Tag Archives: coffee

Edmonton’s Credo a Different Breed of Coffeehouse

Half a dozen types of excellent muffins steadily emerging from the kitchen makes Edmonton's Credo a special coffeehouse

Half a dozen types of excellent muffins steadily emerging from the kitchen makes Edmonton’s Credo a special coffeehouse

Here’s how you make a coffeehouse stand out.

Obviously, you need fine coffee. Edmonton’s Credo nicely meets that standard.

A nice Americano, using Intelligentsia beans

A nice Americano, using Intelligentsia beans

But it’s the house-baked goodies that blow the doors off. Credo smartly keeps things relatively simple, offering just a few treats like cookies, lovely pans of granola bars and muffins.

Muffins, you’re thinking? Big deal. But how many places offer a half dozen varieties at a time? Credo does, every day.

Here’s the real kicker. Most coffee shops bake one batch of muffins early in the morning. Once they’re sold out, they’re gone. And if they’re not all gone by, say, noon, they’re often wrapped in plastic, to keep them “fresh”. But to me, plastic wrap spells “stale”, usually enough to send me running for the exit.

Credo, though, has the ingenious idea of simply baking more batches as the day wears on. Thus the muffins are always fresh and often warm from the oven.

How about a fine cornmeal, cheddar muffin, with a bit of kick?

How about a fine cornmeal, cheddar muffin, with a bit of kick?

Such as the fabulous cornmeal and cheddar muffin I recently devoured. It had a lovely texture, with a bit of crunch from the cornmeal and a wee kick from, I’m guessing, some jalapeño. Did I mention it was just out of the oven and artfully angled, with its brethren, in its baking tin?

I could have ordered a blueberry muffin, a bran or a cranberry cornmeal instead and been just as satisfied. Indeed, it took all my willpower to not down a couple more.

So, by simply deciding to make great muffins, and lots of them, Credo is always going to be a go-to coffee shop among the dozens competing for my attention when I’m in Edmonton.

Credo Cafe
10134 104 Street and 10350 124 Street, Edmonton, Alberta
104 Street location: weekdays 7 am-6 pm, Saturday 8 am-6 pm, Sunday 10 am-6 pm (slightly reduced hours at the second, new location)
Credo Coffee on Urbanspoon

In other Edmonton coffee news, the cleverly named Burrow has opened in the underground concourse of a downtown light-rail transit (LRT) station. With an efficient espresso bar (using Four Barrel beans) and pastries and light breakfasts and lunches to go, it’s aimed at snagging the 20,000 transit users a day who walk by.

It’s part of Nate Box’s expanding city empire of little coffee/food places, joining Elm Cafe and District Coffee. Guess you could call it a box set.

Burrow
Central LRT Station concourse west (Jasper Avenue near 102 Street)
Weekdays 7 am-5 pm. Closed weekends
Burrow on Urbanspoon

Great Java in Cochrane, Alberta

Java Jamboree owner Jess Johnston meticulously making a pour-over coffee

Java Jamboree owner Jess Johnston meticulously making a pour-over coffee

Okay, I’ll say it. *Java Jamboree, in the bedroom backwater of Cochrane, is one of the best coffeehouses in Alberta. Take that, snooty Calgary and Edmonton.

The reason is threefold: first-rate coffee, a place you want to linger in—beyond staring at a computer screen—and fine food that’s largely made in house.

Let’s start with the most important thing, the coffee. Young owner Jess Johnston or any of her exacting baristas can make coffee any newfangled way you want: espresso-based, inverted Aeropress, Chemex or pour over. Ironically, the only knock I have on Java Jamboree is its reliance on lightly roasted beans from Calgary’s Phil and Sebastian and Victoria’s Bows & Arrows. I just like a darker roast.

Java Jamboree hits all the right touches, like this gorgeous china cup and saucer

Java Jamboree hits all the right touches, like this gorgeous china cup and saucer

Second, there’s the setting. Sure, Java Jamboree is in a nondescript mall with Safeway and Canadian Tire as neighbours and an acre of parking in between. But step inside the door, and you enter a calming world of beige walls decorated with good art, reclaimed wood tables and brushed aluminum chairs, a comfy couch, soft lighting from hanging fixtures and an unobtrusive jazz soundtrack that promotes actual conversation or book reading.

Isn't this the kind of coffee shop you'd like to hang out in?

Isn’t this the kind of coffee shop you’d like to hang out in?

Finally, there’s the food, a trucked-in or warmed-up afterthought at most cafes. Here, there’s a short but good menu of house-made fruit scones, breakfast wraps, a daily soup and a couple of paninis. The culinary features are four grilled cheese sandwiches, highlighted by an aged cheddar with caramelized onion jam and prosciutto and a side of their own ketchup.

Java Jamboree features four grilled cheese sandwiches, including this one with aged cheddar and prosciutto

Java Jamboree features four grilled cheese sandwiches, including this one with aged cheddar and prosciutto

So, you might prefer a café in Alberta that serves a bean or even food you like better. But I challenge you to find a place that can match these three pillars of a great coffeehouse.

Java Jamboree
#9, 312 5 Avenue West, Cochrane, Alberta
Monday to Saturday 8 am-6 pm, Sunday 9 am-6 pm
Java Jamboree Coffee Co. on Urbanspoon

How Do You Spell Portland’s Best Coffee Shop?

Portland could well challenge Seattle for the title of Coffeetown, USA

Portland could well challenge Seattle for the title of Coffeetown, USA

It’s hard throwing a pound of fair-trade, organic beans in Portland without hitting a coffeehouse. In many parts of town, they’re on every street corner, often with a few more squeezed in between. For all I know, Portland might rival Seattle as Coffeetown, U.S.A.

Stumptown Coffee Roasters is the local heavyweight, with a vast bean empire and some half dozen cafes in town, closely followed by Ristretto Roasters. There are too many independent, often one-off, places to mention. Suffice to say, the expectation levels are such that many food carts offer pots of French-press coffee, sourced from local micro roasters.

Minimalism is in at Ristretto Roasters in Portland

Minimalism is in at Ristretto Roasters in Portland

But I might just have to side with the mighty New York Times in naming tiny downtown *Spella Caffè as the top espresso puller in Portland. I walk into this jewel—no bigger than an oversized closet—and am greeted by three uniformed people. Now, this is what I call service. While waiting for the barista to prepare my macchiato, another guy describes their affogato, a gelato drenched in two shots of espresso. I also talk to owner Andrea Spella, who moved to this shoehorn location after the usual burst pipes and overheating persuaded him to abandon his coffee cart. The batches at his southeast Portland roastery are equally tiny, weighing in at 11 pounds.

Don't let the small size fool you. Spella Caffe's espresso packs a heavyweight punch

Don’t let the small size fool you. Spella Caffe’s espresso packs a heavyweight punch

My macchiato to go or to stand (really, there’s no place to sit) is served in a tiny cardboard cup. But boy, does it pack a punch. None of that thinly roasted, sour-tasting stuff here. The thick, full-bodied taste lingers on my tongue long after I’ve taken a pound of roasted beans to go.

Spella Caffe
520 SW 5 Avenue, Portland
Weekdays 7:30 am-3:30 pm. Closed Saturday and Sunday
Spella Caffe on Urbanspoon

Seattle’s Finest Coffee?

Espresso Vivace may be the top hipster pick for coffee in Seattle

Espresso Vivace may be the top hipster pick for coffee in Seattle

It’s Seattle, folks, where Starbucks got started more than 40 years ago and many a novel and email has been read. It’s the place that really put cafe society on the map in North America. So not surprisingly, there are lots and lots of coffee shops around, many of them micro roasters and just as many devoted to the art of making precise cups of java of any style imaginable.

Espresso Vivace pulls a fine, smooth espresso at two cafes and one sidewalk stand, while Victrola Coffee Roaster also has three shops, serving nice pour-overs, some soaring into the price stratosphere depending on the chosen bean. A nice discovery for me is Caffe Ladro, a roaster/scratch bakery with a dozen area cafes and single cups done three ways: Clover, Aeropress or, my choice, Clever (think French press without the sediment).

Much less heralded but a place I thoroughly enjoy is Moore Coffee Shop, in the downtown Moore Hotel. Parking’s a bitch, but the small cafe is a haven of serenity, where I sink into a nice leather chair to savour a strong, double-shot Americano (believe they use local Caffe D’arte beans).

Enjoying a fabulous Americano at Moore Coffee Shop in downtown Seattle

Enjoying a fabulous Americano at Moore Coffee Shop in downtown Seattle

Owner Lupe has included some nice touches such as slices of, say, apple, in a complementary jug of cold water and a little square of good chocolate placed on the saucer. He’s also added some good, $6 sandwiches, like a caprese with fresh mozza, to the menu. Let’s hope the cognoscenti don’t discover this sanctuary.

Moore covers all the nice touches like this jug of fruit-infused water

Moore covers all the nice touches like this jug of fruit-infused water

Moore Coffee Shop
1930 2 Avenue, Seattle
Weekdays 6:30 am-5 pm, Saturday 8 am-3 pm. Closed Sunday

Why I Don’t Order Coffee at Breakfast Joints, and Vice Versa

Good coffee should be savoured at places dedicated to coffee

Good coffee should be savoured at places dedicated to making coffee

From a lot of road food testing, I’ve come up with a rough rule of thumb: Don’t order coffee at a breakfast place, and don’t order food at a coffee joint. In other words, stick with what each does best.

First off, I’m not saying absolutely don’t order coffee with breakfast. For a lot of people, it’s the only jolt of java they’re going to get before hitting the road. And there is something comforting about coffee hitting the bottom of that mug just as your seat’s hitting the chair at 7 am. I’m just saying, don’t expect that coffee to be great.

Think about it. Most breakfast places charge $2 or thereabouts for a cup of coffee and maybe two refills. I’m sure they’re not making much money off these bottomless cups. It’s just something they’re expected to offer—more of a loss leader, in marketing terms. Whether it’s driven by economics or not, the resulting coffee may be fresh (busy breakfast restaurants do go through lots of pots) but it’s also usually weak and indifferent, at least by my standards. The spoons that arrive inside the filled coffee cup at some diners are not exactly standing up.

This place served up an excellent omelette. The coffee? Not so much

This place served up a mean omelette. The coffee? Not so much

And if restaurants do offer espresso-based drinks, it’s normally the wait staff handling those duties, on top of running around serving breakfast. I strongly doubt they’re timing those shots.

A lot of love, and skill, go into making a good pour-over coffee at 49th Parallel in Vancouver, B.C.

A lot of love, and skill, go into making a good pour-over coffee at 49th Parallel in Vancouver, B.C.

What good breakfast joints do well is make good breakfasts, because they often have two experienced cooks focused on just cooking those breakfasts. At most coffee joints, good as they may be at making coffee, they have exactly zero cooks producing made-to-order breakfasts. Instead, they offer breakfast treats, like scones or muffins, typically produced offsite and delivered close to opening hour by a local baker, which in some cases means it might be reasonable fare.

This delightful breakfast wrap is an unusual example of a coffee place serving up good food. The reason? They made it fresh to order.

This delightful breakfast wrap—at Old Town Coffee in Lander, Wyoming—is an unusual example of a coffee place serving up good food. The reason? They made it fresh to order.

Unwilling to call it quits here, though, most coffee shops also offer something hot—maybe a breakfast egg sandwich or burrito. But in the vast majority of cases, these breakfasts have already been made and are then heated in an oven or microwave when ordered. (I recently watched one café worker put together breakfast sandwiches assembly-line style, slapping white slabs of cooked, cold egg between slices of bread to await the panini press.) In other words, it’s hardly fresh fare, though it is more efficient… for the cafe. I’ve even been offered the “opportunity” to heat the food myself in a microwave. Eggs or croissants nuked in a microwave. Yum!

And if you see something wrapped in plastic, run for the hills. To me, this screams “day old”. I’m always amazed people will pay $3 or more for this packaged stuff.

Do plastic-wrapped treats say "fresh" to you?

Do plastic-wrapped treats say “fresh” to you?

So, I tend to keep my two morning road-trip worlds, breakfast and coffee, apart—eating breakfast first and then getting a coffee at a coffee joint. And if you’ve got the time, I suggest you do the same.

Your thoughts? Just hit the “reply” button at the top left of this post.