A little over a week ago, Beanstock Coffee Festival took over Toronto town for, what turned out to be, an even bigger and all-encompassing event than their inaugural Beanstock event in Vancouver last year. I had the chance to speak with local coffee super star, creator of The Little Black Coffee Cup, and other delicious coffee oddities, Ashley Tomlinson, who attended Beanstock and was able to give us a bit of insight into how the two days went down.
As we begin to grow at The Barista League, the coffee communities seem to get even more close-knit and innovative! These conversations are meant to highlight those coffee competitions or events that might be new, but certainly still worth talking about.
*if you are putting on competitions similar to The Barista League or other sweet counter coffee events in your town, get in touch! We'd love to hear about it.
Ash: Tell me a bit about about your role in the Toronto Coffee Community and what role, if any, you had at Beanstock.
Ashley: For the most part, at Beanstock I got to sit back, relax, fill up my reusable cup with lots of delicious coffees, and enjoy the festival as a highly-caffeinated spectator. Grant Gamble is the visionary behind the event. He works with a green coffee importing company called Mountain Coffee. Grant, together with Lionel Robitaille, Mengo McCall, and lots of other dedicated coffee pros/volunteers/coffee stars made this festival happen with all their tireless work.
In early 2017 I launched the Toronto Coffee Community as a media project to a) solve my own problem of keeping track of all the coffee shop openings and events happening in the city, and b) as a platform to help build community and host some fun events with coffee friends. I’d say TCCs’ biggest contribution or role was being a instagram PA system leading up to the event. I did my best to keep everyone informed of what was happening with Beanstock and all the events surrounding… and to help keep the local coffee community excited about it using lots of emojis, .gifs, and insta-story polls.
Also, the Canadian Chapter of the Specialty Coffee Association offered some free coffee education talks during Beanstock and they asked yours truly to moderate a panel of coffee professionals weighing in on the topic, How to Choose the Right Coffee For You. Which sounded simple when I first agreed, but turns out it’s a MASSIVE topic. So it was a great opportunity to participate in the event and the perfect excuse to spend some time contemplating, and asking questions about, how and why we make the coffee choices we do.
Ash: Tell me a bit about some of the successes of Beanstock.
Ashley: Since single-use coffee cups are my nemesis, I think the reusable mug program—where every attendee received a mini Beanstock mug upon entering the festival—was a huge hit. Aside from keeping tens of thousands of plastic-lined paper cups out of a landfill, I think it was also a smart marketing move. Almost every photo posted on social media from the event had a Beanstock branded ceramic in it, and now every attendee has a Beanstock mug in their cupboard at home. My fingers are crossed that the success of reusables at Beanstock will encourage other coffee festivals, events, and conferences to rethink disposables.
Since Canada is a vast land, the fact that a Toronto festival attracted roasters and equipment suppliers from as far west as Vancouver is a pretty big deal. All of the 30+ roasters represented on both days were Canadian. In terms of international appearances, David Salinas from Department of Brewology flew up from Austin Texas, and Cill Fisher of Floozy Coffee came all the way from Newcastle, Australia to participate in SCA talks and events surrounding Beanstock. It was a treat to have them both there.
Ash: Were there any sideline events that accompanied Beanstock?
Ashley: Yes! There were a ton of events and this was—what I like to call—an unprecedented, epic Toronto coffee weekend.
The Toronto Regional Aeropress Championship was the official kick off party for the weekend. Rachel Rava, Gemma Morrison-Hunt (both from Pilot Coffee Roasters) and myself (Toronto Coffee Community) were the key organizational team behind the Aeropress Regional Championship. We also worked closely with and had lots of support from the folks at Beanstock and Canada SCA. Despite blowing out the power in the venue at the very beginning of the aeropress competition due to the barrage of competitor kettles, grinders, the DJ, and the mic set-up, it turned out to be an electrifying event with 27 competitors, tons of rad prizes from our sponsors, and a packed house.
Beanstock worked very closely with the awesome folks over at the Canadian Chapter of the Specialty Coffee Association (which became an official organization last year—whoop, whoop!!) to link the festival event up with the Canadian National Barista Championship. So, the festival and competitions were a quick walk along the lake Ontario harbourfront from one another, which encouraged a lot of back and forth between the two. Making the Barista Champs happen was truly a labor of love from the Canada SCA team: Sam Le, Josh Hockin, Adam Pesce, Mike Strumpf, Jennifer Farnell, Gabriel Navarro and a lots of volunteers.
And also, Aleida Stone who is a coffee value chain research and development consultant by day, launched a new event series in the community called Unfiltered. She hosted her first event on the Thursday evening prior to Beanstock which was a latte artthrowdown/panel discussion on diversity and inclusion in the coffee industry. It was a really great turn out and the beginning of some really important and uncomfortable conversations—combined with some oat milk latte art fun!
Ash: How was the vibe?
Ashley: I’d describe Beanstock as a chiller version of The New York Coffee Festival. Very friendly and consumer focused. Good tunes coming out of the DJ booth, filter coffee to taste from almost every vendor, with the option to buy coffees and other merch as well—generally good vibes all around. There was an espresso bar in the middle of the main multilevel space with a variety of machines featuring rotating roasters and ample equipment to get nerdy over if you wanted to—or not. There were also some free education sessions put on by the Canada SCA, which was a nice feature. Conversations ranged from, Stump the Coffee Professionals, to Personal Wellness in the Coffee Industry.
There was also a wrap up party, which admittedly, I didn’t attend because I was totally wiped by the end of it all! But, it was hosted at Boxcar Social and featuring the release of the trailer for the highly anticipated Barista II film, so I'm sure it was rad for all those who went.