(Featured photo: Ashley Tomlinson.)
The concept is simple: swap coffees with a different city so people in both areas can taste new coffees and connect with the other community through concurrent events.
The idea came to life in the recent Cross Canada Coffee Swap between Toronto and Vancouver. The swap provided a more meaningful connection than social media scrolling—without requiring investment in a flight across time zones to attend a trade show.
Vania Ling of Vancouver’s Coffee Potluck says the recent Cross Country Coffee Swap began to take shape during this year’s SCA Expo in Seattle, Washington. “The inspiration for the event sparked from a conversation I had with Ashley Tomlinson of the Little Black Coffee Cup,” Ling says. “This year at SCA, we hosted a discussion panel of independent coffee media called Coffee ON:line. Ashley and I thought it would be great to share coffees from our respective cities to increase inclusivity and exposure for the lesser known local roasters. The event was a collaboration between Coffee Potluck and the newly formed Toronto Coffee Community.”
Roasters were invited by Tomlinson and Coffee Potluck to include both “unsung heroes” and core representative roasters of each city. Coffee Potluck had already been hosting monthly tastings, but the swap was a way to experience coffee on a national scale—both cities tasted the same eight coffees on the same day, four from each city.
In Toronto, the tasting took place at Boxcar Social’s Temperance location; local featured coffees were from Reunion Island, Pilot Coffee Roasters, Hatch, and De Mello Palheta. In Vancouver, the tasting was held at Nemesis Coffee, with local representation from Moving Coffee, 32 Lakes Coffee Roasters, Groundswell Roasters, and Regard Coffee Roasters.
“In Vancouver, we hosted an open tasting and a triangulation competition as a way to create an understanding of the National Cup Tasters Competition, which took place on May 21 in Calgary,” Ling says.
The swap focused on bridging the distance between the two cities, and growing education around Canadian coffee. The Toronto Coffee Community hosted the tasting as a cupping, and openly walked newbies through the process.
For Alfonso Tupaz, head of Hatch Coffee, a roaster and cold-brew bottler in Markham (outside Toronto), the concept made good on its promise to breed community, not competition. “Coffee is about bringing people together, but it’s a bit strange that in Canada, coffee roasters and those in the industry rarely get together,” he says. “An event like this helps to bring us together and highlights the coffee community in Toronto.”
Tomlinson says they’d like to host similar events in the future. “We’d love to do more Canadian coffee swaps, maybe with more than two cities tasting at the same time,” she says. “We’d also like to swap with other local coffee communities in the United States and around the world.”
Events like the swap highlight the united community behind specialty coffee and introduce consumers to the idea of coffee as a differentiated product. Says Hatch’s Tupaz: “The swap helps to adopt the view that we’re all in this together, to promote the entire value chain to more people. It’s hard to do in an industry where there’s a lot of ego and ideas about how coffee should be. Sharing experience and knowledge strengthens the industry as a whole.”
—Rachel Northrop is a regular contributor to Fresh Cup, a sales rep for Ally Coffee, and the author of the book When Coffee Speaks: Stories from and of Latin American Coffeepeople.