leaderboard toronto

Two people in Toronto are trying to make drinking coffee a competitive sport

Some people in Toronto are trying to turn drinking coffee into a competetive sport in an effort to make learning about the hot caffeinated beverage more accessible and fun.

Leaderboard is a collaboration between a coffee events company (Culture Coffee Project) and a coffee subscription service (The Roasters Pack). It was started by Grant Gamble of Culture Coffee and Suneal Pabari, who co-founded subscription services The Roasters Pack and Matchmaker Coffee as well as new roastery This Coffee Co.

It's kind of like an international distanced competitive cupping (a coffee tasting event): You get sent coffees, learn about them from available resources and then try to identify them in order to win prizes.

"The coffee industry hosts a myriad intense coffee competitions," Pabari tells blogTO. "That intensity is usually surrounded by a fun coffee event of some sort and it's always a great way to learn more about coffee, discover new coffees and meet new, like-minded people."

"When the pandemic hit, all of those events disappeared and it was heartbreaking for the community," Gamble says.

Pabari knew about Gamble's challenges and reached out to him with the idea for a distanced, virtual coffee competition in October 2020. 

"My entire career was swept from under me overnight," says Gamble. "All of the events that I had planned in 2020, including the inaugural Toronto Coffee Festival, had to be postponed to 2022, with sponsors and exhibitors requesting their deposits back out of fear."

For $79.95, you get 10, 60-gram anonymized bags of coffee from 10 roasters, 10 tasting cards, an instruction card, the quiz format, access to coach and roaster videos and a sachet of Third Wave Water supplement that optimizes water for coffee-making. Many of the coffees and coaches are from Toronto, including roasters like Quietly and Propeller.

"It used to be the case where you could chat with your barista about the coffee that you’re drinking and nerd out," Gamble says, "but now cafes have turned into a quick food service model with little to no interaction."

Just take care to note that in order to compete you'll have to follow a timed schedule, and what they're calling "season two" ships Apr. 19. Answers have to be submitted by May 31 for the reveal the next day. There should be a new season about every three months.

By answering questions about the 10 unidentified coffees, you can earn up to 100 points. The top 20 scores are posted on an 80s pinball-like leaderboard and the top five scores earn coffee package prizes, with first prize valued at $1,600. The branding of the project even has a "glitchy" deep purple 1980s aesthetic.

"We branded the project as an 80s arcade game and offer prizes to incentivize players to learn," Gamble says. "We put a strong focus on accessible education."

If you're interested, snag a spot now because all available spots in the first season sold out. 

"We didn't anticipate the project to strike such a chord with the community right out of the gates," says Gamble. "The excitement around the competition and the friendly banter between friends and colleagues felt the same as hosting a live competition and event."

People have started using social media to post photos of their entire family taking part in the competition and to connect for live virtual tastings with friends and strangers alike.

A barista from Toronto even went through their own responses in detail online. Competitors are typically a mix of enthusiasts and professionals.

A pro from Calgary clinched their previous season, though, Jeff Fleming of Apex Coffee Imports who scored 76 points to take home over $1,000 in prizes.

But Gamble says Leaderboard's system levels the playing field, making it possible for what he calls "home baristas" – i.e. civilians – to be competitive with the pros.

"We can't wait to see where season two takes us," Pabari says.

Lead photo by

Britney Townsend

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