Words: Chelsea Parkinson / Photos: Janine Kropla
When we set out to meet Chris Tellez on a blustery Monday, it turned out we were seeking a ghost address. “One twenty-six…one twenty-four…it should be right here…” was the refrain for several wanders up and down Furby Street. If you know the area, you know that a large chunk of Furby gives way to a big and quiet parking lot behind the Sherbrook Inn—and it was to that blank patch of road that Chris’ text had sent us. So, befuddled at our lack of familiarity with an area we thought we knew well, we wandered for a few minutes, swapping stories about times spent in the neighbourhood and casting anxious glances at the brass numbers on the houses.
With the typo corrected by another text, and with Chris found in his bright and cozy apartment, we couldn’t help but joke about it with the Ontario-born coffee connoisseur. But we also had to thank him—his newness to the city made us lifelong Winnipeggers see it with fresh eyes again. Our feet walked a few extra steps on a street known for its gritty charm, and awaiting us was a warm space, the smell of roasting coffee beans, and a newcomer to Winnipeg who has already made a mark on the city’s burgeoning boutique coffee scene.
Chris is the man behind Working Coffee. He roasts his own beans, in his own apartment, with his own machine—we saw him do it. He came to Winnipeg on the heels of an encounter with the folks who started Little Sister Coffee Maker, and now works in their café in Osborne Village. His first time working in the Village was a little different. He was on his Cross Canada Chemex Tour, which featured Chris, a station wagon, a foldable pour over bar, and free coffee for passersby. He hit up major towns in Western Canada, and luckily Winnipeg was one of them.
Muddy Water: Can you share a bit about that road trip journey, and how it felt to encounter this country in that way?
Chris: It was very humbling. One morning I started driving in this misty rain, and it started to become kind of no-man’s land, and then it starts happening, I can see it ahead of me: just sheets of rain. It wasn’t raining like that where I was, but I could see a ways down the road to where the weather was different. And so I reach it, I get into this sheet of rain and it just starts pouring down like crazy. And I can’t see anything, so I’m going like 30 km/h and just gripping the steering wheel and so nervous, and thinking, “Nature could just take us so easily, so quickly.” And then suddenly this guy in a big pickup truck just blows right past me, being so “whatever” about it. Like, “Go back to the city, kid.” So, he kind of kicked my ass.
MW: Him and nature, together.
C: (Laughs) Exactly, yeah.
MW: But yeah, it’s something very characteristic of Canada and especially here, on the prairies. Where you’re driving and waiting to get to that patch of weather that you can see up ahead for ages, and it looks like the sky is falling down, and you just have to wait for it to meet you in this climactic moment.
C: Yeah, it’s cool, it’s humbling. I loved driving through Canada and have a lot of memories of it, more so than the States, which I’ve also driven through. I guess because it’s my home.
MW: Where is home for you?
C: I know that Toronto is kind of my place, and that’s mainly because of family. It wouldn’t be somewhere that I would say that I would live if I didn’t have family there. Like, I love the city and its tone, so I guess that’s part of it, but it’s just home. I’m discovering that there is cool stuff in every city, though.
MW: And was it there that you first got interested in coffee?
C: Yeah. When I was fifteen I started working my first jobs in cafés. At this great place called Espresso Post I was groomed to become a manager when I was still in high school, so it all became pretty real from a time when I was quite young. I then took part in a training program with Phil & Sebastian Coffee Roasters. From there I met the people from Parlour and they needed somebody for Little Sister, which is how I got here, to Winnipeg.
MW: Can you tell us a little about Working Coffee?
C: It really started up in 2012, but this year it’s been growing super fast. I kind of hated the name barista, to be honest, and wanted a name for it that would be accessible and more professional for the consulting that I do—I needed a “real name,” basically.
MW: It’s a great name, it can cover all of your bases, all of the things you do with it. Because you’re not just a roaster, you’re not just a consultant; you kind of wear all of the coffee-related hats.
C: Exactly, and my interests go beyond the coffee world, as well. I’m pulled in a lot of different directions.
MW: Can you expand on that?
C: My dream, for one day down the line, is to have four shops on the same city block. Working Coffee, Working Clothing, Working Cocktails, Working Cooks. The great thing would be that the WC logo that I already have would work for all of them. And the goal for those spaces would be for them to be super high quality, accessible, fun places to be in that also put out a great product.
Then, I’d like to also have a space devoted to Working Concepts, which would be a place funded by all the others, in which different creators of all kinds could use the space for whatever they needed, whether that be a workshop, a pop-up shop, anything like that. There’s a lot that I want to do, and I’m always excited for the next step. It keeps things interesting.
We learned a lot from Chris that day. We learned about roasting—that it’s both a science and an art. We saw coffee beans turn brown and pop like popcorn. We saw the care and the pleasure that Chris takes with what he does. We learned that this is a guy who sees things very clearly, and who will never stop expanding himself and his interests. Up on the wall, just a few feet from the roasting machine that he has mastered, were hung three beautiful wooden pieces we all fell in love with—and then we discovered Chris himself had made them.
You can visit Chris at Little Sister Coffee Maker, where the city’s reigning Latte Art Champ will make you one of the best-looking and best-tasting lattes around—though he doesn’t really drink them himself. He’s more of an espresso guy. You can also purchase Working Coffee beans at Normandy Shop, 791 Corydon Ave.
When we tried to pin Chris down to some sort of time commitment to Winnipeg, he managed to distract us with coffee and never really gave an answer. Well played, Chris. Whichever city eventually captures him—be it Toronto, or, fingers-crossed, Winnipeg—that town and its coffee-drinkers (and clothing-wearers, and cocktail-sippers) will be lucky ones.
We really mean that.
To follow Chris' adventures, visit www.workingcoffee.com.