The City’s Coffee Kings

Josh Hockin and Ben Put take a cup of joe to a totally new level
Craig Janzen

If you frequent one of Transcend Coffee’s three locations around town, then without even being aware, you could have had your latte, cappuccino or Americano made by one of the two best baristas in Alberta.

Josh Hockin, who placed eighth last year at the Canadian National Barista Championships and second at the regional competition, and Ben Put, who placed second nationally and first at regionals, work humbly behind the bar at Transcend, blending in with their co-workers, despite their exceptional espresso skills.

“Because it is underground enough, it doesn’t really matter, to be honest,” Put says with a laugh and a shrug. “It’s more what it means to you than any sort of celebrity status.”

But consider how essential coffee is to a huge majority of the population — it can simply be part of the rhythm of life or the comfort that gets you through a particularly rough night. Now, don’t you think these guys deserve just a little status? They hold the key to an elixir that powers the workforce and most of us consume it without consideration every day.

“Coffee is an agricultural product,” says Hockin, who tries very hard to rein in his passion for coffee. “It’s so easy to forget that. What we drink is the extracts of the roasted seeds of a cherry.” He points out that coffee is a vital commodity to all sorts of developing nations in both Central America and Africa, each with different growing seasons, environments and extraction processes that affect the flavour of the bean when it finally goes into a cup. 

According to Put, being able to pick up on those differences, noting hints of strawberry or blueberry in a bean, is part of what makes a champion behind the bar. “Our culture focuses on things other than taste,” says Put. But being able to understand and describe the flavour of a drink goes a long way to being able to make that drink better.

If you’re wondering, Hockin likes his coffee black and Put favours a good French press or a cappuccino, noting that the cappuccino is a good drink for those interested in transitioning into the smaller beverages. And these experts are full of helpful advice —they even refuse to fulfill requests that would compromise the taste.

“It’s very easy to come off pretentious or snobby,” says Hockin. “That’s not our aim, ever. There are some things that we just won’t do. People will ask for a 180-degree latte and at that point all of the sugars in the milk get burned irreparably. It makes the drink taste worse, so we just can’t do that.”

Sugar itself, they politely suggest, should only be added after you take a sip to tell if it’s needed. “People get into a routine of always doing the same thing to their coffee,” Put says, “and it’s almost the same as if you bought food in a restaurant and you immediately started salting it.”

Between the two, they’ve also witnessed countless coffee dates and when it comes to ordering to impress, Put says be yourself.

“It’s funny to watch a guy trying to impress a girl by ordering an espresso and try to be more manly,” Hockin says. “Quite often the most masculine guys order vanilla lattes, really sweet drinks. It’s sort of counter-intuitive but they’re cool with it. They embrace it.”

Still, no matter how creamy-delicious they can make your vanilla latte, according to Put, a good barista is never satisfied. “I don’t know if you can ever make a perfect cup of coffee,” admits Put. “You can make a really, really, really good cup of coffee. I think every good barista has that perfect cup of coffee in mind. They’re kind of always chasing after it, never quite getting there but always chasing after it.”


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