A Mini Calgary Cafe Crawl

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.IMG_4618



Coffee Debate #1: Usefulness of the Americano/Long Black [revisiting the revisitation]

As Mike has alluded to in earlier posts, we have disagreed on the place of Americanos in cafes, or maybe more specifically, in the menu’s of hardcore coffee geeks.  While I will not change my original position in that I do not care much for Americanos, perhaps some thought has to be put into the potential or role of Americanos, and maybe we should start looking more creatively as to what Americanos can offer.

To me, the success and vitality of Americanos most likely arose from the fact that there was no good brewed coffee available in cafe’s, especially those in caught in the tides of the 2nd Wave.  Not wanting a milky, espresso based drink, I believe people started ordering Americanos as a replacement for terrible brewed coffee.  This makes sense as often, there is slightly more care taken into how the espresso is brewed over the neglected drip.  As a result, Americanos propagated… I think there’s an image characteristic to this as well.  How many ‘hipsters’ do you see go to cafe’s to get Americanos?  It’s like the drink for those too sissy to get an espresso/macchiato, but too hardcore to get a latte.  Amongst indie rockers and artists alike, it’s the safe drink of choice!  And I suppose you can’t blame them for coming down this path.

But now that the 2nd Wave has washed out, brewed coffee is now sharing (if not stealing) the spotlight from espresso.  This is evidenced by the amount of syphon vac pots, Clovers, Chemex’s, French Presses and pour overs being used as a highlight feature of many cafes.  With the absolutely delicious (and very representative) characteristic of brewed coffee being enjoyed, is there any place for Americanos in a quality cafe?  I think the Americano could potentially be a ‘bridging drink’ to the better ways of brewing.  While I still uphold the contention that the Americano is only diluting (and potentially losing) many of the delicious aspects of espresso, it presents a great potential.  If care is taken into the espresso, I do not see why an Americano couldn’t have some very interesting origin characteristics to it.  Using this popular drink as a springboard for education, a barista could taste the Americano and talk about its tasting notes to the customer, who would most likely enjoy this experience.  Then, they could be converted into a brewed coffee drinker by other methods which bring out better flavor from the coffee.  I also appreciate how James Hoffmann & the crew at the Coffee Collective have put some thought into this and have found out that skimming off the crema on top of the Americano actually improves its taste considerably.  Perhaps that is yet another reason why hardcore coffee peeps have always found disdain within the drink.

To close, I think that Americanos are an inferior way of experiencing coffee… yet have great potential (if much care is taken) to be a ‘bridging drink’ to getting others to either go the route of ESPRESSO, or BREWED… or hopefully, BOTH!

This reminds me that I still need to make shirts that say “I Hate Crema” on them… who’s with me?  Traditional Italians would probably stop coming to the cafe, haha!


Coffee Debate #1: Usefulness of the Americano/Long Black [revisited]

Several months ago, Jeremy and I embarked on our first (and thus far only) debate on coffee. His argument was that flavours are lost in americanos and well mine was that it is still a decent drink.

I think that the conclusion was although the americano is not a ‘real’ drink it still deserves some props. It may be a gateway drink for people to eventually go for espresso but more often than not, people will just stick with the americano as their go-to-drink thus nullifying it as a bridge for people intimidated by espresso. So I guess the conclusion is not really conclusive at all and americano/long black drinks will forever teeter in between the role of bridge-to-espresso and the ever popular ‘why-bother’ drinks we baristas love.

Phil and Seb brought back a method of serving americanos that actually improve the taste of the drink. This idea was borrowed from the good friends at Square Mile.

After all this discussion, I’m proud to say that I have yet to drink an americano in over 6 months at Phil and Sebs. HAHA 🙂

If Mike put as much effort into girls as he did coffee…

Mike and I were chatting (actually, we were ‘instant messaging’ to be more specific) naturally about coffee.  As all our conversations do, the topic turned to girls.  Mike then rhetorically asked, “what would happen if I put as much effort into girls as I do coffee”.  Well, we present to you what would happen.  

[warning – copius amounts of innuendo to follow]
What would happen if Mike put as much effort into girls as he did coffee.

He’d be…
  1. Doing a lot more tamping, if you know what I mean.
  2. Pouring frothy milk into a whole lot of ‘for here’ cups, if you know what I mean.
  3. Cupping a lot more  than he does now, if you know what I mean.
  4. Grinding so fine that the group gets choked, if you know what I mean.
  5. Tasting a lot more shots, if you know what I mean.
While the vast majority of you will likely not understand the coffee portion of the innuendo, it’s still pretty hilarious.  And when we say ‘vast majority of you’, we mean all of our (2) readers. 

Coffee Debate #1: Usefulness of the Americano/Long Black

Americano, Long Black, whatever you call it essentially its a dilute espresso. Or is it?

K well actually it is, but the question is not in the naming or what it is but rather whether it should be drunk or not.
Like Jeremy said, we tend to have the same interests but look at things with a different perspective. This is one of those times where we have different perspectives.
Espresso: Hot, pressurized water going through a packed puck of coffee grinds. The pressure and heat allow certain flavours and chemicals to be extracted that normally would not be if it were say pressed or filtered through.

Americano/Long Black: Take the espresso and serve it over some hot water so that the final coffee his more volume and more dilute flavour.
My perspective

Espresso is intense. There are so many variables that need to be deconstructed when tasting it. Body, acidity, sweetness, flavour profiles. All in all its very intense as a process and the experience is quick and intense as well. Enter the long black. Now I think that the long black serves 2 purposes.

1) It is more dilute. This allows you to sip on it and enjoy it for longer. Also if you cannot handle the intensity of the espresso, then you can taste it for longer and enjoy it longer.
2) This is more an extension of 1), now the dilution not only allows you to enjoy it for longer, but allows you to deconstruct the flavours more. You may be able to pick up certain profiles that would normally be masked by the acidity, body, sweetness etc.

Jer’s perspective

It is dilute espresso where you lose flavours. I agree that certain things are lost, like body, due to the nature of the drink. But I think that the flavours do not dissipate, rather they are just less intense and therefore allowed to be enjoyed in a different manner (not in any way inferior). This gives the drinker an opportunity to deconstruct the drink.

Please, weigh in on my thoughts readers and Jeremy.