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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Bringing the World Together, One Breakfast at a Time

I give you the light of Eärendil, our most beloved star. May it be a light for you in dark places, when all other lights go out.

Last Monday, I experienced a sensation I’ve never felt before. This feeling was so satisfying and at the same time enticing. No, it wasn’t physical or sexual; it was purely emotional; one that could only derive from a moment of reminiscence brought on by an act of kindness.

Every Monday, a man in his early-50s comes to my family’s house in Lübeck, Germany to do some gardening and landscaping. From his tanned skin and accented German, it’s not hard to tell that he’s not a local. In fact, he’s originally from Chile, but moved to Germany when he was a young man.

As is tradition when craftspeople (e.g., carpenters, landscapers, plumbers, etc.) work on your house from morning till evening, I prepared lunch for the gardener as a gesture of appreciation. Mama said to make him a sandwich, and curiosity had me researching “Sandwiches from Chile”, which brought me to a recipe for chacarero: thinly-sliced steak/pork, tomatoes, green beans, and chili peppers on a bun.

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He accepted the food offering with a simple smile and several moments later, he returned the empty plate with a simple “Danke”. Did he enjoy it? Did he recognize it? I wanted to ask him these questions, but I didn’t know enough German or Spanish to relay them.

Later that evening, he called the house, something he rarely does because he doesn’t have a mobile, and Mama translated to me, “He wanted to thank you for the lunch you made today. It reminded him of his mother’s cooking.” He hasn’t seen his mother for many, many years.”

I didn’t know whether to smile or cry.

The expat life might seem like a wondrous adventure to some, and it is… to some extent. However, we also have to assimilate into an entirely new culture (i.e., new language, new social etiquette, new living standards, new food, etc.), and this process can be quite stressful at times. Simple things like going to the supermarket or making a doctor’s appointment become 10 times harder. So, you can imagine the immense joy and comfort an expatriate feels when they come across something that reminds them of home.

THIS.

This is the feeling I want to share with weary travelers who are away from home.

How?

Let’s talk about my favorite meal of the day: BREAKFAST.

I. LOVE. Breakfast. Nothing makes me happier than waking up and stuffing my face with scrumptious goodies and washing it down with a freshly brewed coffee. Cereal, oatmeal, fruit, eggs ‘n toast; doesn’t matter. I love it all. Honestly, there are times when I go to bed with a smile because I’m looking forward to what awaits my tummy in the morning.

For me, breakfast is a yummy meal, as well as a symbol of new beginnings & connection. Every morning as a child, I would gather around the dining room table with my family, munching on bowls of cereal if it was a school day (i.e., Rice Krispies, Cornflakes or Cheerios because they are the cheapest and we didn’t have a lot of money, or Fruit Loops on VERY special occasions) or indulging in eggs, bacon, and toast if it was the weekend. Some mornings, one of us would be stressing about an upcoming school assignment; other days, we’d laugh nonstop until we lost track of time. No matter the traumas and tribulations that awaited us, we were gathered together as the sun rose to greet us; and once the last bite of breakfast was enjoyed, we would have the strength to take on the day’s challenges.

Away from home, my cereal bowl lays before me and the chairs around me remain empty, and as I pour the cereal and hear the melodic tap of each grain hitting the ceramic, I remember. I remember my family and the many breakfasts we shared together.

My café, 帰る [kaeru] Domicile will serve damn good coffee as well as damn good breakfast. And not just breakfast the way I remember it, but breakfast from around the world; so that every traveling soul has a chance to reminisce about home. This would be a dream come true.

I have a pretty good idea of breakfast & café culture in Canada, Japan, and most of Western Europe, but I still have much more to discover. At the moment, I’m wanderlusting fiercely for Jamaica, Brazil, Chile, Peru, the southern States, Albania, Morocco, Chad, Nigeria, Iran, India, Australia, New Zealand… just to name a few. It’s killing me to know what they eat for breakfast. And their coffee culture, is that even a thing there!?!

Stay tuned.

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Caffè Ficini: La Danza Caffè Italiano in Silenzia

Imagine walking into a café where you come for the coffee, stay for the conversation, and return for the connection.

This is not my usual café critique. This is a glimpse into the past, a taste of the habitual, and a step towards new beginnings. I’m returning to the birthplace of espresso: la bella Italia, to a place so traditional that you can’t even find it on Facebook or Google Maps. Until now.

Presenting…

Caffè Ficini

[Via Silvestri, 203, 00164 (Rome, Italy)]

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Watching Stefano Cristiani (owner & barman since 1994) work is like watching a perfectly choreographed dance. At Caffè Ficini (est. 1953), this well-experienced barman taps, spins, and glides through the coffee dance with effortless grace. The steps? Customer approaches counter. Saucer, spoon, water placed in front. Espresso ground, dosed, tamped, pulled, served. One, two, three sips then, coins are left next to the empty cup. Besides a conventional “bonjourno”, “grazie” & “ciao”, nothing is said. This is a silent dance and Stefano already knows the piques, pirouettes, and poses of each of his customers. Wash cup, wipe counter, sweep floor, refill sugar; the dance continues.

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There is no equation for making coffee Italian style because this is dance class, not math class. However, Stefano does have standards. After all, customers come here because he’s been making damn good coffee for over 20 years. Succeed or get crushed by his disapproval. With one glance, a barista (which until this point in time has only been his comedic uncle, his charming 14-year old son, and myself)’s creation is judged. Fail and he’ll throw it away, making it again himself. Time, coffee, and energy wasted. Even the espressos that pass his inspection, customers can taste the difference. Goes to show that technique is just as important as the quality of ingredients when making coffee.

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Stefano gives his instructions in Italian; slow, deliberate, only repeating the most important words, with smatterings of French when I really don’t understand. Honestly, I feel like I learned more Italian in one day than French in the past 3 months I was in Paris. If you want to learn another language, this is the way to do it: full immersion. Like a child learning its first language, you’ll soak up the new language like a sponge because your survival depends on it.

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A Day in an Italian Coffee Bar:

4:50 am – last breaths of freedom; the stillness of dawn reciprocates, “Time to start the day”

4:55 am – key turns in the lock, lights flicker on; the first sign of life

5:00 am – first dose of coffee grounded and tasted; Ficini original espresso blend from 1953

5:06 am – fresh pastries emerge from the oven

5:10 am – fresh milk delivered

5:15 am – the first espressos of the day are served; the machine is a 25-year old Fiorenzato Ducale; gleams like it was bought yesterday; a beast of a machine; takes a day to convince it not to bite, but takes years to make it purr

5:30 am – like clockwork, the regulars arrive; same people, same dogs, same time, same order, same conversations; Stefano gives me a quick rundown of each customer before they enter the bar: name, occupation, and a well-meaning & humorous critique of their personality; basically, everyone is pazzo; “I’ve had the same damn conversation with that woman every morning for the past 10 years.”

5:32 am – in two minutes flat, customers enter, are served, and exit; efficiency is key

6:00 am – daily newspaper delivered; today’s front cover: death of a mafia godfather

6:30 am – leftover brioches thrown to the birds

7:30 am – beer delivery

1:00 pm – regulars return for their post-lunch coffee before returning to work

5:30 pm – devout regulars return for their post-work coffee before returning home

7:30 pm – cleaning, restocking, arranging

8:00 pm – lights out, key turns shut; café life has ended for the day

8:01 pm – resume breaths of freedom, the dust taunts “Until tomorrow”

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Traditional vs 3rd wave Coffee Shops:

I received my barista training from a pro-3rd wave institution, and after a day in Caffè Ficini, it was light as day to see the philosophical and conventional differences between traditional and 3rd wave coffee shops:

  • It’s art while 3rd wave is math
  • It’s a feeling while 3rd wave is an equation
  • It’s about quality while 3rd wave is about appearance
  • It’s about character while 3rd wave is about perfection
  • It’s about efficiency while 3rd wave is about performance
  • It’s about economy while 3rd wave is about extravagance
  • Don’t wipe portafilters between shots; like a well-used tea pot, the buildup of coffee grind adds depth to the espresso; not to mention, it saves time
  • No timers, no thermometers, no automatic machines; you must feel when the coffee is ready

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Last Remarks:

A true traditional Italian coffee bar where locals gather to talk weather, politics, and family life. The coffee is delicious, the pastries are fresh, and the owner speaks some English and French. If you’re looking for a genuine Roman experience away from the bustle of tourists, this is the place to go.

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Comfort Rating:

5/5

five out of five

Helpful Coffee Tips:

Un Buon Caffè:

 

Ordering a coffee in Italy can be a nightmare, if you’re not familiar with espresso. You can either be super lax by simply ordering which drink you prefer and leaving the rest up to the barman OR you can be super particular, down to the type of cup you prefer to drink from.

  1. Drink:
  2. Espresso
  3. Macchiato
  4. Cappuccino
  5. Caffè Latte
  6. Caffè Hag/ Decaffeinato
  7. Corretto / Borghetti

 

  1. Brewing Time of Espresso:
  2. Cordo/ ristretto = short
  3. Normale = normal
  4. Longo = long

 

  1. Temperature of Espresso:
  2. Freddo = cold
  3. Tiepido = warm
  4. Caldo = hot

 

  1. Type of Milk:
  2. Intero = whole (3.6%)
  3. Parzialmente = partial (1.6%)

 

  1. Amount of Milk:
  2. Pocco = a little
  3. Tanto = a lot

 

  1. Milk Temp & Texture:
  2. Schiamato = foamed
  3. Scremato = steamed
  4. Freddo = cold

 

  1. Type of Cup:
  2. Vetro = glass
  3. Tazza = ceramic

Of course, you can’t forget to have a fresh-baked pastry with your espresso, and of course, ordering a brioche is a whole other kettle of fish.

The Italian’s view on the third-wave coffee trend: “When you have to add flowers and other fancy bullshit, it’s because the original ingredients are shit.”

*extra photo fun: I couldn’t help but make a small collection of the adorable pooches that enjoy Caffè Ficini as much as I. Aren’t they woof-tastic!?!

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Journey Update: Sprinting Through a Marathon

Once I was 20 years old… I only see my goals. I don’t believe in failure. Cause I know the smallest voices can make it major… Once I was 20 years old.

They say when life gives you lemons, make lemonade – But what if you’d rather make coffee? Chasing your dreams is kind of like that. You finally find that one thing that fills your soul and lifts your spirit. It’s your purpose, drive, destiny, higher calling, or whatever you want to call it. So inevitably, you pursue it like a dog chases a stick. Then Life, like the sick freak she is, sends you lemons when you’ve already invested in milk, sugar, and a coffee cup.

FIRST, LE DRAMA

At the end of June, life was finally playing in my favor. I scored a rendez-vous at a well-known Parisian café (talk about sweet deals), aced the interview, and was invited to return for a trial-run. (In France, new employees are given a trial run, which can last anywhere from one day to 3 months, wherein the employer can observe your work ethic, but can also fire you at anytime.) “Super! I’m set for my year in Paris,” I thought, “Just have to impress the socks off them at the trial-run.” In preparation, I went back to the café a few times to watch the baristas work, taking note of all the important service phrases and coffee lingo they used. In my mind, I was ready!

Then the day before the trial-run,…

They cancelled.

Just my luck, they hired someone else with more café experience, and I’m sure their lemonade tasted real good that day. Needless to say, I was devastated, and frustrated, and exhausted. (Siiiiiigh…. having dreams suck! *grumble)

So, I packed my bags, wrote a small (?) tantrum on FB, and ran away from soul-crushing Paris to my family in Lübeck, Germany.

I know. So melodramatic!

There I spent 12 glorious days recharging from and re-evaluating my 生き甲斐. (Siiiigh… damn dreams! *grumble) Spending 12 days with this awesome sista-from-another-mista also helped with recuperation. For the purposes of this article, I will call her Katniss [but with a C because of my tendency to match the first letters of the real & fictional names] because although she hasn’t killed anyone (that I know of), Catniss has the same level of badassery as the HG character; she isn’t afraid of anything. Only 11 years old, and yet she participates in triathlons just for fun; loves paddle-boarding, skateboarding, climbing trees, and unicycling; she’s also killer with a bow-and-arrow, speaks 3 languages, has traveled all over Scandinavia & Germany, cooks like a boss, and quit the Scouts because they weren’t badass enough. Oh yea, and she loves dragons. This chicka is fierce! Honestly, where was she when I was a kid!?!?!

Needless to say after a week and a half of romping around town/the German wilderness with Catniss, I’m feeling relaxed, motivated, and ready to take on the world. But first, some heartfelt appreciation.

THANK YOUs

After my slight (?) FB outburst of failed dreams and general disdain for having dreams in the first place (Siiiiigh… those mf dreams! *grumble), I was moved by your steady outpour of pure empathy, generous assistance, and wildly good advice. From someone who battles with depression and who thinks traveling alone for a long period of time is a good idea (I honestly don’t know where i get these smart (?) ideas), your words are the light when I’m in a dark place and the hand that reaches out when I’ve fallen down. I’m truly thankful.

Of course, I won’t name any names because you know who you are. Well…, I will name one name for the sake of his future success. My dearest friend, Reginald, who for some reason wouldn’t let me refer to him as Renly ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ (Why? I don’t know.), gave my resume a proper makeover. Honestly, it’s gleaming! Ergo, to all of his future employers and clients who are google stalking him atm, you can rest easy knowing your resume/your trust is in the right hands. He’s DA MAN!

NEXT STEPS TOWARDS WORLD DOMINATION

So, about my dream/purpose/whatever. (Siiigh… stupid dreams *grumble). What to do!?!

  1. At this very moment, I’m on my way to la bella Roma (34 hours via bus & train from Lübeck because I have no money) where my dear friend Sebastien graciously set up a-can’t-miss opportunity for me. I will spend the next two weeks learning to make Italian coffee in an Italian café in the traditional Italian way. Thanks for the coffee beans, Life! By the way, I can’t stress how awesome Couchsurfing is. I met Sebastien through CS. So if you want to globalize your network for free, CS = international connections.
  2. After a short jaunt in Rome, I will stop in Basel to visit my dear friend Pascal & his family, and to celebrate National Switzerland Day. I also met Pascal through CS.
  3. Then, back to Lübeck for the rest of the summer to help my famjam with landscaping & gardening whilst admiring Catniss’ badassery and learning Spanish from their Chilean employee. (I never realized how little Spanish I knew up to this point. Little as in two words – I’m sorry Spanish speaking friends. I should have made more of an effort to learn from you.) I’m also thinking about asking the owner of ONE Fairtrade, Aykut, if I can volunteer in his café for a few hours here and there. Italian coffee. Check. German coffee. Check.
  4. At the risk of wasting a 1-year visa, I’ll head back to France before the end of the summer. Either I could return to Paris and give it another shot or my dear friend Katriona has a friend who lives in the south of France and might be able to introduce me to a cafe there. Small town living or big city dreaming. Who knows? We’ll see.

Either way, I need to learn to take life as it comes with its highlights and lowlights, enjoying each day for what it is. Nothing more; nothing less. Pure contentment. No point in sprinting through a marathon.

Now back to my duoLingo studies (i.e., French, German, and Italian for logistical reasons, and Portuguese <– this one is all my Brazilian friend’s fault; obrigada, Brazil [his nickname – long story]). I’m still waiting for Japanese to become available, but either way, I will shamelessly advertise for duoLingo when learning une autre langue. First introduced to me by Dante, it’s free and fantastic; great for vocab acquisition & review, listening & speaking practice, and translating to & from English. And when you want to learn every Portuguese swear word, I’ll hook you up with Brazil.

Manda ver! [Bring it on!]

Challenge? Yes, please.

~Nicole Snobelen (owner of clothing brand, Evelyn by Nicole Snobelen, founder of The Abby Fund & one of my greatest cheerleaders)

A SHORT BUNNY TRAIL WITH LONG CONSEQUENCES

BLM vs ALM

As much as I like to poke fun of the #AllLivesMatter & #BlackLivesMatter dribble that I see on my FB Newsfeed, this racial war is deep-down not about the labels. [I talk about the dangers of label use in more detail in another post here] Whether you call it #ALM or #BLM, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that the people whom #BlackLivesMatter are representing are suffering because they’ve been mistreated by our blindly oppressive society for far too long. Therefore, contrary to its name, BLM is not about a division or supremacy of race. It’s an outcry for help, and we, people of privilege, need to do something about it because we are the ones with the blind power.

Don’t believe me? Today, I went through the national border between Germany and Switzerland, and even though I didn’t show my passport to the guard (because I absentmindedly left it in my luggage under the bus), he let me cross with a simple, “Oh, no problem!” No one else was offered the same leniency. THAT, my friends, is #whiteprivilege.

Ergo, please don’t get distracted by the labels when you are forming/expressing your opinion about BLM or ALM. It’s not about you and your self-pity of being unfairly perceived of as racist oppressors (even though we unknowingly are). So please don’t pretend that you are the victim.

If someone fell in front of you, you wouldn’t dismiss them because you don’t like the brand of their shirt. Would you!?! You would help them because they are hurt. It’s not about you and your perceived taste in shirts. Simple.

Thus the next time I see ALM or BLM hashtags followed by some pathetic whining about the unfair judgement against the privileged party or undeserved justice of the marginalized party, I WILL cross the nearest ocean, find you, and I WILL hug you…

…and hug you

…and hug you

…so tight

…until you swear to be more empathetic and less of a self-seeking victim (I would use another word, but I promised my father I wouldn’t swear as much in my blog).Yes, I just threatened you with hugs.

That, or I will team up with my culturally diverse & representative social media hounds and hunt you down. *cough Chris & Larisa *cough [Oh wait! You need cool GoT names.] *cough Sandor Clegane & Lyanna Mormont *cough

As always, thank you for reading.

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ONE FAIRTRADE und Kaffeerösterei: After War Comes Peace and with Peace Comes Coffee

Imagine walking into a café where even on an island mound, good coffee is found.

Hidden in the far northern reaches of Germany, lies a small storybook town. Cobblestone lines the roadways, facades of crow-step gable houses tower over, and Brick Gothic cathedrals beckon towards the sky, reminiscent of a medieval time. Throughout the millennia, this ancient town has been raided, occupied, bombed, and set ablaze, and yet, Lübeck remained; independent & neutral; forever known as the “lovely” (i.e., Luibice) Free City; the gateway to Scandinavia. And in this UNESCO World Heritage Site, which produced greats like Thomas Mann (writer of Death in Venice & The Magic Mountain), Justus von Dohnányi (actor of Women in Gold alongside Helen Miren), and Dieterich Buxtehude (composer & inspiration to Johann Sebastien Bach), lies a kaffeerösterei.

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Presenting…

ONE FAIRTRADE und Kaffeerösterei

[Königstraße 106, 23552 (Lübeck, Germany)]

ONE (a simple name, but with deep meaning) opened its doors to the public in the winter of ’14 by partners: Juliane Aigner & Aykut Kayabas. Don’t let their young age fool you. Both Aigner and Kayabas have been in the coffee business for over a decade. They know quality coffee when they see it (or should I say “drink it”).

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Quality of Service:

Speaking of quality, I was given the royal treatment of café visits by the man-of-the-hour himself: Aykut Kayabas. He (who looked oddly familiar) and his stunning barista welcomed me upon entering, and once seated, engaged in amicable chitchat. After mentioning my interest in coffee, Aykut offered several samples of the select beans for me to taste. He, then, patiently explained the origins and roasting times of each product, and subsequently, invited me to the front of the store to pay homage to their glorious roasting machine.

And then it hit me. He reminds me of Portlandia’s Fred Armisen. Fitting.

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Quality of Product:

Aykut’s beautiful sidekick served up a creamy cappuccino (2.80 euro, 300 yen, 4 dollars) made with their Espresso Klassisch (7% Robusta, 100% Fairtrade) blend with beans from India, Honduras, & Mexico. Its taste was as sweet as its price. As if the taste & price weren’t pleasing enough, each beverage is accompanied by piece of Fairtrade chocolate. I was so impressed with their espresso and their service that I purchased 250g of their single-origin Kolumbien, promising accents of orange. Liubice!

Learn more about their 100% Fairtrade products on their website [here] and FB page [here]

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Quality of Atmosphere:

I stumbled upon this kaffeerösterei by following my nose. Just like La Caféothèque in Paris, ONE roasts all of their beans onsite and the rich, earthy aroma can be smelt from blocks away, alluring customers like bees to honey. What a glorious and ingenious sales tactic!

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Last Remarks:

ONE stands for Organic, Natural, and Ethical, which is exactly the service, product, and atmosphere you will experience at this café, with a touch of Liubice. So, if you ever find  yourself in the north of Germany, follow your nose and your guilt-free conscious to the small storybook town of Lübeck.

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Comfort Rating:

4/5

four out of five

Helpful Coffee Tips:

Fairtrade coffee

Growing coffee, like cacao, takes a lot of sweat, blood, and tears. As a consumer, you are responsible for choosing sustainable beans that were cultivated by respectably paid farmers under ethical working conditions and not by exploited slave & child labor. You can guarantee yourself 100% guilt-free coffee by buying FAIRTRADE. Yes, it is slightly more expensive to go this route, but that extra money is going directly to the small farming cooperative, instead of the profit-hording middlemen. And you can rest easy knowing that your OrganicNaturalEthical petit noir is promoting ecological, economical, and ethical stability.

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

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Fairtrade is more about the principle than it is about the seal. It is about sustainable production, good working conditions, and fair wages ~Juliane Aigner

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.