Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Boule Melts My Soul at 32 Lakes Coffee Roasters in Powell River, B.C.

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Bright, colourful cafe at 32 Lakes Coffee Roasters in Powell River, B.C.

My formula for a great coffee shop is, like me, pretty simple.

First, surprisingly, is superb coffee, preferably roasted in house, super fresh and expertly pulled or poured.

Second is one or two warm-from-the-oven baked goods. These can be dense fruit muffins, flaky croissants or no-icing cinnamon buns (“rolls” if you’re American). Just don’t wrap them in plastic… unless they’re a day old, in which case why are you selling them?

Third, that’s it. No sense complicating things. All you want is a steaming mug and a tender bite to savour, while not glancing at your screen.

The wonderfully named 32 Lakes Coffee Roasters—opened in 2013 by Margot and Nathan Jantz in Powell River on B.C.’s Sunshine Coast—has these simple, but rarely achieved, details nailed.

The coffee is small-batch roasted and available for purchase as bagged beans. My Americano is full flavoured and strong, the way I like it.

But what catches my eye is a rather unique baked good to go with the java. Yes, they have fresh sourdough croissants and local macarons on offer, plus wild-yeast sourdough waffles on Sundays.

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The coffee is excellent, but the sourdough boule steals the show

I’m instead immediately drawn to a basket of organic sourdough boule (a round, crusty bread), produced in house by talented 21-year-old baker Alexis. The boule is available as a full loaf ($6.50) and also as a bun, which I order for $1.50 (okay, it’s another 50 cents for melted butter, but still a steal). The bun is at once soft, chewy and tangy—one of the better baked goodies I’ve had with a coffee in quite some time.

32 Lakes’ café, on a downtown Powell River street, is full of light, with colourful art on the walls. I grab a window seat and gaze out the window as the coffee and boule slowly melt my soul.

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32 Lakes Coffee Roasters
4707 Marine Avenue, Powell River, B.C.
Daily 7:30 am-3 pm, except 8:30 am opening Sunday
604-414-8363

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Great Belgian-Style Beers in Powell River, B.C.

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A good range of fabulous beers from Townsite Brewing in Powell River, B.C.

If you’re walking into Powell River’s Townsite Brewing intent on tossing back a glass or two, you might want to organize a ride home. Or at least have plans to take some big bottles or a growler back to your motel or campsite before imbibing.

That’s because a few of Townsite’s offerings weigh in around 9% alcohol. These have descriptions like tripel or dubbel, which I’m guessing is Belgian for bloody strong beer.

But unlike some potent ales that knock you over the head with their booze content, Townsite just offers massive flavour. Indeed, one company tasting note—for a 10.5% Belgian quadruple, aged for nine months in whiskey barrels— marvels at how beer maker Cédric Dauchot manages to disguise such strong beers behind amazing, complex profiles. It’s not till you’re tottering towards the door that you suddenly realize this ain’t light beer.

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Townsite’s tasting room is in a restored, historic Powell River building

Many aficionados consider Belgium to be the global pinnacle of beer making. As apparently the only Belgian-born brewmaster west of Montreal, Dauchot brings with him exceptional skills. He’s certainly not afraid to play with Belgian yeasts, European hops, barrel aging and even handmade candi sugar. Consider some of Townsite’s seasonal and special beers: a blackberry wheat sour, a Belgian-style IPA (Shiny Penny) and, maybe my favourite, a Belgian triple (Yogn 82).

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Tasting notes for one of Townsite’s many beers.

It’s unusual to find this quality and innovation in big Canadian cities, let alone in Powell River on B.C.’s Sunshine Coast. Hey, it’s only a two-ferry ride north of Vancouver to reach Townsite’s tasting room. Better book your ride.

Townsite Brewing
5824 Ash Avenue, Powell River, B.C.
Daily 11 am-9 pm
604-483-2111

Great New England IPAs (I Plead Addiction)

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New England IPA No. 5 from Hamilton’s Collective Arts Brewing; design by Czech artist Mario Carpe. Note the hazy appearance

One challenge of keeping up with the booming craft beer scene is figuring out what the heck you’re ordering. Among dozens of beer styles, there are, for me, true head scratchers like fruit lambics, sessions, saisons, sours, goses, kolsches, barley wines (yes, it’s a beer) and hefeweizens (half a bison?).

To keep things simple in a tasting room, I’ll often ask for an IPA (India Pale Ale) because I generally like the somewhat bitter, hoppy, grapefruity taste. IPAs are also a core offering at most craft breweries and thus provide a good standard of comparison.

But even sticking to IPAs isn’t that simple. Subcategories include American IPAs, hopped-up West Coast IPAs and boozy double IPAs, also often known as Imperial IPAs.

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An over-the-hop double IPA from Lagunitas Brewing Co. in Petaluma, California

I was recently introduced to the latest sub-type, the New England IPA. Such ales are hazier in appearance, less hoppy and more floral, resulting in a smoother, flavourful taste I find quite delightful.

The good news is you don’t have to go to New England to enjoy them. Calgary’s Annex Ale Project, for example, has a limited edition New England IPA, aptly called New Material (7.5% alcohol), with aromas of “pineapple and Juicy Fruit gum”. And Hamilton’s Collective Arts Brewing—which features the innovative work of international artists on its beer cans—has unveiled its latest seasonal IPA, No. 5. It’s a New England, double-dry-hopped, double IPA, with “massive amounts” of Simcoe and Citra hops” and a staggering 8.2% alcohol content.

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Annex Ale’s seasonal New England IPA, called New Material

I could try to describe IPA No. 5. But why bother when there are dozens of online reviews at the Beer Advocate, written by beer geeks with much more talented noses and inspired adjectives than I.

“It smells of muddled domestic citrus rind, dried cat piss,” writes one connoisseur, and he’s a fan. “The taste is gritty and grainy pale malt, orange, red grapefruit, and lemon citrus peel, a small stoney flintiness, faded uric acid, and more zingy herbal, piney, and gently soused-up floral verdant hoppiness.”

One critic got right to the point: “Fuck anyone who rated this less than 3.5 (out of 5)… chances are you’re just a spoiled wank job from Connecticut.”

Have you got a favourite IPA? Please grab a thesaurus and share it with us by hitting the “leave a reply” link in the top left.

Annex Ale Calgary

Including an IPA is almost mandatory in a beer flight

Annex Ale Project
4323 1 Street SE, Calgary, Alberta
Opens at 3 pm Wednesday to Friday, noon Saturday and 1 pm Sunday. Closed Monday and Tuesday
403-475-4492

Collective Arts Brewing
207 Burlington Street E, Hamilton, Ontario
Daily 11 am-9 pm
289-426-2374
I got IPA No. 5 at my local Calgary Co-op liquor store

Superb Brunch at Calgary’s Deane House

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Calgary’s Deane House is a lovely historic building flooded with morning light

I usually hate weekend brunch. Because of the late-morning opening, there’s invariably a line of folks who, once seated, tend to order mimosas, dally over eggs benedict, endlessly refill coffee cups, engage in long conversations and generally just linger long after the bill has been presented—all prolonging your wait. Also at brunch, the usual breakfast menu is souped up, jacking up prices.

But even a curmudgeon like me must make an exception for the Deane House, in a recently restored historic building near downtown Calgary. First, they take brunch reservations, which pretty much eliminates the wait. Second, the service is casual but professional.

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Poached eggs on a bed of potato rostii and winter squash

Third, prices are Calgary reasonable for the quality and imagination of the food. Yes, there’s a croque madame for $22, featuring duck rillettes and a local duck egg. But maybe the best dish on the menu, poached eggs on a bed of potato rostii and winter squash, is $16. And a smoked Arctic char eggs Benedict is $18, and char is never cheap.

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Smoked Arctic char eggs Benedict

But what truly makes the meal reasonable and the experience exceptional is the setting. The house is situated along the banks of the Elbow River and surrounded by a block of lawns and “edible” gardens, giving the space room to breathe, much like its sister restaurant, River Cafe, on Prince’s Island. Add to that the charms of a 1906 house, with its collection of distinctive rooms and vintage furniture.

Sitting at a table in an enclosed, wraparound veranda bathed in light sifting in through large windows, it’s a place on an early spring morning I don’t want to leave.

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The Deane House is right along the Elbow River pathway

Deane House
806 9 Avenue S.E., Calgary, Alberta
Weekend brunch 10 am, lunch weekdays 11 am, dinner 5 pm daily
403-264-0595

Calgary’s Best Coffee House?

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Caleb Leung and his wonderful new Sought and Found Coffee Roasters in Calgary

Despite living in Calgary a long time, I’ve never had a favourite local coffeehouse. A lot of good spots but, for various reasons, not places I frequent. Until now.

Ironically, all I needed was to look for the right name: Sought and Found Coffee Roasters, which officially opened, just north of downtown Calgary, in January. It’s lovingly owned and operated by Caleb and Kitty Leung; he got his coffee roasting/tasting training in Tulsa, Oklahoma, of all places.

First, Sought X Found’s space is gorgeous, with lots of repurposed wood along the coffee bar and a micro roaster (only six pounds at a time) towards the back. While the room is long and fairly narrow, there’s no sense you’re sitting on top of each other. The place is full of nice touches—a row of children’s books for reading, old window frames on the side wall, hand-written descriptions on the packages of fresh-roasted beans for sale.

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The coffee bar features gorgeous repurposed old wood

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Nice little touches throughout the space

Everything is carefully thought out and beautifully executed. That certainly applies to the coffee.

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Slowly and patiently producing the “hand brew” coffee

My Sumatra pour over (or “hand brew”, as they call it) is patiently filtered into a glass carafe. Unlike a lot of “third-wave” coffee shops, with lightly roasted beans, this cup is full of complex flavours the tasting notes describe as oak, whisky and cacao. Whatever. It’s still worth savouring even when allowed to cool.

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Kitty Leung delivers my hand-brew coffee

The coffee is not cheap. A hand brew or a large espresso and organic milk (the latter from Vital Green Farms in southern Alberta’s Picture Butte) is $5.50. But hey, if speed and volume is paramount to you, there’s a Starbucks across the street. Here, you’re paying a little more for superb quality and a leisurely experience.

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The little coffee roaster only produces six pounds at a time

The food menu is simple, featuring croissants from Calgary’s Butter Block (a croissant sandwich with prosciutto and fresh mozzarella and jelly is $7) and chocolate. The non-coffee drink options are similarly few but well chosen: loose-leaf teas and Japanese green matcha and houjicha teas.

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Roasted beans for sale, children’s books to read while sipping

My only complaint is Sought X Found is not close to where I live. Otherwise, I’d be here every week.

Thanks to Mike Haden for alerting me about this place.

Sought X Found Coffee Roasters
916 Centre Street North, Calgary, Alberta
Monday to Friday 7:30 am-5:30 pm, Saturday 8:30 am-6 pm. Closed Sunday
403-830-7278

Tucson’s Best Coffee

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Tucson’s Presta Roasters has one of the nicest entrances to a coffee shop I’ve ever seen

Now, this is what I call dedication. As I’m sipping a sumptuous Americano at Yellow Brick Coffee, in a Tucson industrial area, co-owner David Perreira is carefully tending a machine that roasts just five pounds of beans at a time.

This, folks, is not mass production. It takes a lot of roasting sessions to yield the 150-250 pounds of beans a week that goes to discerning Tucson restaurants, brew pubs, subscribers and dedicated folks willing to venture to this out-of-the-way location.

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David Perreira tends his tiny roaster at Yellow Brick Coffee

David and sister Anna are sufficiently passionate about tracing the source of their single-origin beans that they often visit growers in far-flung places such as Kenya. It’s all part of the process of wooing discerning customers, five pounds at a time.

Yellow Brick Coffee
3220 South Dodge Boulevard, #1, Tucson
Weekdays 7 am-2 pm. Closed weekends
520-226-4068

Presta Coffee Roasters, in central Tucson, is my definition of what a cool, elegant coffee shop should be.

The first impression is the sleek, streamlined design: a slat-covered, dappled-sun walkway leading to a reflective, glass-walled entrance. Inside, a John Prine duet is playing on the eclectic soundtrack, while a William Wegman photo book, of his dressed-up Weimaraner dogs, rests on a Danish coffee table. Racing bikes are mounted high on a wall, reflecting owner Curtis Zimmerman’s former life as a professional cyclist; a “presta” is a high-pressure valve on road bikes.

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Racing bikes on the wall at Presta Coffee Roasters

And the coffee. An achingly slow cold-brew drips into a large bottle. A Chemex carafe fills, a pour-over drains. My Americano half fills a desert-coloured stoneware mug. Nothing is hurried.

Like the other patrons, quietly sipping their drinks while immersed in a book or screen, I melt into my seat, not wanting to leave.

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Fresh-roasted coffee to go

Presta Coffee
2502 North 1 Avenue, Suite 100 (one other Tucson location)
Tuesday to Sunday 8 am-4 pm. Closed Monday
520-333-7146