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From Tea Girl to Barista - Willow's Journey Behind the Bar

by Willow Rutherford-Torlone


I've been slinging hot drinks for a long time. I started at the Charlottetown Farmers' Market nearly eight years ago serving up tea concoctions, both hot and cold, at Lady Baker’s Tea booth. It’s been almost two years since I left that position and now you’ll find me in the role of barista at Receiver Coffee Co. - a locally owned coffee shop with several locations around town.

Willow serving up beautiful iced Pina Colada tea lattes circa 2018 at the Lady Baker's Tea booth, Charlottetown Farmers' Market

For years I've given my weekends to hot drinks and music. When I was younger, I wore the “tea girl” hat every Saturday at the market and would spend my nights at all ages shows. For those of you who are local to PEI, you might know me as “the really tall blonde” running around at Receiver’s Victoria Row location. Working in a place like that, you become familiar with your regulars. And in a small city like Charlottetown, you find yourself running into those same folks outside the coffee shop life - connecting with some of them at your favourite bars and pubs.

Receiver Coffee, Victoria Row

I've made so many connections with people who’ve watched me grow from behind the bar. The revolving door of names and faces all brought together by a hot cuppa. In the moments it takes me to make that hot drink, I've heard tales of adventure, wonder, heartbreak and everything in-between. I watch the light come back into our customer’s eyes as the morning rolls on and their mugs run dry. I’ve witnessed beginnings and ends, business meetings, first dates, family reunions, quiet writers working on what I like to imagine will be the next best seller. 

The life that is created in the downtown scene is brought together by incredible and passionate local suppliers. I look around at the table tops of the cafe and see signs of local businesses on display. There are an abundance of Lady Baker's tea bags poking out of London Fog’s and Chai’s, our own roasted coffee dripping down the white porcelain mugs, Loan Oak cans standing tall and Out of Africa samosas devoured in a flash. All those sleepy mornings starting with a nice strong cup of Organic Assam. Or those stumbling in with stuffy noses in need of a hot peppermint tea topped off with some lemon and honey. The excitement in everyone's eyes when they hear that Island Strawberry green tea has real PEI berries in it. 

All of the abundance and diversity I experience in this world is what I thrive on. Surrounded by inspiration for art and music, I immerse myself into this world and let my creativity flow. It pours out of me in the form of writing, singing, drawing and tattooing. Creativity flows through me just as boiling water pours from the kettle. And it’s all of these little things that can't be beat.

Artwork by Willow Rutherford-Torlone @weepingwillowrr

Maybe we're all just addicted to caffeine or maybe it's the sense of community surrounding our little bubble that makes it all feel so special. It’s the musicians coming in after their big show the night before for their caffeine fix. It’s their posters plastering our walls in support and promotion. It’s artists popping in to grab a drink as they set up their show at one of the many galleries around town. It’s all of these things and more. With every drop, every leaf, every bean, we are woven into each other's lives.


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Linda Stewart


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