Java Blend’s new Director of Coffee speaks on developing this new role, expanding your coffee knowledge and looks to the future of Java Blend.
I first met Liz Bishop in the Summer of 2020. Cortado Tasting Room was simulating a coffee competition for two baristas and Liz was asked to act as head judge. Liz is someone whose reputation precedes her. Not only was I aware of her pedigree in specialty coffee but several coworkers and bosses had impressed upon me her depth of knowledge, expertise and professionalism.
It’s not often that people can live up to that amount of hype but Liz certainly did. After recently moving home to Nova Scotia, Liz joined our team as Java Blend’s first Director of Coffee. She was kind enough to sit down with me in our separate working spaces and answer some questions about herself and her role via email:
Can you give me a brief rundown of your professional history in coffee?
Started as a Baby Barista 2004 at Just Us! Coffee in Wolfville and continued to move into various roles including Head Barista, Assistant Manager, Manager, Barista Trainer, and “Coffee Specialist” up until the end of 2017.
I really found my people and a deeper love of coffee in 2010 and 2011 when attending the SCA Expo in Houston and the BGA Camp Pull-A-Shot. I eventually became an IDP Instructor for some of the BGA Barista Level Classes and continued to attend Barista Camps as an instructor and served on the BGA Education Committee for a few years.
I began judging both regional and national Barista Competitions in the 2010-2011 season in Victoriaville, QC and various other competitions (Latte Art, Coffee in Good Spirits, Brewer’s Cup, Aeropress) since 2013. I believe I began participating as a Head Judge in 2016.
In 2016, I received my certification as an Arabica Q Grader.
Director of Coffee, Reunion Coffee Roasters, 2018-2021
Started as Director of Coffee at Java Blend and Sine Coffee Labs in 2021.
This is a new position for JB. What has the process of rolling it out been like?
Great. Super fun. Starting a new role does not come without its challenges but there is a special level of complexity where I created my own job description and tasks can change on a weekly basis. It’s all a learning process but I think it’s going well.
What are some things customers can expect to see in the future? Different coffees? Different procedures?
With Java Blend, I do hope to bring in a more diverse line up of featured coffees from a variety of origins, at the same time I want to build longer more sustainable relationships with producers. For example, we will be getting more of Fredy Ochoa’s coffee from Honduras this year. This is a relationship I hope to grow this year and continue in the future. I am working a lot with our roasting team to develop a more robust quality control program that will help to improve the day-to-day quality and consistency of our coffee line up.
Is there anything in particular you’re looking forward to doing in this role?
Drinking lots of delicious coffee and travelling again. I mean, isn’t that the dream? I’m also looking forward to discovering new avenues in my coffee career that were either put on hold or have not yet been explored.
You’re working in this role as part of Java Blend & Sine Coffee Labs. How do you approach these two brands differently?
For JB, it is important to know the profiles of the coffee lines and our customers who love them. We want to provide the best quality and consistency possible without losing sight of our values or our history. With Sine we have the opportunity to be a bit more adventurous with our offerings, for example the Guzman line-up we have right now is quite unique! But we all also love a delicious, washed Ethiopian, there is just so much range to play with!
What are some of your favourite coffee things right now? What does your coffee set up look like at home?
Right now, I am excited for fresh crop East African coffees. It is such a wonderful time of year when they start to arrive in the spring! It’s what I want to drink all day in the summer.
Do you want the short version or the long version? My coffee setup at home includes a Baratza Vario-W and a Bonavita 8-cup dripper… and a V-60 with range server…and a gooseneck kettle… and a kalita wave… an AMC scale… cupping bowls and spoons…shall I go on or it that enough?
What would be the first thing you recommend someone get for their home coffee set-up?
A good burr grinder and perhaps a water filter depending on what your water is like. I know this sounds like old hat but a good grinder that produces consistently even grinds will go a long way when it comes to the quality of coffee you are brewing. It’s a small investment that will hopefully last you for years. Step away from the spice grinder and into a new level of brewing!
You’ve done a lot of work on palate development. What’s one thing people at home could do to improve their palettes?
Taste lots of different things all the time. Take account of everything you smell and taste and really pay attention and take notes. Next time you are at a grocery store, pick up a fruit that you haven’t tried before or haven’t had in a long time. There are also a few activities that could also be fun to do with your family or friends that we sometimes do when doing calibration training like a chocolate tasting. Find a few different types of good quality chocolate (for example milk, 50% dark, 75% dark, and bittersweet) and taste them all from lightest/most milk and sugar to darkest/least sugar. If chocolate isn’t your bag, try a variety of citrus fruits!
What’s your go to drink at a cafe?
I usually like to ask what’s on for drip or feature pour-over before going for a 4-6oz milk and espresso beverage. To be honest, I usually go for both.
What’s a non-coffee thing that excites you right now? What’s giving you joy?
Growing food. I get excited about growing things in the summer and I’ve never had this much space to grow in Nova Scotia, so it’ll be an experiment to grow tomatoes and hot peppers out here.
Favourite beverage that isn’t coffee related?
Do I only get to choose one? Wine and beer are definitely at the top of the list. In the darkest days of the pandemic, I considered leaving coffee to explore careers in both. I also love a good Negroni.
Now that you’re back on the east coast what are you most looking forward to about post-lockdown Nova Scotia Summer vibes?
I have a healthy fear of and respect for the ocean, but I always love swimming in it when I get the chance. Also, some family cottage times out in the Valley.
How have you seen/foresee the industry changing as a result of this year?
It’s great to see so many people step up their brewing at home! I’ve seen many shops really up their online sales game when it comes to beans, brewing equipment and filters. There also seems to be great support from the communities surrounding the shops.
The lack of competitions and events is one of the biggest changes. They are like benchmarks that many of us look forward to, and I for one can’t wait to be together with some amazing people and drink coffee again.
And finally: If you could compare yourself to any animal, what would it be and why?
Oh, boy. Well, one of my favourite animals of all time must be the horse. I used to have a Percheron named Moose when I was younger and we spent a lot of time together when I was an angsty teenager. Riding on the trails behind my family’s farm was a perfect way to connect with nature and my love for hiking and walking continues today. Horses are fiercely loyal, dependable, and supportive when treated with respect, kindness, and love. I can see a lot of that in myself.
As Java Blend prepares to move into a new era it’s encouraging to see such a knowledgeable, enthusiastic and down to earth person with a hand on the wheel.