Faced with so many tantalizing options on a coffee shop menu, my usual order is a basic drip coffee with milk — rather uninspired, I know. So this year, I aim to be more creatively caffeinated. Enter Juan Sarmiento, owner of Vereda Central.

Juan is undoubtedly an expert in his field. Fifteen years ago, he and his best friend and business partner, Santiago, began roasting beans in their garage in Bogotá, Colombia. Since relocating to Canada five years ago, Juan and his family have opened three Vereda Central locations, two in Oakville. 

I recently sat down with Juan for a crash course in all things coffee. By the time I finished my Americano, I felt equipped with the knowledge and confidence to make more exciting coffee choices.

What does Juan personally recommend? “Americano, flat white or cafe latte tend to be popular orders, alongside anything seasonal,” he shared. “For me, it’s about the time of day and my mood. I like to mix it up.”

Santiago directly sources premium beans from Colombian farmers and ships them to Juan in Canada for roasting in their two on-site facilities. This direct process, bypassing middlemen and investing in infrastructure, goes beyond fair trade standards. Only top-quality beans, tested and rated, make it to the roasting process.

With over 270 flavour profiles and countless brewing and ingredient combinations, how does one choose what to order?

Juan suggests considering five key points to find your perfect cup:

Do you prefer your coffee milky or black? 

Roast choice is influenced by acidity versus smoothness. Go light for fruity acidic notes, dark for robust chocolatey depth and medium for balance.

Personal taste is also affected by extraction methods (espresso, drip, pour-over).

Milk ratios (or milk alternatives) for espresso-based coffees determine the style of drink e.g. cappuccino vs. latte or macchiato — seek guidance on this from your barista.

Flavours and sweetness can be added with syrups and spice blends to suit your taste.

While coffee shops offer expert guidance and a vibrant atmosphere, you can also bring that café vibe home.

Gustavo Castelar is your go-to for this. He and his partners have been roasting Salvadoran specialty coffee at Firebat Coffee Roasters since 2016. Their freshly roasted beans are available online, or directly from their roastery. While browsing their website, check out their blog for tips on grinding and brewing like a pro at home.

Although I typically prefer a French press, after exploring the Firebat blog, I’m inspired to try the clever dripper method. It combines the bold flavour of a French press with the clarity of a pour-over. Their step-by-step instructions make me feel like I’m a capable barista.

Gustavo advises approaching coffee brewing like a science experiment. “Test various extraction techniques and grinds and make adjustments until you find what works best for you.” 

Extraction refers to the amount of caffeine and flavour extracted by hot water from coffee. The grind size determines the extraction rate — finer grind yields faster extraction while coarser grind slows it down. For instance, espresso, with its very fine grind, requires only about 30 seconds of brew time; any longer results in a bitter, over-extracted taste. On the other hand, a French press needs a coarse grind due to extended contact with hot water.

Hot tip (literally): Temperature matters! Aim for water at 93-96 degrees Celsius. Achieve this by letting your water rest for 30 to 60 seconds after boiling.

Gustavo says to expect some trial and error, but this basic formula for common coffee methods and their corresponding grinds will get you started:

French press – coarse, similar to raw sugar

Drip – finer than French press, roughly like kosher salt

Pour-over – finer than drip, akin to sea salt

Be sure to check out Vereda Central, Firebat Coffee, and other local specialty coffee roasters. And remember, a day without coffee is like… just kidding! I have no idea. I’ve never experienced it, and I don’t plan to. 

Local Roasters and Specialty Coffee Shops

Vereda Central, Oakville

Firebat Coffee, Burlington

Tribeca Coffee, Burlington and Oakville

Pilot Coffee Roasters, Oakville 

Tamp Coffee, Burlington 

Taste of Colombia, Bronte

Peach Coffee Co, Burlington and Bronte

Brothers Coffee Roasters, Oakville

Detour Coffee, Dundas

Wet Coffee, Oakville

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