Canada’s Top Barista on How Travel Transforms the Way We Drink Coffee

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We sat down with Calgary-based barista Jill Hoff to find out how to experience a destination’s coffee culture, the biggest mistake people make when brewing a pot at home and why she packs instant coffee wherever she goes.

In March 2020, Jill Hoff, a barista at Calgary’s Monogram Coffee, won the 2020 National Barista Championship (Hoff is the first woman to take home the title). During the competition in Victoria, Hoff had 15 minutes to brew and serve 12 themed espresso drinks, including a signature drink based on her chosen theme of connecting flavour with memory.

To win the competition, Hoff used coffees from Elida Estate in Panama, a high-altitude, bird-friendly family farm surrounded by Volcan Baru National Park that has produced coffee since 1918. As Hoff served the judges, she played audio from a conversation she had with one of the producers about his memory of tasting that same type of coffee for the first time. It echoed her own. “Elida has developed a technique called anaerobic slow dry (ASD) where they ferment the coffee cherry anaerobically and then dry it for a really long time,” Hoff says. “This process intensifies the flavours – it is super fruity and juicy and so, so sweet.”

October 28, 2020
A portrait of Jill Hoff in a white blouse and beige jacket standing in front of a hanging plant
Jill Hoff, winner of the 2020 National Barista Championship in Victoria, B.C.   Photo: April Wilcocks

enRoute How did travel change how you drink coffee?

Jill Hoff I have had the opportunity to travel and experience coffee in many places, and by doing so it has enriched my love and appreciation for coffee, and for the places I’ve visited. Coffee has its own unique place in culture everywhere you go, and it’s always interesting to see how people enjoy coffee in other parts of the world. You might discover a new way to enjoy it, or a new type of coffee that you hadn’t had the opportunity to experience at home and integrate that into your daily ritual once you return.

A top view of the lush forests and mountains of Panama
To win the championship, Hoff used two coffees from Elida Estate in Panama.   Photo: Aljoscha Laschgari

ER At the National Barista Competition, you used coffee from a farm in Panama – what makes that coffee in particular so special?

JH I used two coffees from Elida Estate in Panama, both of which are a departure from the average coffee you would be served at a café. One was a variety called Catuai, which is a common variety made special by the processing, and the other was a washed Gesha variety, which is floral and citrusy and super delicate – it is my personal all-time favourite coffee.

ER What is the biggest mistake most people make when they’re making coffee at home?

JH The number one issue I hear about is inconsistency: It tastes really good one day, and completely different the next (and honestly, there’s nothing worse than a bad cup of coffee first thing in the morning!). I recommend investing in equipment that will help you make great consistent coffee every day, like a good burr grinder and a scale. Next, find a recipe that you like and repeat it every day.

ER There are “rules” for drinking tea and wine – what about coffee?

JH We have all been taught that we need our coffee super hot, but as coffee cools the flavours open up and it can showcase new flavours that you don’t get when it’s really hot. I encourage you to let your coffee cool a little bit and see how it changes!

ER What can people do to enrich their coffee-drinking experience on their travels?

JH Research different cafés in the cities you’re going to be visiting and then when you get there, talk to the baristas and ask them for a recommendation – cafés often have a rotating feature menu and you might discover something you never knew was out there, and maybe you’ll find a new favourite. Coffee is very social and experiential, and getting the opportunity to have those coffee experiences in other places makes it even more special.

Gesha coffee beans growing in Panama
Gesha coffee cherries.   Photo: Rodrigo Flores

ER What is your favourite travel-related coffee memory?

JH It’s hard to pick just one! But when I visited Portland, Oregon, recently I went to a café called Proud Mary. (It first opened in Melbourne and the owners decided to open another one in Portland.) It has such an impressive coffee menu, the food is absolutely beautiful and delicious – it’s amazing. I had the opportunity to meet the owner  and he gave me a tour and let me come around behind the bar – he really went the extra mile to make my visit so memorable.

Jill Hoff at SCA Canada
Hoff at the National Barista Championship.   Photo: Britney Townsend

The Questionnaire

  • Favourite souvenir Ceramic coffee mugs.

  • Dream seatmate All my friends and family (they can fit in one seat, right?!)

  • First travel memory Disneyland with my family growing up.

  • Top travel hack Pack instant coffee! There are so many specialty coffee companies that have instant coffee now, and the quality is quite good – you never want to be stuck somewhere without coffee!

  • Bucket list destination Japan – I would love to experience the food and the culture.

  • Travel has the power to… build lasting memories and provide new experiences.

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