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From Bean to Brew: The Road to Blending Gold Medal Espresso

Thanks to master roaster Brian Turko, Vancouver is home to some of the best espresso in the world.

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Vancouver’s Milano Coffee Lounge and Tasting Bar is bustling with activity, but the back room is arguably even busier. That’s where master roaster Brian Turko has spent the last few years developing his award-winning espresso blends. “If you ran into me between 2003 and 2010, I apologize,” he says, laughing. After all, someone had to taste-test those blends—and Turko did, thousands of times over.

The permanent caffeine buzz was worth it. La Futura, a full-bodied espresso blend, won the Medaglia D’Oro in 2012, beating out stiff global competition to be named the best espresso in the world. This year, Turko replicated that success when his two newest blends, Butter and Velvet, also won gold medals from the International Institute of Coffee Tasters. Turko credits his high bean count for the accolades. While most roasters work with a blend of only three or four beans, Turko’s espressos contain as many as thirteen different ones, carefully selected to work in harmony. A guitar player as well as master roaster, he likens the process to making music—balancing various notes to create something beautiful. He even groups his beans in triads, just like chords.

Turko’s passion for the process is obvious. He urges me to finish my espresso within a minute of its arrival, when the flavours are at their purest. It’s La Futura—a mouthful of creamy vanilla and dry cocoa. The next cup arrives, but before I can drink up, he sweeps it aside—this one was “tapped too hard” on the table. As we wait, he tells me that Velvet is reminiscent of crème brulée, and when the espresso arrives, untapped this time, it makes good on that promise. Butter is the final blend, and I can taste the smoothness from which it takes its name, along with deep, caramel undertones.

There are other espresso blends to try—Milano cafés keep up to eight on tap everyday—but after three cups, I’m pretty keyed up, and starting to understand where Turko gets his seemingly boundless energy from. Now that he’s won multiple gold medals for his espresso blends, Turko isn’t pausing. Instead, he’s moving straight into the world of drip coffee, undoubtedly with the same zeal he brings to blending espresso.

Visit one of Milano’s three Vancouver locations to taste these gold medal blends for yourself, or check out milanocoffee.ca for more information.

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