Meet Brian Lee: Espro Sales Lead and Resident Coffee Connoisseur

ESPRO's coffee connoisseur Brian Lee

Learn what makes Vancouver’s coffee scene so unique and where to find the best brew, according to Brian

From his humble beginnings hustling as a busboy at Caffè Artigiano, to managing the East Hastings location (a place so busy the team would craft between 600 to 800 lattes a day), to working alongside the owner of Caffe Divano—Brian has been immersed in the specialty coffee world for most of his adult life. In the early days of ESPRO, Brian joined our nimble team as our Sales Lead and brought along his in-depth knowledge of Vancouver’s specialty coffee scene. We sat down with Brian to impart some of his wisdom, and to share some of his well-researched recommendations with you.

Why do you love coffee so much?

I love the unpredictability of coffee. Every cafe I go to, I get a different taste, a different experience—it’s an experience where nobody is wrong because it is all about personal preference. That’s something I love about coffee, everyone can have their own brew parameter. 

I’m always chasing that “God Shot” which is an industry term for the perfectly brewed espresso shot or drip coffee. On the business side, I love it because it never goes through a recession, no matter what, people will always drink coffee.

What drew you to working at ESPRO?

I was never a fan of the French Press because of the common problems (coffee gets stronger over time) and I hated the experience of chewing the coffee grinds at the end. So trying the ESPRO press for the first time, it really had that wow factor, and the more research I did, I could tell that really smart people were behind the company. Over time I slowly grew into being the biggest advocate for the brand. Fun fact, I didn't even know I was getting into sales when I first got hired, but Bruce found a natural salesman in me. I’ve always been a hard worker, and alongside Bruce and Chris, I was confident we were on the way to something really great.

What’s your favorite ESPRO product?

Definitely the Travel Press and Ultralight Press. It's the most functional and complete product that we’ve ever come out with. It’s so versatile, you can take it anywhere.

What are your thoughts on the Vancouver specialty coffee scene?

Vancouver has definitely solidified its position as the coffee capital of Canada. As far as diversity goes there’s nothing close to Vancouver in the country. I love that specialty coffee is on every corner, you never need to go out of your way to find it. Vancouver is a slow-paced city which I love, and that means that specialty coffee has the ability to take its time. Vancouverites are so patient, they really value a good end product. Culturally speaking, Vancouver is very mature—people here put a premium experience before anything else and are willing to pay top dollar for it. With that, there’s an opportunity for a lot of creativity.

Who is your favorite local roaster?

I love Timbertrain Coffee Roasters. You always get a really good coffee from them because they only hire top employees. They’re also a very scrappy brand. If you order a five-pound bag of coffee, the owner shows up at your door the next day to give it to you. They showcase so much creativity and I love their branding. Their most recent coffee launch, Gumdrop, is just so creative. So before I even see what it’s about, I’ll just buy the coffee. I’m such a sucker for good marketing.

What is exciting to you about the future of fourth wave coffee?

The future of fourth wave coffee is raising more awareness in the general public—it’s about getting the word out about specialty coffee and convincing people that there’s a better way to brew. The roasters that are doing well are the ones connecting with their community and creating some positive impact. For example, if you buy a bag of coffee, you might be helping a little girl in Guatemala finish school. This kind of social change initiative is something we’re also passionate about at ESPRO.

If you could do a cafe tour of any city in the world where would it be?

I’m at a stage where I’ve seen it all in North America, so I would tour Japan. I know for a fact that the top-top-top-top green bean is sold to Japanese roasters in an auction. They have a barrel-aged coffee that sells for $900 USD a cup.

Describe the best cup of coffee you've ever had?

The “God Shot” I tasted, which I still cannot replicate to this day, is from Blue Bottle Coffee in San Francisco. They’re an industry leader and one of the top-tier specialty coffee brands in the world. I went to San Francisco in 2012 and walked into one of their locations. I thought the cafe would be too busy to pay me their full attention, but that was not the case. On their menu, they listed a shot of espresso for $12. I was curious about what could make two ounces of coffee worth that much. It turns out they had a rare Geisha varietal that was on the menu for two weeks. The barista wasted about 8-10 shots before serving me. Shot after shot went down the drain. I think she wasted almost half a bag of coffee on making me this one cup. I finally got the shot and WOW. How can I describe it? It was a flavor bomb! It started very floral with jasmine then into mint chocolate and it ended with very intense berry notes. It actually hit all of my personally preferred tasting notes that I expect from a coffee. For the rest of my four days there, I ordered shot after shot. I think I spent around sixty dollars, but it was by far the best coffee I’ve ever had.

Finally, how do you take your coffee? Is it always the same, or does it depend on the day?

I always take it straight-up out of respect for the farmer and everyone in the process. This way, you get to taste the entire journey in your cup. An espresso shot is the deepest and most pure story of the coffee you’re drinking.

With coffee connoisseurs like Brian on our team, we’ll continue to build tools that celebrate and elevate the best roasters and coffees out there. Explore some of Brian’s favorite ESPRO products here