’t all horrible bosses and ridiculous customers.

The Rainbows & Unicorns:

  • My boss: despite his horribleness, relied on me to keep the café running even when he wasn’t around, and within 4 months, I was promoted to assistant manager. From taking inventory to balancing the cash register, my boss took the time to teach me almost everything about owning a café. When I first arrived in France, it took 6 months of job searching and countless rejections before I was offered this job. While other café owners were afraid to hire a foreigner, my boss gave me a chance.

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  • My customers: despite their ridiculousness, taught me about true French culture, and I don’t mean haute culture and hors d’oeuvres. The French, like most Europeans, are quite social, and in fact, they look for any opportunity to gather together and talk. Working the morning shift, I witnessed their longing for community come to fruition. Every morning without fail, people come together with one or two colleagues for a coffee. They talk about their families, last night’s game, and the latest political fiasco. It lasts only 10 or 15 minutes, but nevertheless they take a moment to connect with each other before they’re engulfed with the stress of work. There’s a real sense of community among the French, and within this connectivity is where the fantasized happiness truly exists.

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  • My experience: despite its disappointments, was a culmination of lessons learned, and were nothing short of extraordinary. It’s one thing to learn a theory at school, it’s an entirely different matter experiencing that same theory in the real world. For the past year and a half, I’ve had the pleasure of jumping head first into the revolutionized world of coffee. At first, I acquired a barista certificate from the Canadian Barista and Coffee Academy in Toronto and then additional latte art training from Café Lomi in Paris, Next I was also fortunate to pass a 1-month internship at Caffe Ficini in Rome, where I received my first ever behind-the-counter experience. And finally, I was hired as a barista at Columbus Café in the Marche International Rungis, and was quickly promoted to assistant manager after 4-months of very early mornings and hard work, all the while managing my café inspired blog and social media empire: Kaeru Domicile. Now with millions of espressos pulled, thousands of lattes poured, and hundreds of pages written, I’m left to ponder how incredible and once-in-a-lifetime these experiences actually were. I mean… I was on a billboard at one point. lol

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Quicker than I thought, my roller-coasting time in France has come to an end; a year and a half of nightmares, rainbows and unicorns. And now I’m left with the question: do I delve deeper into the café world in hopes of realizing my 生き甲斐 (purpose) or do I QUIT?

I know what mon amour would say, “TOUJOUR PLUS – ALWAYS MORE!”

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Quitting will never subtract experiences from your life. This accumulation of skills and knowledge will always be a part of you.

Journey Update: Three Days. Three People. Three Hundred Boxes.

It’s 3-o’clock in the morning and you can’t sleep. You lie awake in bed and absentmindedly listen to the late-night traffic outside. You hear a garbage truck and a few transport trucks drive by. You think to yourself, “Wow! It must be difficult being a garbage man or truck driver; having to be working at this ungodly hour.” But remember that there is a badass barista out there serving those motherfuckers’ first-morning coffee.

~ Coffee Thoughts

With Paris ahead and Reims behind, it was time for Life to offer me her newest challenge. And… oh my… she never disappoints!

I arrived at Marché International de Rungis on Wednesday (Nov 2nd) morning to find a mountain of boxes in front of the newly built Direction Coffee [aka Columbus Café & Co. Rungis]. Too curious to resist, I peeked inside the café – the smell of fresh paint and sawdust still in the air – and found it completely empty. No tables. No chairs. No coffee machines. Nothing. And then, I looked back at the mountain of boxes…

And so began Jonathan’s (my boss), Émilie’s (my co-worker), and my 3-days of blood, sweat, and tears of sheer frustration and exhaustion (all of which were had a plenty). Every table and every chair was assembled and arranged. Every cupboard and every fridge was stocked and inventoried. Every machine and every gadget was placed and programmed. Little by little, Direction Coffee began to transform into a functioning coffeeshop.

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On Saturday (Nov 5th), the entire staff assembled for the first time. One chef, one barista, two vendors, and the boss. Definitely a team of misfits, but with one thing in common: we all love to smile – a killer attribute for captivating customers. (No picture of l’equipe exceptionelle because we were too busy… you know… working.)

As if life wasn’t challenging enough, she presented us with another disastrous day to challenge through. Monday, (Nov 7th) was marketing day, and so, this team of misfits trekked around Marche Rungis to hand out free merch. Seems easy enough, except that life is a b*tch and decided to send us a snowstorm. And not the cute, fluffy, first-snowfall type of snow, but the shitty, rain-mimicking, slush-making kind. Urgghhhhh… THIS IS THE REASON I LEFT CANADA! Ten hours of walking through sleet with soaked shoes and frozen fingers, while towing thousands of mini muffins, gallons of Americano, and an infinite amount of Columbus-logoed thermoses… C’etait BORDEL ! [bordel (fr.) = disaster] The other five hours were spent cleaning and preparing the café for Opening Day. Yup! We worked a 15-hour shift with only 2 hours of sleep. Life is grand.

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Today [Tuesday, Nov 8th) was our official Ouverture. Killer coffee was made by moi and served by my cutie cute coworkers. We had Columbus’ espresso blend and an Ethiopian filter on tap in addition to hundreds of muffins, paninis, bagels, sandwiches, cakes, and various other pastries. Today was only a little bordel. We were missing a few things (a float for the cash register and apple juice for the smoothies), but all in all, the day was a success.

Seeing Jonathan go through this process of opening his first coffeeshop has been an exceptional and irreplaceable experience. I only moved the boxes into the café, but he planned, ordered, and organized their arrival. And placing orders is only the tip of the iceberg. Then, he has to overlook the hiring of staff and tackle the endless pile of paperwork that goes with that – bureaucratic bullshit at its best! Not to mention dealing with building leases, electricity bills, meetings with the architects/ electricians/ painters/ plumbers, etc., and non-stop calls from the Columbus head office. Opening a café is no easy feat – not in the least.

My hands are scarred, my body is bruised, and my mind is completely exhausted, but I have a little clearer idea of what awaits me in the (hopefully, near) future when I decide to open my own cafe. But for now, I’m beyond pleased to help Jonathan realize his dream of being a café owner. And together, we will forge a new path for Columbus, allowing this 2nd wave institution to become a 3rd wave phenomenon.

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My prized possession: Pink Lady

As always, thank you for reading and following me on my journey.

There is no “try”. Do. Or do not.

Want to see me in action with my Pink Lady?

Monday to Friday 3am to 9:30am

Direction Coffee [Columbus Café & Co. Rungis]

Halle  Bio – 3 Avenue des Savoies, 94150

Marché International de Rungis

Île-de-France, France

Journey Update: Doing Life the Hard Way et On S’en Bats Les Couilles

Tell them that this is the way it works, and I know better than them.

~Peggy: Mad Men S2E8

Panini poulet parmesan, s’il vous plait,” requested a customer. Being in job training for the past month, I knew exactly what I needed to do when a customer places this order – Into the Merrychef oven, the panini goes for 1 minute 5 seconds – the perfect amount of time to melt the cheese, warm the fillings, and lightly toast the bread.

On this day unlike any other, someone left the 15-tier cooling rack of muffins in front of the oven; not directly in front, but enough to create a slight inconvenience when opening the oven door. Feeling a little under pressure to serve the sandwich within a reasonable time frame, I quickly analyzed the situation remembering my co-worker’s infamous (at least to me) quote, “There are no problems. Only solutions.” Aha! Voila! It’s possible to fandangle myself in between the cooling rack and the oven with juuuuuussssst enough space to open the oven door and pop the pre-toasted panini inside. And so I executed the first solution that came to mind. A quick inhale of the stomach, a few awkward flailing of the arms, and an impromptu game of limbo later – slam! beep! beep! boop! – the deed was done!

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The scene of the crime: 15-tier cooling rack inconveniently in front the Merrychef oven

Feeling like the queen of the world, I began my victory dance only to be met by a wholly entertained chuckle from my fellow barista & trainer, Charlemagne who just so happened to be watching this whole fiasco go down. “You always do life the hard way, don’t you?” Then with the littlest of effort, he rolled the cooling rack away from the oven, leaving a large margin of space to manoeuver around freely; no limbo required.

And this, my friends, is how I approach life – attacking problems with solutions that seem convenient at the time, but require the most effort in the long run, not because I’m incapable of considering more convenient solutions, but because challenge & curiosity have been my dear companions for many years. That’s probably how I ended up where I am today – on an epic café journey around the world with very limited funds and resources… because why not!?! Why not take the road less traveled despite the gargantuan potholes? Call me crazy, but it’s the best opportunity to test your survival skills, and if you fall… just get up, dust yourself off, and look for other possibilities. What’s the worst that could happen?

And you? How do you approach life’s daily challenges? I have a feeling you take the road less traveled, too. 😉

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Columbus Cafe & Co in Reims

Just a quick update about what’s been going on in coffeeland chez Nicole.

 

As I mentioned in my last post, I found a job as a barista at Direction Coffee – a 3rd wave establishment (think hipster style café) – the brainchild of 2nd wave institution (think Starbucks)– Columbus Café & Co. This soon-to-be-opened coffeeshop is located in Paris’ Marché International de Rungis– the largest wholesale food market in the world.

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Columbus Cafe’s trademark muffins

However since the Rungis location doesn’t open its doors until Nov 7th, my job training was held at another Columbus Café franchise in champagne city, Reims (1.5 hour drive from Paris) from Sept 26th to Oct 29th. To say the training was an amazing experience would be an understatement. I mean…. just look at how cute my coworkers are!

AND Look at these 15 essential life lessons I’ve learned:

  1. A boss who micromanages is like getting popcorn kernels stuck in your teeth. They’re horribly annoying and it left unattended can cause major problems down the road.
  2. If you are stressed, I will be stressed. Bref.
  3. Sex jokes are the same in EVERY language. No subtitles required.
  4. Anyone can work a coffee machine, but not everyone can make a good cup of coffee.
  5. I can give quality work or quantity of work, but never both. I prefer to give the former.
  6. People are not always rainbow-pooping unicorns. Some people take advantage of your open trust policy, even to the point where they steal your stuff. Respect for people and their property is a lost virtue.
  7. For the first time in my life, I UNLOCKED MY BEAST MODE in public!!!! I used direct communication instead of passive aggressiveness in the face of a confrontation. It wasn’t so scary after all even in a second language. Take that, shy & awkward Nicole! Booya!
  8. I thought all French people were slim, fashionable, well-reserved, eloquent demi-gods… and then, I left Paris… o.O
  9. Customers are so weird and wonderful and the best part of my job.
  10. If you smile genuinely, 98% of customers will return your smile. The other 2% are those rainbow-less pooping non-unicorns.
  11. Being told “Your English is pretty good” by tourists is the most undeserving compliment I’ve ever received. But thank you, it comes naturally to me.
  12. There is nothing funnier than a customer tripping on a step and spilling a large hot chocolate and a large chocolate milkshake all over the wall and down the stairs… especially when the house is packed and the queue is out the door. Right, Charlemagne!?!?! 😉
  13. All of my coworkers can successfully serve non-French customers in English despite taking only a few English classes during their early school years. It’s kind of impressive.
  14. My coworkers at Columbus Café Reims are definitely the coolest cats in coffeeland. My heart shattered into a thousand pieces and I cried like a baby when I had to say goodbye to them… Ok… I was also a little tipsy at the time… but golly wow, it’s not every day that you work with lovely ladies & gents who start Disney singalongs at work et nous nous en bats les couilles!
  15. No one in France knows what a barista is.

So often when I tell people that I’m a barista, they have no idea what that means.I’m sure you already know, but just so you know…

 

What is a barista?

A barista is an artist and a scientist who just so happens to specialize in serving coffee. We create coffee (and non-coffee) based beverages, invent new recipes, design pretty latte art, and entertain customers (sometimes in multiple languages). At the same time, we taste, roast, grind, and weigh the coffee beans to precise measurements in order to create a formula for the perfect espresso. Yes, there is a formula. Then, we have to foam the milk to the perfect degree and texture. Throughout the day, we religiously check the temperature of the water/milk/pitchers/cups, the flow rate of water/espresso, and the grind/colour/taste of the espresso. If something is off, we must find the cause and change it. We aim for consistency and quality – A great cup of coffee. Every. Single. Shot.

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Moi in my barista uniform ready to make some killer coffee

What skills and knowledge are necessary?

Just a love of coffee and an eagerness to explore the world of coffee. As well, having a soft spot for people is always a nice touch because you kind of have to deal with them a lot.

 

Next Steps:

The leaves are changing colour and beginning to fall. Time to pack my bags and move on. I moved back to Paris on Sunday (Oct 30th) and start the next part of the journey at Direction Coffee tomorrow (Nov 2nd). Allez-y!

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HAPPY HALLOWEEN from everyone at Columbus Cafe

“Whatever makes coffee grow, I’m into that.”

~Karlos

Journey Update: Armand, Motherf***ers, & Nazi Panty Jokes

The greatest risk of all is to risk nothing at all

September 16, 2015

Japan adventures behind me; European adventures ahead.

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September 16, 2016

European adventures behind me; Paris Café adventures ahead.

What a crazy amazing fantastic phenomenal year it’s been!

I left Japan with this crazy idea to open a café for expats who love breakfast & coffee as much as I do, and decided to start my pursuit of knowledge in Europe. With help from my new-found friends and support from my friends back home (i.e., Canada & Japan), I explored most of Western Europe for 3 months, returned to Canada for a little bit, wandered around Paris for a few more months,  visited my family in Germany for awhile, and worked in Italy for another while. Each place I visited and each person I met taught me a little more about this awesome world and the beautiful people who live within it.

This past year, I had incredible once-in-a-lifetime experiences. I’ve wandered the streets alone at night, slept on couches of locals, drove with strangers, danced until the sun came up, fell in love, broke a few hearts, started a social media empire, learned a little more about myself, overcame my fear of being alone, witnessed institutionalized racism, benefited from white privilege, started some bad habits, started some more positive habits, ate sheep guts, became vegetarian (well… pescetarian because… sushi), took barista courses, received numerous job rejections, packed & repacked my bags, and seen some f*cked-up things, which I can only tell you about in person (and you must swear that you won’t tell my mother). #ZeroRegrets As of now, I have negative funds, but you know, money will come and go, but experiences last forever.

Fast forward one year, I’m back in Paris and ready to start a new chapter in my life; a chapter that is a little more stable. I will still be living out of a suitcase (because a traveler is always ready to move on without much notice), but this time I can hang up a few of my shirts and leave my toothbrush near the sink for more than just a few days. After 6 months of searching around [& running away from] Paris, I finally found a job as a barista & roaster at Café Columbus. Training starts tomorrow (Sept 26)…

行きましょう!!!

As always, thank you for reading and taking this journey with me.

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Original poem below.

Life is what happens while we’re waiting for life to happen.

Traveler

We come.

We go.

We wave hello.

We kiss goodbye.

Our lives are always in transition.

We climb.

We fall.

We explore paths untread.

We discover places unknown.

Our feet are always in motion.

We plan.

We get lost.

We miss trains

We get lost again.

Our hearts are always up for adventure.

We meet.

We share.

We sleep on couches.

We hitchhike with strangers.

Our bodies are always ready for a challenge.

We inspire.

We aspire.

We discuss together.

We ponder alone.

Our minds are always open to possibilities.

We dream.

We wanderlust.

We face uncertainty.

We overcome our fears.

Our souls are always yearning to know more.

“Don’t you miss your home?

Don’t you miss your family?”

“No,” we say

We travel the world, but we are never alone

And we are never lonely.

The world is our home.

Everyone we meet is our family.

With passport in hand and bags always packed,

We whisper into the wind,

“See you in the world.”

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Café Kitsuné: A Touch of Japan in the Heart of Paris

Imagine walking into a café where fox cookies welcome you at the door, an Alice in Wonderland-esk clock hangs above, and matcha on ice awaits you. You’re not sure what other out-of-place things you will encounter, but you’re ready for anything.

Presenting…

Café Kitsuné

[51 Gallerie de Montpensier 75001 (Paris, France; 1st  district)]

 

In the two short years that Café Kitsuné has been playing in the Paris coffee game, they have dominated the arena. Their plain white cups with fancy black scrawl can be seen all over Paris: in the hands of tourists roaming the streets, in front of buskers collecting change, in the gullies littering the metro. Once, I even saw a patron bring one into Boot Café (my second home). (ノ-_-)ノ ~┻━┻ Call it beginner’s luck, but whatever Gildas Loaëc and Masaya Kuroki (founders) are doing, they’re definitely giving Starbucks a run for their money. Either way, it was time to see where all these to-go cups were coming from.

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Quality of Service:

I kid you not, I was greeted by cookies in the shape of foxes! I… wow… yup… a thousand creativity points to Café Kitsuné. For those of you unfamiliar with Japanese, kitsune (狐) means fox. Instantaneously, memories of unexpected kawaii experiences in Japan flooded my brain. Understandable considering this café is the offspring of Japanese fashion & media mecca: Maison Kitsuné.

Even on a low-key Wednesday afternoon, the lineup was out-the-door and all the tables were occupied. Two lovely lady baristas diligently manned the espresso machine and patiently waited on the ceaseless queue without losing their cool.

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Quality of Product:

On this visit, I was delegated (by my dear friend, Armand who told me [about 10 blog posts ago] that I was an idiot and going about finding a job in the wrong way. Yup! That guy!) the exciting/arduous task of getting someone who doesn’t drink coffee, doesn’t like coffee, and doesn’t go out of his way for coffee to somehow drink, like, and accept coffee. I needed to change his life. Challenge Accepted.

I thought I’d ease his palate onto le petit noir by adding a little chocolate into the mix. Plus it was a warm summer’s day, so let’s add some chill. Best solution: iced mocha latte (5.50 euros, 645 yen, 7 dollars); a double shot of espresso, a cup of steamed milk, a tablespoon or two of dark chocolate shavings/powder, and a cup of crushed ice. Cold, creamy, rich, with a touch of sweetness. What could go wrong?

Turns out, Armand doesn’t like dark chocolate either. \(●o○;)ノ

Mission Aborted… for now! I will convince you yet, Armand! Coffee is delicious.

For the more diehard coffee fans, Kitsuné imports their tasty beans from London-based roaster, Workshop Coffee Co.

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Quality of Atmosphere:

It’s no wonder Kitsuné cups are showcased all over Instagram by tourists and locals alike. Palais Royal is at its doorstep and the Louvre is a mere hop-skip-jump away. You can’t get more city-central than this.

Inside is a single counter with plenty of leaning space and a few stools on standby, reminiscent of an Italian bar. But inside can feel a little cramped, so the patio is where you want to be (if you can score a table that is). Even if it’s completely occupied, you have the elegant palace gardens to roam. It’s quite mesmerizing.

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Last Remarks:

When in Paris, follow the flock. They know where the good coffee is at. Just don’t take Armand with you. 😉

Comfort Rating:

4/5

four out of five

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Helpful Coffee Tips:

Let’s talk a little bit about iced coffee. After you’ve pulled your normal shot of espresso and before you make it into an Americano, it’s imperative to subtract 20-30ml of water from your usual recipe. So, when the ice melts, it won’t dilute your coffee and make it gross and watery. If you do so then, you’ll be left with a chill yet flavorful cup of iced joe.

Now go out and impress people with your random coffee knowledge.

Japan is magical. There is no other way to describe it.

La Caféothèque: The Café that Started it All

Imagine walking into a café where time has stopped. For what seems like an eternity, you bathe in the stillness surrounded by the tranquil scent of coffee. You are alone at the beginning of time.

Presenting…

La Caféothèque

[52 rue Hôtel de Ville 75004 (Paris, France; 4th district)]

Fifteen years ago, Paris was void of any decent coffee, let alone good coffee. Then along came Gloria Montenegro and changed the coffee game for everyone. She taught Parisians that le petit noir can be a delectably, delicious experience, and not a putrid attack of the senses. Opening La Caféothèque in 2005, her pioneering spirit paved the way for café legends: Thomas Lehoux (Ten Belles & Belleville Brûlerie) and Channa Galhenage (Loustic) just to name a few.

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Quality of Service:

If you’re in a rush, this is not the coffee shop for you. Once you arrive, you will be left to your own devices for what seems like an eternity before someone comes to take your order. This may seem ignorant and rude to some patrons, but take a moment to consider their intentions. Like citizens of most big cities, Parisians are constantly on-the-go, rarely having a chance to pause. Unlike most cafés where you order upon arrival, the baristas at La Caféothèque give you time to indulge in those sweet moments of nothingness before they swoop in to interrupt. Embarrassingly enough, I was so far off into Never-Neverland that I accidently stayed 30 minutes past closing. Opps! *:゚*。⋆ฺ(*´◡`)

Take a breath. Enjoy the stillness. It’s the perfect time for self-reflection [or to check out the über cute baristas].

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Quality of Product:

Being the pioneer of good coffee in Paris, La Caféothèque has had the time to perfect their beans, and oh boy do they deliver! Their flat white (5.50 euros, 645 yen, 7 dollars) and mocha (“) were delectably, delicious. The flavours were complex, yet simple. This is because all of their coffee are single-origin. No blends! Need more La Caféothèque in your life? They roast and package their own line of café or, which are available for purchase in store and online.

Cafés du Jour: Pulcal Guatemala (available online boutique), Harrar Ethiope & Dom Jiménez Republique Dominicaine (primé)

Since you will be staying for a while, might as well try one of their tasty baked goods or the quiche & salad set. No photo available… because I was hungry. Opps again! (n˘v˘•)¬

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Quality of Atmosphere:

As I mentioned before, La Caféothèque roast their beans on site so, there is a constant aroma of splendor in the air, and it will change depending on the accents of le café du jour. This café is quite internationally known thus, languages of the world and classic rock will be your background music during your stay. Korean is flowing on my left and Italian on my right. Sit in the overstuffed chair by the large storefront window, and watch the world walk by.

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Last Remarks:

La Caféothèque has become my go-to place for writing and reflection. If you will, I would like to share my first attempt at poetry written onsite. Try not to laugh!  (´•ω•`๑) ):

Paris Trudges By

Where are you going?

Do you need a rest?

Silence and serene

While Paris trudges past.

 

What are you thinking?

Do you have the time?

Stop and chat

While Paris trudges align.

 

Why are you frowning?

Do you know you’re deify?

Smile and reflect

While Paris trudges by.

 Yup… this is what happens when you have a lot of free time and too many coffees.

Comfort Rating:

4.5/5

four and a half out of five

Helpful Coffee Tips:

Coffee is a complex and delicate fruit. It can exhibit several flavors and accents, most of which can be seen on its packaging. For example:

FLAVOR –> ACCENT

  • Roasted –> smoky
  • Spices –> cinnamon
  • Nutty/Cocoa –> hazelnut
  • Sweet –> maple syrup
  • Floral –> jasmine
  • Fruity –> orange
  • Sour/Fermented –> citrus
  • Green/ Vegetative –> herbs
  • Papery/Chemical –> woody

SCAA Coffee Taster’s Flavor Wheel:

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Now go out and impress people with your random coffee knowledge.

Breathe.

Journey Update: Proud & Panicking

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

John Lennon

Last week, life turned a little brighter. I had a series of job interviews with a host of cafes in Paris, thanks to hospo.jobs and coffeepeoplefrance, and there was one barista possibility that particularly caught my eye.

But here’s the catch: I need to renew my visa before they give me a job offer.

So now, the panic ensues. It’s me versus the French government, and time is not on my side. In fact, I have 22 days to renew it before it expires.

I have most of the paperwork in order:

  1. passport
  2. visa
  3. residence card
  4. photo id
  5. birth certificate (sent by my ma via xpress post. Merci, mama!)
  6. health insurance
  7. bank statement
  8. CV & lettre de motivation

[By the way, I’ve never been so thankful of being Canadian as I am now. When applying for a French visa, all documents need to be officially translated into French. Newsflash: Canada is a bilingual country, which means documents are automatically written in English & French, saving me a ton of time and money.]

The last thing that is creating the most panic is securing an appointment with the Prefecture de Police (i.e., immigration office) to give them my paperwork. My housemate and I tried calling and emailing, but haven’t received a response. I guess the last resort is to show up without an appointment and see what happens.

Fingers crossed.

Boot Café: Coffee, Gossip, and Elephants. Oh my!

Imagine walking into a neighborhood café where everybody knows your name and they’re always glad you came because the barista and fellow customers understand that making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got and taking a break from all your worries sure would help a lot.

Presenting…

Boot Café

[19 rue du Pont aux Choux 75003 (Paris, France; 3rd district)]

Having opened in 2014, Boot Café is the new kid on the Paris coffee block, and like the revolutionary youth of today, it’s trooop coool. What more can you say about a café housed in a vintage cordonnerie (i.e., shoe repair shop) with the original 19th C doors in tact?

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Quality of Service:

Magnifique. The bar at Boot is manned by one barista; so, you are ensured to receive the ultimate personalized service. In my case, I was welcomed and served by a charming young English woman who waited patiently for my order and entertained mon pas bien français.

Quality of Product:

I ordered a café crème (4 euros, 500 yen, 5 dollars) and a bagel with cream cheese and jam (4 euros, 500 yen, 5 dollars). The espresso is Brazil Sitio Cachoerinha from Berlin’s Five Elephant; rich, smooth, and chocolaty. I’m not usually fond of bagels, but these bagels were definitely made with love from local food hub, Bob’s Bake Shop.

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Quality of Atmosphere:

Stay for an hour and you’ll learn just how small the Parisian cafe community is. Everyone knows everyone. Not surprising for a closet-sized café with one barista and three tables. Like an episode of Cheers, the usual customers walk in like clockwork, greet the barista by name, and give a run down of the local café gossip over their brew of choice. Who’s hiring, who’s leaving, who’s dating, who’s new, who’s weird, etc..

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Last remarks:

This cafe will easily become my 2nd home in Paris. Hence why I am giving it such a high comfort rating. Good food. Great coffee. Exceptional community. What’s not to love!?!

Comfort Rating:

5/5 (the first!)

five out of five

 

 

Helpful Coffee Tips:

If you’ve been to a café at least once in your life, you’ve probably heard the expression “3rd wave”. So, what does it even mean?

Since the dawn of cafés, there has been 3 major revolutions (or waves) of cafés in the coffee world.

1st Wave: Traditional Cafés

Think traditional Italian coffee bars. Typically serves dark-roast espresso.

2nd Wave: Commercial Cafés

Think Starbucks, McCafe, and Tim Horton’s (for my Canadian readers). Low quality, over roasted, prematurely ground beans, but there’s a high demand because it’s easily accessible, cheap, and convenient.

3rd Wave: Rebellious/ Experimental Cafés

Think of the nearest place where hipsters congregate. Trained coffee artisans (baristas, roasters, cuppers, café owners) work together to find and serve the perfect coffee recipe. Current experimental coffee trends: cold brewing, “green”/light roast extraction, vegan milk options, single origin blends, tasting/latte art/shot pulling lessons for the public.

Now go out and impress people with your random coffee knowledge.

Café Craft: To Each Their Own Coffice

Imagine walking into a café reminiscent of your college days. You know. The one you and every other sleep-deprived, MacBook toting student flocked to for the good quality (yet decently priced) java, ample work space & outlets, and most importantly, FREE WiFi.

Café Craft

[24 rue de Vinaigriers, 75010 (Paris, France; 10th district)]

Café Craft is a telecommuter’s haven created by Augustin Blanchard who was inspired to design a café with the practicality of a library, the comfort of a living room, and the functionality of an office. But without the bookshelves, throw pillows, and pesky bosses.

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Quality of Service: 

I was served by the sweetest of sweet baristas. (。♥‿♥。) Despite noticing that I wasn’t a local, he continued to patiently converse with me in French, as if he intrinsically knew the importance of needing a judgement-free and compassionate ear when someone is practicing a new language. His effort didn’t go unnoticed. *heart melt

Quality of Product:

Google “Café Craft” and you’ll find a ton of reviews raving about their flat white. (And I bet you that majority of those reviews were written by pleasantly surprised Australians. Makes sense considering the origin of the flat white.) You know what? The critics weren’t fibbing. Craft’s flat white was velvety goodness! *note to self: must convince one of my Oz friends to visit me in Paris so that I can take them to Craft.

Espresso: Brésil Fazenda Baixado Yellow Bourbon made exclusively for Craft by legendary roaster, Café Lomi; a sweet blend with hints of milk chocolate (bitters) and fruit (acids), which means it’s perfectly balanced.

Filter: Éthiope Rocko Mountain roasted by Café Lomi with a floral essence. This blend will be slightly more acidic than the aforementioned blend, but still balanced.

image4Since I was near death from hunger (I know… I’m soooo dramatic), I splurged and ordered a lunch set (12 euros, 1500 yen, 17 dollars) with my Flat White (4.50 euros, 560 yen, 6.50 dollars). The set came with Asiatic legumes quiche (pretty sure they were shitake, but there’s mushrooms for debate (๑˃̵ᴗ˂̵)و), a simple garden salad, sweet potato coconut soup, and a caramel apricot cookie. They all tasted exceptionally divine, and my hunger was ardently diminished.

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Quality of Atmosphere:

A coffice with FREE WiFi. ‘Nuff said.

[Kudos to the architect who designed this freelancer’s Eden. The long communal table in the back provides ample work space, comfortable leg room, and seemingly infinite outlets. And if you’re not there to work, you can take your café-clope to the outdoor terrace.]

Last Remarks:

Work work work. Sip Sip Sip. Type type type. Munch munch munch. *repeat

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Comfort Rating:

4/5

four out of five

 

 

Helpful Coffee Tips:

Did you know that there are hundreds of species of coffee trees, but only two are commercially grown: Robusta and Arabica? You may have seen “100% Arabica” advertised on packages of coffee.

I’m going to let you in on a little coffee secret. Coffee with 100% Arabica beans is like having the greenest lawn in the neighborhood. It’s fresh and luscious and wondrous to roll around in. Everyone wants green grass. Because of Arabica’s superior quality, it makes up 75% of the world’s coffee production. Why only 75%? Because sometimes grass is brown (i.e., Robusta), but that’s shitty grass that no one likes… except for a few weirdos. When you have only brown grass on your lawn, you are sad because it’s prickly, stubborn, and no fun. Too bad that Robusta is easier to grow. Hence, Robusta is used to lower the cost of store-bought coffee products (e.g., Folgers, Maxwell, etc.) producing a low quality, less expensive brew. Even though 100% Arabica is ideal, it won’t kill you to have a few small patches of lightly brown grass on your lawn. Actually, sometimes it makes your lawn look more natural and less manicured. Because of Robusta’s high oil and caffeine content, adding a few beans of high quality Robusta (emphasis on high) to a batch of Arabica helps to create a much desired crema (i.e., a thin layer of foam on top of an espresso) and balances the natural acidic flavor of Arabica. An experienced coffee artisan can create the perfect blend between Arabica and Robusta beans without harming the overall quality of the brew.

Now go out and impress people with your random coffee knowledge.