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Trans-Canada Coffee Adventure, Part 3: Ontario and Quebec, The Cafe Stage
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lizclayton
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Posted Fri Feb 1, 2008, 10:00pm
Subject: Trans-Canada Coffee Adventure, Part 3: Ontario and Quebec, The Cafe Stage
 

Trans-Canada Coffee Adventure, Part 3: Ontario and Quebec
The Cafe Stage article by Liz Clayton

Liz Clayton journeyed across five Canadian provinces (with a brief foray into the US) to savour great coffees, tour great roasteries, and enjoy great cafés. Some people have all the luck! This is the final entry in a three-part chronicle of her grand tour of coffee.
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DASIMPS
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Posted Tue Feb 12, 2008, 10:32am
Subject: Re: Trans-Canada Coffee Adventure, Part 3: Ontario and Quebec, The Cafe Stage
 

Liz,

I found another great cafe down near the Old Town location, just off Notre Dame.  The place is called Cafe Bistro Mon Plaisir and it is located at 540 boul Saint-Laurent, Montreal, QC H2Y 2Y9, Canada (514) 504-6422-8206.

The owner (and barista) was very generous with his time and even let me get a few photos with him behind the bar enjoying my espresso.  He pulled me a couple of shots and let me sample both the lighter and darker roasts.

I hope next time you are in Montreal that you will give it a try.

Doug

DASIMPS: Cafe Bistro Mon Plaisir 3b.JPG
(Click for larger image)
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Enkerli
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Posted Wed Feb 13, 2008, 6:19pm
Subject: Awakening Coffee Scenes
 

Liz,

Good job at updating this blog post! Thanks in part to the contexualising comments you added, this section seems (IMHO) more appropriate than the other two.
Nice!

About coffee scenes. There's a tendency for a number of people (myself included) to situate coffee-related events and people into local scenes. It seems that many of us are of the "Think Global, Drink Local" mindframe. Yet what makes it so hard to gain proper insight into any of these scenes is something more than being "of a place." Possibly the intersection of cultural identity and personal attitudes with memory and sensory experiences.
This specific piece connects quite directly with those broader issues. More specifically, the two "local coffee scenes" described here seem to be in the middle of a very interesting period in their respective histories. It's hard not to sense some type of rivalry going on through the whole series but there also are some resolutely local issues to be discussed at length.
Disclaimer (of sorts): I'm a semi-nomadic ethnographer from Montreal. I don't know much about Toronto. Been to that city a few times but never experienced its actual "coffee scene." (Trawna's actually where I first had Charbucks coffee, and they were still using semi-autos. But that's about it.) It does sound, from this piece as well as from some friends' comments, that TO's getting something going on, in coffee terms. Given that city's cultural influence over a broader region, this could be excellent news indeed. And not just for the Financial Post!

My perception of Montreal's "coffee scene" is clearly biased. I readily admit that. Though I discovered coffee in Switzerland, Montreal is where I've had the largest proportion of my coffee experiences. I might still be able to take a step back and look at the big picture. Not comparing Montreal's with other cities' "coffee scenes." But taking a holistic perspective to talk about coffee in Montreal.
It seems to me that, in terms of coffee, the largest French-speaking city in North America is waking up to coffee after a relatively long period of hibernation. The period from 1993 or so to 2005 wasn't the best one for coffee lovers in Montreal.
Oh, sure, there were still some good places for coffee around town, including institutions like Olimpico and Caffè Italia (not to mention numerous neighbourhood espresso joints). But since the early part of the 1990s, the city has let a lot of cafés be taken over by (or expanded into) chains. Mtl never went nuts for *$ or Second Cup, and it did take a while before Tim Hortons' was able to set up shop in the city. But some small cafés became bland chain locations while other small chains started crowding the city's most desirable spots. Nice cafés serving traditional espresso were still there but their contribution to Montreal's coffeescape was drowned by Café Dépôt, Presse Café, and other Café Suprême clones. During that same period, coffee distributors apparently stopped caring. Brossard, Union, and Van Houtte were joined by Santropol, Brûlerie Saint-Denis, and Toi, Moi & Café as grocery store brands. "Roast date? What would you need a roast date for?" It's not that the city had never had decent coffee. But it had lost its edge, in terms of coffee and espresso.

When Caffè ArtJava opened its first location, something happened. At that point, Montrealers were finally able to sip their first drops of local Third Wave espresso. As someone who likes diversity at all costs, I welcomed the addition to Montreal's coffee scene with glee. The first time I went to ArtJava, then co-owner Spiro Karagianopoulos (unsung hero of Montreal's coffee renaissance) was able to serve me the first shot of West Coast-style espresso I ever had in my hometown. Something was going on. It was like a breath of fresh air coming over the city.
The place remained very good for a while but something like complacency set in. The machine wasn't treated properly, some of the staff didn't seem to care. Basically, the place became known mostly for its food among Plateau hipsters. Coffee lovers were eventually left with a bitter taste, as if this type of espresso were just a temporary attraction in Metropolitan Quebec.
When CAJ opened its second location, Montreal's "coffee scene" got a second jolt. Anthony Benda was the main barista there, the machine was in great shape, the Gimme! Coffee blends were often at their peak, a decent grinder was used for straight shots... It was there that I got to experience, during a coffee jam, one of my favourite espresso shots in life. Pulled, of course, by the aforementioned (and, thankfully, now recognised) Anthony Benda.
But, after a while, coffee quality started to decrease at that second location. Second lapse in Montreal's coffee reawakening.
Anthony eventually left CAJ for Sam Mhanna's Café Santé Véritas. Thanks in large part to Sam's vision, Anthony has been able to give an even bigger boost to Montreal's "coffee scene." At one point, a few people from other parts of the continent started noticing what was happening in Montreal. And Anthony has united a number of people (professionals and consumers alike) in the quest for quality coffee in town. This time, Montreal's in it for the long run. What's different? It's not about commercial interest or about ambiance. It's about coffee.
As you noted, Jean-François Leduc's Caffè in Gamba is the location for yet another development in Montreal's "coffee scene." Now, not only are Montrealers being served quality espresso in both Italian and West Coast styles, but they are finally able to get coffee beans in a wide range of espresso blends. Not to mention the fact that Jean-François has started to sell quality equipment to some of Montreal's most enthusiastic coffee lovers. So because large numbers of coffee geeks experience coffee at home, CIG's role in the YUL coffee world might be more important than some people think.
This is where we stand. (Or, at least, where we stood two months ago when I left the city...)
What's next? All sorts of things.
Montreal's coffee distributors might finally wake up and notice the passion people have for real espresso and real coffee in and around Montreal. It would only take them a bit of effort to turn the city's slumbering "coffee scene" into a wonderful world of flavourful delights.
One can dream, right?

Thanks for the thought-provoking series.

 
Alex
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SmilingGoat
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Posted Wed Feb 20, 2008, 3:48pm
Subject: Re: Trans-Canada Coffee Adventure, Part 3: Ontario and Quebec, The Cafe Stage
 

Hi Liz
Thanks for the almost mention at the bottom of your article! That ‘lurker’ was my business partner / wife, Andrea.
It’s funny that you should mention the Mercury, Phil & Sebastian's and the Halifax venture in the same paragraph.
Our dear friends at the Mercury were our inspiration for the whole espresso bar thing in Halifax and it was a flight of incredible Clover’d coffees at Phil & Sebastian's that confirmed our decision to go with the Clover.
We look forward to future visits!
Cheers,
Geoff
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TheEarthman
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Posted Thu Feb 21, 2008, 4:50pm
Subject: Re: Trans-Canada Coffee Adventure, Part 3: Ontario and Quebec, The Cafe Stage
 

I think it's important to note that Cafe Sante Veritas is not as "new" as you claim them to be - I went in and mentioned that I'd read about them being recently opened here on CoffeeGeek, and the owner was almost offended - they'd been open for 7 months, and certainly since the last Nationals - his head barrista placed 3rd.  

They did, I cannot deny, make a fantasic epsresso, though I have to call into question the use of bottomless portafilters, but, regardless of that, it was magnificent, I really wish I could have done without the awkward pause following "I hear you're newly opened" and the response of "No, we've been here for 7 months..."  There are reviews of it back as far as September '07.  I don't know what closed period you went in for, but they're not nearly as new as your write up says they are.  

I have to put them down as a clear favourite, too, for all that Caffe ArtJava was good by Timmy's & 2nd cup standards, they're not making a phenominal espresso, they just do an excellent job with the milk - Veritas' pull of the 49th Parallel was quite different from any I've had before, much smokier; and almost woody, both said only in the best possible connotations of the descriptions.  The strong red wine, the amarone, if you will, or espressos.  Brilliant.
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Enkerli
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Posted Thu Feb 21, 2008, 5:08pm
Subject: Re: Trans-Canada Coffee Adventure, Part 3: Ontario and Quebec, The Cafe Stage
 

Thomas, as you can notice in the first paragraph of this article, the whole trip took place last year. And the write-up itself was on Liz's blog, though she did update it a bit for the CoffeeGeek website.
ArtJava was pretty good when it opened but they rapidly grew complacent, IMHO. It's quite sad because there was a lot of potential at this place.
If you're still in Montreal, you should definitely go to Caffè in Gamba. Less of a barista-centric experience but a unique chance to try different blends (especially if you buy beans there).
Is there a specific reason you don't like the naked portafilters? They seem to be a good way to control for channeling and such but it'd be interesting to know what's wrong with them.

 
Alex
http://enkerli.com/
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D61
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Posted Tue Mar 25, 2008, 4:30pm
Subject: Re: Trans-Canada Coffee Adventure, Part 3: Ontario and Quebec, The Cafe Stage
 

Thank you Liz for your article.  I had the pleasure of checking out Café Sante Veritas on 2 recent Saturday trips to Montreal, and I was absolutely blown away by the cappuccinos I had.  I was especially curious to try the café since they used 49th Parallel beans, and I had been enjoying some 49th Parallel Epic at home.  I wanted to see what a Synesso could coax from the beans.    The cafe is very bright and tastefully decorated but I was immediately drawn to the Anfim Super Caimano grinder and the 3 group Cyncra, -but again the café itself was very comfortable, clean, and well organized.   It was an added bonus for me that the Synesso Cyncra is positioned at right angles to the tables, so I could watch the shots being pulled.  (even better if you sit at the counter) They also use only “naked” or “bottomless” portafilters so you get to see the whole show.

The head barista, Anthony was not working when I was there, but the owner Sam was more than capable at the helm.  He was absolutely methodical and patient in the preparation of the shots.  I am convinced that the excellent results had as much to do with his expertise and skilled execution, as with the top-notch equipment and fresh beans. He was just as brilliant steaming the milk, and produced plenty of microfoam, as evidenced by the finely detailed rosetta that I had in every cappuccino (I had 4 of them over 2 visits).  The results were consistent: caramel tones followed by strong dark chocolate notes -without bitterness.  They were easily the best caps I have had east of Vancouver…and dare I say, maybe some of the best caps ever.  I finished my second visit with a straight double espresso.  I wanted to taste what the milk may have hidden.  It was a more complex and bright than I had anticipated, with notes of dried fruit and finished with dark chocolate that lingered for a long time.   It had a thick syrupy mouthfeel, and the heavy crema stuck to the sides of the cup.  I hated to finish it.

Thanks again for the heads up, I now have a new place to visit whenever I go to Montreal, and also a place to pick up some 49th Parallel beans.
Derek
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