Today, several of us from the cafe went on a short, downtown cafe crawl. For the uninformed, a cafe crawl is like a pub crawl, but replace alcoholic drinks with coffee, scantily clad women with business suited men, the party bus with human legs, and clubs with cafes.
Sounds AWESOME, doesn’t it?
Anyways, Calgary’s coffee scene has really blown up over the last couple years, with many ‘3rd wave’ shops now open. Because of the locations of some of these cafes, I hadn’t been able to get to some, meaning I was eager to go and sample what the city’s new coffee purveyors had to offer.
Bright and early, I found myself at Insomnia Coffee, located in the famous Burns building right next door to the Epcor Center for the Performing Arts. In my opinion, this is a killer space as it is easily accessible to the morning business crowd, c-train commuters, and evening pre/post Epcor show crowd. The space is clean, classy and deliberate. The coffee… to be honest, it left something to be desired. Unfortunately, all their cup sizes have not yet arrived, and as such, cappuccinos and macchiatos are served in 8 oz ACFs. The coffee is supplied by Fratello, and while I cannot comment on on their brewed coffee (which I believe is done via French Press), I’m most certain the espresso is Joel May’s 2008 competition blend. The reason I say it left something to be desired was that the espresso had several positive elements that I think were overshadowed by several negative aspects. I think with a little more dialing on their LaMarzocco GB5, the espresso pulled could be pretty tasty. I was getting notes of berries, spice, caramel and dark chocolate, which made for a potentially interesting shot, even amidst some of the negatives. Unfortunately, several complaints across the table dealt with the milk quality as well. Hopefully we caught them on a bad day and this was just an anomaly.
Next, we headed down to DeVille located upstairs in Art Central. DeVille, an Intelligentsia account, also serves Saint German pastries and food, as well as a small wine and beer selection. This cafe has stunning whites, reds and blacks coating the furniture of their contemporary, edgy cafe design. This cafe (2009 Krups Kup of Excellence winner) serves up Black Cat ‘spro on its Synesso/Anfirm/Robur combo. Espressos, macchiatos, and cappuccinos were ordered by us all, in addition to some snacks. The espresso was an improvement over Insomniac’s.
Where the major disappointment came was in the food ordered. Personally, I had ordered an aged cheddar,Dijon, egg and bacon breakfast sandwich, and Mike had a blueberry / white chocolate scone. Before I even sat down, the sandwich had finished heating and was brought to me wrapped in white food/wax paper, on a white plate. Being perfectly honest, the sandwich was only marginally better than a mcmuffin at the golden arches (and sure reminded me of one). At $3.50, this is no bank breaker, but I expected slightly more deliberate food from a Saint German kitchen. Mike’s scone also tasted slightly doughy and almost undercooked as well. Again, I hope that this was just an anomaly, and we had caught DeVille on a bad day. (Unfortunately, I had a papery dry lemon loaf at the other location months previous.) They do serve up a mean shortbread, though, and I’ve heard that their alcoholic offerings and snacks are great value and quality.
Overall, this mornings crawl…left something to be desired. I think it’s great that these new shops have popped up and have started to show the masses that coffee does not have to be mundane, tim hortons quality swill. However, I think what some shops are doing is being really great supporters of quality coffee, yet not living up to their standards when executing. If you are championing quality coffee with premium prices, why settle for average drink quality coming off the bar? I think this is a dilemma that many 3rd Wave shops are dealing with, including ours. Opening a shop with premium coffee, equipment and design does not equal a premium product! I think today was a great reminder to all that it all comes down to the drink quality we hand out over the counter – we should only be satisfied with giving a customer a drink that we have tried our utmost best (considering the situation) to produce. If not, we aren’t doing coffee a favor. People may start wondering why they are paying higher prices for a product that is only marginally better than a much cheaper, widely available alternative. I also think what may be missing in this equation is passion. I think there is a difference between a barista-opened shop, and any other shop. If there is a pure passion for the product, there is inherently more care…and you can just ‘feel’ it and definitely taste it in the drink. Thoughts?
I understand there is a consideration for feasibility, and by no means does this post harbor critisizing opinions, just some personal thoughts inspired by today’s experiences. I’d like to see more pure, barista opened cafe’s that are driven to push the envelope, not just ride the 3rd wave to economic success. It’s great what’s happening in Calgary and one can only hope that new shops will start springing up to elevate the way coffee is seen in this city.
*we also may or may not have gone to another shop in which I may or may not comment.