Poll #1: Fav Tag

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Coffeetown, Australia

I’ve mentioned the uniqueness that is coffee culture and Jeremy has mentioned the potentially blow-hardness of impromptu coffee crawls but it seems that you cannot really go wrong if you immerse yourself in a coffee culture so rich, so passionate and so self-critical. Impromtuity will eventually lead to Kung-fu Panda Po-like awesomeness.

Seven Seeds

Possible “the best roaster in Australia, maybe the world” So I dragged a non-coffee drinker on this “coffee crawl” with me. It is in fact an uphill climb when that non-coffee drinker is your mom who disapproves of you having too much coffee in one day (too much is anything more than a cup a day). SNAP! We settle down and are greeted with table service (a rarity in Australian cafes). I see a clover and it being over 2 months since my last brew off the $15000 metal cube I couldn’t help myself. As I watched the barista drop the coffee in and stir (what seemed 20 seconds post-water stream) I started to regret my decision. [2 years ago I ordered a Clover and it was a bit weak sauce because I assume it was the only cup of the day and Clovers rarely if ever get dialed]. I was told that the Clover was a Tanzanian something. It came to my table and I poured some out, then a GIANT blueberry fist protruding from the coffee receptacle punched me in the face. As I continued to smell and sip this coffee I felt quite certain there was the essence of Aricha. The blueberry black-eye I received was followed up by smooth chocolate. Damn, amazing Tanzanian….. … if it was actually Tanzanian. Turns out it was an Ethiopian Guji (and due to limited coffee importers in Australia one of the very common coffees offered in this country). Tasty drink regardless of the mix-up. Can’t help but love the little thingymajiggy they serve their Clovers in. Continuing on with the limited coffees …importers….Australia train of thought, I had to push my cup a day limit and ordered a Single Origin Rwanda Musasa espresso because we pull this back in BNE. The coffee was described as coming through with apricot and that it did…with a handful of extra acidity too. Not surprisingly the liquid in the espresso cup was very liquid indeed and lacked the body (or as some of you like to call it, Jesse Ventura) that I’m used to off the Slayer. Decent ‘spro, balanced. Probably the most disappointing part of this cafe was their inability to recognize being in the presence of a coffee superstar. I tried to drop some key words to them like …Slayer…Synesso…Cup coffee…barista…”I thought I tasted Ethiopian in the cup”…etc. but no luck chuck. I’ll chalk this up to the noobness of the weekend staff and nothing against me personally. (Josh, I told you the store sign was too small!!)

Proud Mary

A long way by foot from the CBD! Only for pure geeks! In fact, right when I went in I got rid of mom and sat her down then rocked up to the espresso machine. One barista muttered to the other “he’s geeking out [referring to me]” and then I looked up and introduced myself to Nolan…Mr Proud Mary apparently. I couldn’t help but oogle his enourmous, woody…..6-group Synesso. 🙂 We chatted, I dropped some names of where I worked, he accepted me as a person, I felt validation. Then we went behind the bar and he showed me the 6 groups, the 3 steam wands (the middle one is activated by foot pedal) and showed me his coffees. I ordered the Colombia Huila (smashing my communist overlord declared coffee limit) because Nolan said it was pulling the longest and would be best as espresso. I happily obeyed what Nolan suggested (man I’m passive/easily dominated…[Ben, don’t get any ideas]). Sweet like cane sugar, some fruit in it but really huge, good balance, would give Gwylim a run for his money.  Pretty ill vibe though. I think I heard Talib Kweli and Hi-Tek on the sound system as I decided to be altruistic and change the roll of toilet paper even though I was only going #1. You’re welcome! Good to see Mr. Proud Mary all proud and merry, working behind the machine and slaving it away with his troops. Passionate and friendly dude and I’m glad I trekked out there. I would love to visit and love love to live here. I think that the sheer amount of passionate independent shindigs that Melbourne has to offer gives us coffeegeeks a coffeewood it blows my mind to know that locals still frequent Hudsons and Gloria Jeans. I reckon I’m a Melbourne-type bloke.

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I Rearry Rike Charcut

It’s so good and so cool that I get all excited and my chinese accent comes out!

Recently I had the opportunity to have dinner at Charcut Roast House, located on 899 Centre Street SW (in the shadow of the Calgary Tower).  Being the final weekend of Dineout Calgary, we opted to partake in the dinner menu, in addition to sampling a couple of things off the menu.

Charcut has been described as having “urban rustic” cuisine.  While I generally dislike restaurants being described with these generic amalgamating words (like “pan-asian cuisine”), it really describes Charcut’s style quite well.  The restaurant is sleek, stylish and very contemporary, with lots of dark grey with rich wood tables.  However, your eye is drawn to the almost-glowing red panels that highlight the open kitchen where you can see the chefs spitting whole chickens to be roasted in an open rotisserie, slicing house cured charcuterie, or bottling house-made preserves and condiments.  They even have a mason jar chandelier, and what “urban rustic” restaurant would be complete without a mirroring  portrait of two pigs? (or was it bovine?)  As mentioned, they make practically everything in house, and source very local, high-quality ingredients from surrounding like-minded farms and producers.  Do you like house cured pork, lamb, sausage and other charcuterie?  Do you like crispy chicken skin with your salad?  Do you like poutine?  Do you like duck fat poutine?  If you answered yes to all of those questions, then this is the restaurant for you.

We started off with the Albacore Crudo or Shaved Country-Style Lamb Ham.  Luckily, I was able to try both.  The Tuna was supple and soft, beautifully dressed with citrusy olive oil, accompanied with crunchy sliced fennel, and finished with truffle salt – a perfectly executed and a very palate engaging dish.  The lamb had great texture with nice thinness that gave away for each bite. It was also finished with cave-aged gruyere.  The portions on these dishes were quite substantial, with the lamb served on a decent sized wooden board, and the Tuna contaning ~6 pieces.

Next we ordered two extra dishes off the menu.  The first was a gloriously rich duck fat poutine with thick-cut, meaty fries slathered in duck fat gravy with beautiful, stringy curds.  Needless to say, I moved several steps (slow, fat, plodding ones) closer to obesity after this dish, but it was so good.  The best part was the end, where the curds began to stick together as I mopped up some remaining gravy.

Next we tried the roasted bone-marrow au gratin.  While many of you may find it horrendously disgusting to eat bone marrow, I really hope you muster up and try it sometime.  Again, there is no way this is good for you in any shape or form, but the bone marrow (roasted to order, I believe) was so incredibly creamy, buttery, and almost nutty (with that distinct bone marrow taste – it’s hard to describe).  The server called it “meat butter” which isn’t a term I’d use to get first timers to try it but I totally agree and it’s perfectly accurate.  This was served with some crisp brioche crostini, with parsley salad and salt to finish.

The main course was a perfectly crusted smoked, rotisserie Spring Creek prime rib, served with roasted lemon, an entire half bulb of roasted garlic, brassica mustard and arugula.  I had no reservations in slathering on the roasted garlic, and as  result I feared for the lives of anyone who had the misfortune of talking to me the next day.

To finish off I had a delicious BC cherry cheesecake served in a miniature mason jar.  Not only were the ladies swooning over how cute this jar was, but the velvety texture of the cheesecake (no crumbly consistency here) with the deep sweetness of the cherry was the perfect way to end this feast.

Charcut is going to thrive in Calgary not only because we have an insatiable appetite for meat, but because people are starting to look beyond chain restaurants or their usual spots for something a little more unique, honest, decadent and absolutely delicious.  Charcut Roast house was rearry, rearry, dericious.

Drink Up, It’s Christmas

With Christmas around the corner, people start to settle into their favorite holiday drinks.  Sure, there’s the usual favorites – wine, coffee, and hot chocolate.  But something about Santa coming flips a crazy switch in people’s minds, and some crazy beverages are consumed, like Eggnog.  I mean, who saw a glass of milk, a few raw eggs, some sugar and thought “wow, that’d be GREAT blended together, poured into a tall glass and excessively consumed during the holidays!”?  Then some innovator probably came by and said, “you know what would make this better?  A hint of nutmeg…and some booze.”  I mean, the last thing I want when I drink is raw eggs and milk.

Another unique holiday concoction I’ve recently read about was for a Danish  drink called Glogg.  Essentially, it’s a mulled wine that’s steeped with spices and served warm.  One of the best coffee roasters in the world, The Coffee Collective, have their own danish version that uses citrus, cardamom, anise, vanilla, and other sugars, spices and roots.  I want to try making this!

Just the other day, our friend Elliot from J Webb Market Wines gave a few of us a very drinkable early Christmas gift – a bottle of Anchor Steam Beer’s Christmas Ale.  Located in San Francisco, this microbrewery has been making a unique Christmas Ale since 1975  that is different every single year.

Not only is the beer new each season, but the label (and tree on it) changes each year too.  Unfortunately, the ingredients list is TOP SECRET, and I couldn’t find any tasting notes documented on the website.  Drinking it slightly chilled, I got big flavors of potpourri, warm spices, and cherry-ish fruit, with big sweetness, medium-light body and some slight, balancing bitters.  This would be an awesome beer to drink early evening while preparing your holiday feast, or during a cold afternoon!

The beer had a very cola-like color to it too.  Another great holiday beer would be the seasonal Cherry Porter at Wildrose Brewery near the CFM.  Hey, the holiday season is a time to eat, drink and be merry, right?

What’s everyone else’s favorite holiday drinks?  Any cool things you’ve tried?

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.

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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.

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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.

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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