Elevating Whistler’s coffee

There are plenty of cafes in Whistler, but most local coffee lovers would agree that there's always room for another cup of quality coffee. Enter The Lift Coffee Company.

Longtime locals Mike and Julie Edwards have recently gotten into the coffee business in a big way: they've purchased Java at Nesters and Rosalind's in Function Junction and launched The Lift Coffee Company at the former home of Behind the Grind and the UPS Store, right next to Bavaria.

"We've lived in Whistler for 21 years, so we've been here forever and saw there was an opportunity for specialty coffee," Mike said.

Julie explained that the couple traveled to many other ski resorts in recent years, and realized that in every town they visited, they gravitated towards the locals' favourite coffee shops to find out about the community. They want The Lift to become that locals' hangout in Whistler.

"We think it's a cross between a European café, you come off the mountain and instead of going for beer, you have a choice to go for coffee, tea or dessert," Mike said. "And it's also influenced by Melbourne and Sydney cafés - they have an incredible café culture there, where really interesting and unique food is being pumped out of small little kitchens."

At their mountainside location of The Lift, formerly known as Behind the Grind, they've hired Chef Jamie MacAulay, who is currently developing a brand new menu that will feature simple dishes and fresh, local ingredients.

"I think we have a really nice story: it's his shop to create something and to put his stamp on it," Mike said. "The key for Julie and I, having been here for 20 years, gone through it all, we want to drive it and direct it. But each of these locations is unique in that it's the personality of the manager."

Java and Rosalind's will carry on operations as usual under the direction of their current managers, with Rosalind supplying her yummy baked goods to all of the other locations. The Edwards have also hired an aficionado to handle the coffee quality at all four of their locations in Whistler.

Izumi Inoue is originally from Tokyo, Japan, but has spent years traveling from ski town to ski town in search of powder and fun in the great outdoors. A few years ago, the young woman became curious about latte art and decided she wanted to learn to become a barista. As it turns out, it wasn't such an easy feat. During her early 20s, she traveled around the world looking for a place to train until finally finding an English language school in Australia. There, her curiosity blossomed into a full-fledged passion, which is still evident today when she discusses the art of making a perfect cup of coffee.

She came to Whistler in 2004, splitting her time between ski instructing and working as a barista whenever she can find a café that shared her coffee philosophy.

You see, Inoue won't work at just any coffee shop.

"When I try to find a job, I always walk in there first and see the atmosphere and see the espresso machines and grinders, and what kind of coffee they're serving," she said. "If I really like their style, then I apply."

She worked for a while in Whistler's Hotbox, also known as Café de la Place, before it closed. It wasn't until recently, when The Lift came onto Whistler's café scene, that Inoue found an establishment that met with her exacting standards.

The new location of The Lift opened at the end of May, but Inoue said they've already developed a small, loyal following, which includes a few familiar faces from her days at Café de la Place.

"It's amazing to see them back here every day, once again," she said.

In her mind, the secret to making a quality coffee lies in the barista's passion.

"You really want the customer to enjoy the best coffee, all the time. If you don't have that, it's not going to work."

She says that equipment and beans are each 30 per cent of the equation, while the remaining 40 per cent is all up to the barista.

"What you're used to is the best for you," she explained.

So where does she go to get her favourite drink, a macchiato?

"I really pick," she admitted with a slight smile. "I haven't been to a Starbucks or a franchise coffee shop on my own to drink coffee. If I have to go to those places because my friends drink them, then I drink tea."


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