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Get to know a barista: Damien Zielinski of Capital Espresso

Posted by Ryan Bolton / December 7, 2011

Damien ZielinskiDamien Zielinski is a pretty stand-up guy. He has a way of putting you at ease with a soft, slow nod. He nods when you walk in the door. He nods when he's listening. He nods when he agrees with something you say. And as co-owner of Capital Espresso, that friendly joint in Parkdale that opened just a year ago in the old Vice office (they were formerly at Blondie's), Damien damn well loves his espresso. The guy has been serving up spro (that's their slang name for espresso) for 13 years, nearly half his life. And albeit Damien is pretty extroverted and not all that secretive, we wanted to get to know him a little better. The following is the result.


Damien Zielinski.

How long have you been a barista?

Probably 13 years at this point if you include going back to working at Timothy's. I'd like to think I've paid my dues. I'm 29 now. So I started working in coffee shops when I was young. From those second wave shops, I got a background in service and working the counter. When I started working at Mercury Espresso Bar, I kinda got really turned on to coffee. I worked at a bunch of other third wave shops and then Blondie's and here at Capital.

Damien ZielinskiFavourite customer and why?

I guess it has sort of changed throughout the years. Right off the bat, people that are friendly and courteous. The more I'm getting into coffee and the more I'm getting into my own journey, I appreciate people who are enthusiastic about coffee. When people want to know where their coffee is coming from and they're interested in what they're tasting--that sort of has the feeling of rewarding my expertise. We can connect over that. That's been the most rewarding thing for me lately.

One of my favourite customers comes in early every morning. He doesn't know much about coffee, but he's just really open-minded. It seems that he started drinking espresso recently and it seems like his mind is just getting blown. Watching him be surprised by what he is tasting every morning is cool.

Damien ZielinskiWhat's your secret for pulling the perfect shot?

Good question. Personally, for me, I think more and more about extraction; about the physical, scientific coffee extraction. If water is affecting all areas of the espresso evenly and you're getting an even amount of time that each ground coffee particle is being extracted for and all those parameters, generally speaking, that's where I find the most quality coming from. Seeing the connection between the machine, the grinder and the beans to work together really well, when it results in that "wow" moment for the customer--it's gratifying and it's all worth it again.

When you're really into the craft, you're paying attention to all these details. It's almost like I nerd out about that stuff so other people don't have to. The sum of all those little intricate details that I pay fiendish attention to results in just one general impression.

Damien ZielinskiDo you moonlight as a writer, actor, artist and/or adult film actor?

I'm actually working hard on the fifth episode of a coffee show I'm working on. It takes up most of my time. It's called Sprojam. I'm applying for an Ontario Arts Council grant for the fifth episode, which is going to be in full high-definition. I'm writing, producing and directing. I'm getting more and more people collaborating. I got a guy who is writing a score with me. Some people have done cameos. I've had other people, almost as an homage to skate videos, have friend sequences. There's some heavy latte art in there, too.

What's something that no one else knows about you?

People probably don't know that my first coffee job was at Timothy's on Roncesvalles. That's my dirty little secret. I was 15.

Capital baristaFavourite Toronto hideout?

Probably the waterfront, generally. In the summer. Humber Bridge area. Peace and quiet because it's the closest place to go in the city that feels like you're far away from the city. I need that escape.

Best album to spin at work?

["Gangsta's Paradise" is spinning during this question] Straight-up garage music. Like '60s garage compilations. Back From the Grave, that's a good one. A lot of psychedelic stuff like The Seeds. That's a safe go-to.

Damien ZielinskiTo take the nerves out of customers, how do you properly order an Americano?

Honestly, I don't think there's any snobbery about it. People that don't know anything about coffee that are just nice is a good start. "Can I get an Americano, please?" That's nice. For me, it's not a Soup Nazi thing or an expected level of coffee familiarity. It's just general courtesy.

How do you take your coffee?

Crisp. Black. Once in a while I'll drink a latte.


Dogs or cats? Dogs.

Beards or mustaches? Mustaches.

Bikes or streetcars? Bikes.

Rob Ford or Tim Hortons? Tim Hortons.

Damien ZielinskiPhotos by Joel Yum



jazflute / December 7, 2011 at 12:45 pm
Super nice dude.
Les / December 7, 2011 at 12:47 pm
In before something about hipsters
Les / December 7, 2011 at 12:56 pm
Also on topic: That was a great little interview. I'd love to see this as a series with other people who work different sorts of jobs around the city (well people who have a passion for their job anyway)
hhh / December 7, 2011 at 01:22 pm
i walk by here every day, and look in, and he glances back. and for a second, i contemplate pretending to give a shit about coffee.
gr1 / December 7, 2011 at 01:24 pm
damien is a great guy, cool interview.
JF / December 7, 2011 at 01:41 pm
He seems sweet and pretty articulate.
Nice feature.
Stra / December 7, 2011 at 01:47 pm
super nice guy. Great place too. And the muffins? Omg. Best in town.
Guy / December 7, 2011 at 02:04 pm
> Rob Ford or Tim Hortons? Tim Hortons.

Adrock / December 7, 2011 at 02:11 pm
This guy's super nice, and makes a mean Americano.
Vee / December 7, 2011 at 02:26 pm
Not going to lie. When I first went in, I thought he'd be a "typical" west end barista hipster snob. He has been very pleasant, friendly, and chill every time I've gone in. And I agree with above...muffins are A.MAZ.ING. Just do it.
Elemenope / December 7, 2011 at 02:27 pm
you should interview tristan at merchants of green coffee. he is so handsome and very sweet. sometimes i think i might marry him.
Sonny / December 7, 2011 at 02:41 pm
This dude rocks, he's sooo super nice and chill and he really knows his stuff. Big up's to Capital!! Best coffee in the city!
jameson / December 7, 2011 at 02:45 pm
Nice interview.

Unfortunately I really dislike Capital. It's pretty gross inside and the counter is incredibly awkward. Luckily there are many other options for coffee around here.
Turbana / December 7, 2011 at 03:02 pm
I hope that you interview one of the smokers outside of the Bell call centre on Eglinton E. next. THey look like an interesting bunch.
trinity replying to a comment from Turbana / December 7, 2011 at 03:22 pm
Second that. OR one of the bike messengers that smokes pot at Adelaide and sheppard st, just w/o of Bay. now they ARE and interesting bunch.
Jameson... / December 7, 2011 at 04:00 pm
What the suck...I guess he's entitled to his opinion.

Great place to get coffee, best in the city. I love the atmosphere in Capital, it's a great place to meet for coffee. I've taken a many meeting there.
RENEE Crawford / December 7, 2011 at 04:18 pm
Damo is one of my bestest pals he works so damn hard! we are lucky to have him. work ethic at CAP is where it's at! SPRO JAM FOR LIFE! xoxo
@Lairelandon / December 7, 2011 at 04:18 pm
Great article! I'm comin visiting on my next coffee pub crawl.
Counterbalance / December 7, 2011 at 04:41 pm
I am sure this guy is nice and good at what he does...but really, this is a thing now? Guys who make coffee are now celebrities? Guess it is a very slow day at Blogto.
mike in parkdale / December 7, 2011 at 04:54 pm
good little writeup. I live like 30 seconds from there, and stop by once in a while (but only when it's empty). So far there's been nothing but good vibes. Hell, I even bought someone a coffee because he forgot his wallet but used to work for the company that made my skateboard. I'm pretty sure Damien was serving us too. || any one else remember when it was a Cadet cleaners?
sara / December 7, 2011 at 05:09 pm
best last question ever!!!
what a choice ... still snappy response :)
fun article
Benzo / December 7, 2011 at 05:12 pm
I also heard that he's got mad Chun-Li skills in SF3 Third Strike. Just sayin'.
Matt replying to a comment from Counterbalance / December 7, 2011 at 05:52 pm
That last photo is so CLASSIC! I would have to say my favourite thing about Damien is his REPERTOIRE OF JOKES!
bonerwizard / December 7, 2011 at 07:42 pm
coffee beans are like unruly teens, always getting grounded and drunk.
Curious / December 7, 2011 at 08:24 pm
I really enjoyed this write-up! I am curious -- will this be a regular thing on baristas or indie store owners in general? Either way it's nice to get know the city's people better. Also, thumbs up to Capital, I've started going often since I moved into the area. The atmosphere is good for a read or a chat
Joans / December 7, 2011 at 11:49 pm
"Guys who make coffee are now celebrities?" YES THEY ARE! And amen to that.

Damien is awesome. I smooch BlogTO for celebrating the people who make lives better with very important things like coffee/good music/smiles/not being jerks. That is my kind of celebrity & the kind of celebrity our culture should pay more attention to.
wilders / December 8, 2011 at 12:43 am
joans, you just made my celebrity list.
Gravy Train replying to a comment from Joans / December 8, 2011 at 12:51 am
Next time interview the Indian guy behind the Tim Horton's counter making ends meet at $10.25 too. Those hardworking immigrants need us to appreciate their hard work ethic as well.
David Burgess / December 8, 2011 at 09:37 am
To a fellow barista and shop owner... way to go. I posted your article on my Facebook page,
Joans replying to a comment from Gravy Train / December 8, 2011 at 09:57 am
You make a silly point here. No one implied that all people who make our lives better have to be DAMIEN, or Damien-like. Though the world could use more Damien... As a matter of fact, You could use a little more Damien in your life.
Courtney / December 8, 2011 at 03:44 pm
Yes! Damien is an awesome dude. I live in the area and go to Capital a couple times a week. Everybody has their thing they like to treat themselves to and mine is good coffee. They make a great cup here and everyone is very friendly and laid back.
Asher / December 9, 2011 at 06:24 pm
Hi, Great article. Looking forward to checking out Capital Espresso when im in the area. Check out as I will be showcasing different cafes around Nth America soon
queenwest barista replying to a comment from Counterbalance / December 12, 2011 at 09:26 am
you clearly have not had one of his caps before. Baristas are small time celbs . We try to do what ever we can to make you day better. constantly retooling and redialing esspresso to optimal saturation. Microfoaming milk to 135f to release sugars from milk to naturally sweeten you cap or latte. this man is a cleb because he takes the time to produce quality, and for that his groupies thank him .
Danielle / December 12, 2011 at 11:19 am
I used to go to school with that guy! When he was slumming it for a Starbucks for awhile he used to get me free drinks!
Carl Bergmann / January 2, 2012 at 05:39 am
Damien is a really sincere, lovely guy. It did make me laugh that he's trying to get Arts Council money for his tv show. Fits the NDP, public trough-sucking profile ;)
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