I am excited this month for our Coffee Roaster of the Month feature to be back showcasing a Canadian roaster! Let me introduce you to Pop Coffee Works.
Founded in 2018 by Abe Shen & Lana Shi, they do all of their roasting out of Mississauga and opened up their first cafe in downtown Toronto (just off Dundas & Jarvis). It felt like Pop Coffee’s emergence onto the specialty coffee scene came seemingly out of nowhere but what wasn’t hard to miss were their iconic fun & funky coffee bags!
I was thrilled to get my hands on some of their coffee back in November 2018, and I was instantly impressed. Not only are their bags a feast for the eyes, their coffee is a feast for the senses. So I reached out to Lana & Abe to invite them to be the August “Coffee Roaster of the Month” and they were thrilled.
Q: So where are you from, and how long have you called Toronto home?
I (Lana) moved to Vancouver in 2007. I am originally from Guangdong, China. We then moved to Toronto from 2013-2015. The city is so vibrant and cool, and after we moved back to Vancouver in 2015, we still really missed the time we spent in Toronto. Toronto is such an amazing city, so we decided to start our business here so that we could move back to where we’ve always missed. So Abe & I then moved from Vancouver to Toronto two years ago.
Tell our readers a bit more about your backstory in specialty coffee!
Abe: My first ever job working with coffee was at a franchised café in Vancouver. Shortly after I started working, I took a coffee course with Water Avenue in Portland and became fascinated by specialty coffee. Ever since then, I couldn’t stop learning. I then went on to complete all the SCA pathway courses (Barista Level 1 & 2, Cup Taster 1 & 2, Green Buyer, Roaster 1 & 2, and Golden Cup Technician) and even got my CQI Q-Arabica Grader certificate in the following 2-3 years.
I went to train with Mike Perry (head roaster of Klatch Coffee) before I opened Pop Coffee Works.
Wow, that is quite the journey! Who were some of your early influences then?
I was lucky enough to be trained by some of the most amazing coffee mentors before I started my business:
Mike Perry – Head roaster at Klatch Coffee
Summer Zhang – Assistant roaster at Onxy Coffee Lab
Mane Alves – Q-Instructor from Artisan Coffee
Jen Apocada – Royal Coffee Inc.
Dixon Ip – Coffee Lab Asia
Ma Chao – Torch Coffee Lab (Yunnan)
Some of the cafes that have inspired me in my journey are:
Water Avenue Café
Go get’em tiger
Q: Tell us more about the history of Pop Coffee Works? How did it all begin?
Abe: I learned to be a barista/café manager from working at the franchised shop. There were mostly standardized tasks which didn’t satisfy my curiosity for coffee. I had to get myself a lever espresso machine and a Mazzer mini doser grinder so that I could practice and better understand the basics at home. I also got a tiny roaster (Huky 500) to roast in my garage.
I would read any books I could find about roasting and tried to apply the theory into my roasting practices. After taking the SCA pathways courses and learning from very experienced mentors, I felt like I am ready to step out of my comfort zone and start my own business. I travelled to a lot of places and met so many amazing people through coffee and I am happy that I made the right decision to start a career in coffee.
Q: So why the name Pop Coffee Works for your company/cafe?
I first thought about using the word “Pop” is because of the dance style that I do which is called Popping. “Pop” is also the sound you hear when the coffee is being roasted to first crack (or even second crack), so, Pop coffee works!
We opened our Toronto cafe back in March 2018. We roast on a 15KG Coffee-tech Engineering Ghibli and we also roast samples and small batches on 1.5KG Bideli roaster.
Q: What’s significant/special about the coffee community in Toronto?
We are still pretty new to the community, but there are a lot of Latte Art Throw-downs and now we are seeing lots of public cupping events and other coffee events. It’s a loving community.
Your coffee bags are certainly very unique. How did they come about?
The bag was designed by my funk brother Mark Cabuena, when we can, we get funky. With the bag design, we got funky.
The elements on the bag:
- UFO: We are both big fans of Parliament Funkadelic, the UFO is inspired by the album cover of “Mothership Connection”.
- Butterflies around the coffee plants: From Willem Boot’s Coffee Courses, he briefly talked about how the wild coffee plants of many varieties were “crossbred” through butterflies in Ethiopia. I don’t know if the “crossbreed” is just a myth, but I saw many butterflies around coffee trees myself when I visited the forests in Ethiopia.
- Astronaut taking off with the EK: We use EK43 grinder at our shop and the barista is the astronaut. It is basically saying, with good coffee + skilled baristas + great machine, we can take you to the space.
So speaking of coffee, what are you drinking/enjoying right now?
Filter – Natural Ethiopia Gersi Orsi, natural Yemen
Espresso – Suga Pop Blend
Tell the readers of thebloom.coffee about some of your recent accomplishments. Or any upcoming announcements?
I (Abe) just got my CQI Q-Processing Level 1 certificate and hopefully will be able to take my processing level 2 at origin someday soon (fingers crossed!)
Q: Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
You can find our coffee at Timber Coffee Co in Alberta 🙂
Find their beans:
If you’re looking to get your hands on some beans then definitely check out their web-shop for what they’re currently roasting!
And like they mentioned, you find their coffee in Alberta at Timber Coffee Co in Sylvan Lake. I was there this past week and they had a great selection available.
Thank you so much to Abe & Lana for sharing with us more about Pop Coffee Works and for being a key part in the coffee culture in Toronto! Keep up the great work!