Milano Espresso Lounge (Gastown) – Vancouver, BC


Milano Espresso Lounge (Gastown)
36 Powell Street
Vancouver, BC
(604) 558-0999

The coffee scene on the west coast is a pretty vibrant one and Milano explains their heritage on their website in proud terms, noting their long Vancouver legacy and family traditions.  Their location in Gastown is a fairly spacey lot, with high ceilings, clean lines and a mix of industrial, artsy and comfortable concepts, textures and patterns in their lounge’s design.  The base of their operations – their roasting facilities – is situated in the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood, not too far from the likes of Menya, the busy MEC flagship and the fun to browse Dunlevy Food Equipment store.

Claiming to be dedicated to the old school Italian coffee tradition, Milano notes their key differentiator when it comes to their coffee product is their knowledge and dedication to a unique roasting and blending method – one that is not openly taught.  And with their belief that what makes a great espresso is the blend quality.   So much so that they even jack it up by using up to 11 beans in a blend, formulating options that run the full roast range (dark, medium, etc)!
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Kakao – Seattle, WA


Kakao Chocolate & Coffee Cafe
415 Westlake Ave N
Seattle, WA
(206) 833-5467

I admit freely to having some cravings for sweet stuff and giving in.  The times are few and far between though, so thankfully I’m not on a permanent sugar high like some people I know who guzzle litres of pop a day or never are without a sugary doughnut with their morning coffee, a candy bar at their work desk,  or pass on a daily dessert at dinner time. When I do crave something with chocolate as its primary ingredient, its often a dark variety bar.

Earlier in August, I was exposed to a variety of sample product from a Vancouver-based XOXOLAT ahead of a private function.  The use and dedication to serving single origin chocolates struck a chord with me, as it reminded me of what a segment of the coffee scene is like with its strive to procure ingredients from reputable and solo operations.

While on this recent trip to Seattle, we came upon the Kakao Chocolate & Coffee Cafe, located right by the Tesla showroom and an outpost of Serious Pie.  A very large and open concept space, outfitted with a mishmash of comfortable looking and more stiffer wooden furniture.  Big bright windows and high ceilings, led me to think this used to be some kind of industrial or commercial storage facility before it was transformed to the people-friendly business it is today.  While primarily concentrated on the chocolate realm, they do give ample attention to their coffee beans as well for their espresso (provided by Seattle roaster Herkimer Coffee) and the loose leaf tea on the menu is from Miro Tea.

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Stumptown Coffee – Seattle, WA


Stumptown Coffee
616 E Pine Street
Seattle, WA
(206) 324-6755

The Capital Hill area of the Emerald City is an intriguing one to go for a stroll around in.  Bars, live music venues, theatre houses, fashion boutiques, bookstores and coffeehouses abound.  I think you could spend a full day up and down the main streets of this area and get in a complete day of good eats and entertainment.  One of the most popular places to unwind and get a solid cup of coffee is Stumptown‘s location on the steeply inclined East Pine Street.

My only previous experience with their coffee was when I picked up some of their roasted beans in Vancouver’s Chinatown district.  So I was keen on actually going to one of their two cafes in this part of Seattle.  With limited seating outside and big glass windows leading inside, it was quite inviting from the sidewalk when you approach it.  Stepping inside, you are in direct line of sight with the main service counter.

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Uptown Espresso & Bakery (Queen Anne) – Seattle, WA


Uptown Espresso & Bakery
525 Queen Anne Ave N
Seattle, WA
(206) 285-3757
Mon-Thu 5am – 10pm, Fri 5am – 11pm, Sat 6am – 11pm, Sun 6am – 10pm

I’ve come to discover that one of the best things of having a base in Vancouver is its close proximity to the United States and a decent sized city that is very much like the one in B.C.   In less than three hours, you can be in Seattle, and have a chance to explore new sights and places to eat and drink, and still be able to get home and sleep in your own bed.  Can’t say I could do the same living in two major centers in Alberta like I did over the years.

First stop after arriving in town was at a breakfast place, where we got on the waiting list – to be written about later. We then walked down the street for some morning caffeine.  It was close and convenient, no pre-planning in effect.  A shame I know, given that Seattle is reputed to be a great coffee town.

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Everything Cafe – Vancouver, BC


Everything Cafe
75 East Pender Street
Vancouver, BC
(604) 681-3115

Strolling around in Chinatown is an interesting activity.  I see many tourists doing it, with cameras slung from their necks, taking in all this part of Vancouver has to offer.  Not only visually but also the many places to eat.  After all, Chinese culture has a long culinary history and has pervaded its way into North American dining, and has a wide spread familiarity, albeit perhaps not always along the true lines of authentic and regional cuisine that the country has to offer and is yet under-explored by many.  I’d say stick around here on foodosophy, as one of our keen writers GastronomyDomine (aka fmed) is a knowledgeable fellow when it comes to this genre and has posted more than a few reports on places  you should try out.  And hopefully more to come.  (nudge, dudge, wink, wink)

Amid a mainly Asian collection of shops, eateries and other stores, you can find the slow spread of other kinds of places that are merging into this neighborhood.  You can notice is especially if you walk from Gastown towards the heart of Chinatown.  Now whether this is a good or bad thing, it surely is up for debate depending on your stance.  I applaud though from a business perspective to give new things a shot, and inject old areas with new life and different choices.  At least for me, coming across these on random strolls makes things interesting.  Enough so to entice me to stop and go inside.  The Everything Cafe was once such place.

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Coffee Mama – Namyangju, KOR


Coffee Mama
Various locations
Location visited: Namyangju City, South Korea

Asian desserts.  For some they are a welcomed treat.  For others, I’ve heard words like strange, confusing and not appealing as descriptors or reactions.  I will take a stab at this topic despite not being a huge sugar-goodies fan and say that one of the main causes for this seesaw result is the source of the sweetness within many Asian desserts.  That being azuki beans.  I think for most westerners, the concept of sweet tasting beans is unusual and hard to comprehend, given that beans are generally used more for savory dishes in North American cuisine.  This juxtaposition is a concept that for some, that I think is hard to overcome.  Its perhaps more a mental hurdle than anything else, that perhaps more experience can help people overcome.

When it comes to after-meal sweets in Korea, one of the things that pops into my mind right away is the summer favorite known as patbingsu.  In English, I’ve seen it being referred to as red bean sherbet.  But really, its a compilation of shaved ice, ice cream, diced fruit (strawberries, banana, etc.), jelly, bits of rice cake as staple elements and toppings.  And for added texture, some places even add in some dry cereal flakes.  I’m sure there are even more creative approaches and touches that some places add, but these seem to be the standard set from my own experience.  Of course, the a fore mentioned sweet azuki beans are always involved.

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Zibetto Espresso Bar & Manhattan Gourmet 56 – New York, NY


Zibetto Espresso Bar
1385 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY

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Manhattan Gourmet 56
1377 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY
(212) 246-4410

A sunny 86F day in NYC with nothing to do in the morning.  A perfect setup for a casual walk in Manhattan and to grab a simple breakfast to enjoy on the benches of Central Park.  As a die-hard addict in need of a stiff cup of coffee in the morning, my first stop after bypassing those dreadful Starbucks outlets was Zibetto.  Essentially a long narrow space that couldn’t be more than eight feet wide and anchored by a sleek looking, white tiled and similarly colored marble counter-top bar accented with some metallic touches, it fit with my mental image of an Italian espresso bar.

Staffed with some slick looking, white shirted gents efficiently buzzing around behind the bar, there was already a strong lineup in place, as well as some other customers enjoying their cups of hot liquid at the tiny armrest like shelves jutting out from the walls.  Clearly, its a place to have your drink in a jiffy, no lounging around here sucking up free wi-fi or anything and generally disrupting the business need of turnover on the part of the proprietors.

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Caffé Vita – Seattle, WA


Caffé Vita Coffee Roasting Company
813 5th Ave N
Seattle, WA
(206) 285-9662

There is just something innate about living on the we[s]t coast that seems to drive the people here into the warm embrace of a welcoming hot cup of good coffee more so then perhaps other parts of the continent.  Some sources peg Seattle as averaging about 160 days of the year with a measurable rainfall and getting 92cm of the wet stuff per year (compare that to say Los Angeles, which receives just 30cm).  No wonder this gem in the Pacific Northwest is often referred to as Rain City.

An unproven theory that I hold is that when the outdoors are unpleasant but still tantalizingly temperate enough to make one long to be outside in non-rainy weather, it makes for an ideal environment for the development of  a strong network of neighborhood cafés.  For what better way to pine for better weather and gaze outside at it hoping for a shift in Mother Nature, than in the company of friends and neighbors, all huddled together in a homey place buzzing with the hum of active conversation that signify the free sharing of thoughts and ideas, with everyone sipping on a cup of aromatic and deep flavored coffee.

Does that paint a warm and fuzzy picture?  I sure hope it does…

Doing a quick scan of the online community for some favored coffee houses in Seattle produces a plethora of results.  Luckily, I left this legwork to my traveling companion and we found that we were starting our day in a neighborhood with one on the list nearby.  Good for us, as we both needed an early caffeine jolt to get started that morning.  And so with that, we quickly made our way to Caffé Vita in the Queen Anne section of town, and found it nestled into a quiet street-side building, across from some newer condominiums.  Apparently, this location was the original base (established in 1995) of this four-café operation, which also has its own roasterie.

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Simply French Café – Vancouver, BC


Simply French Café
3742 10th Avenue West
Vancouver, BC
(604) 568-6180

Saturday mornings and quiet times in cafés are becoming a combination that I’ve come to appreciate more and more of late.  Perhaps its the dreary winter season, but the mixture of powerful aromas and hot liquids and heart warming foods to start my weekend is something that can’t be beat by much else these days.  Any of our readers feeling the same way?

I had noticed this new café being established in a building along 10th Ave W, just before the Alma intersection.  I believe it had previously housed an antique shop.  The exterior signage is bold and noticeable when passing by, thus I was drawn in after I found out renovations were completed.  It has the simple, airy feel of a European hangout, complete with an assortment of various shaped wooden chairs and tables, a long counter at the back where food and drinks are prepared, and even a wall with various French food products for sale.  Its not the typical interior that one finds in coffee houses in this part of the city, so it was a refreshing change of pace for me.  Not sure about most of you, but the cookie cutter designs that dominate the chains and even independent coffee houses in town are starting to all look alike to me, with their use of stone, modern lines and earthy color tones.

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Café Muse – Vancouver, BC


Café Muse
2305 41st Ave. W
Vancouver, BC
(604) 568-2948

First off, loved the name of this place.  And no I’m not a fan of the band.

My visit was on a dreary winter weekend morning – a perfect time to get a quick cup of hot coffee, something to nibble on and work on the laptop with free wi-fi as I killed some time before a meet up with a friend.  I wasn’t alone, as several others had the same idea, some even pulling out those dreaded computers with a piece of fruit as their logo.

With a wide open glass facing, the entrance area is nice and bright.  Towards the back are more tables but feels darker and enclosed.  Why people would want to sit there when you can be in natural light is beyond me.  Pleasant and boisterous welcome from the folks behind the counter, make this place feel pretty homey.

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foodography – seventh annual Canadian barista championships


Welcome to a new segment here on foodosophy, where less text and more visuals will dominate. In fact, its this ‘foodography’ that initially helped shape the very concept and birth of our blog.

The first series is a collection of images shot at this recent event held in Vancouver, which saw Vancouver barista Kyle Straw of Caffè Artigiano take the title, and earn the right to compete at the world competition to be held next year in London.

Hope you enjoy it!

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La Cuisson – Richmond, BC


La Cuisson
1326-8368 Capstan Way
Richmond, BC V6X 4B4
(604) 207-2589

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In the Asian ethno-burb of Richmond, BC, just south of this city, is a cafe that serves up a decidedly Asian take on specialty coffee. La Cuisson serves coffee crafted in a Vacpot…like at the multitude of European-style premium coffee shops in Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, and other large metropolitan cities in Asia. In that continent, the espresso machine is not the preferred device of extraction at premium coffee shops (though admittedly it is increasingly more popular)…there, the Vacpot is king.

The Vacpot (also called a “syphon”) is not a new device – it evolved in Europe in the early 19th century from lamp assisted percolators. Early patent drawings from the 18oo’s illustrate vacuum brewers that are nearly identical to modern designs. It remains to this day the most popular method of extraction in many European countries. The Vacpot was a popular method for brewing coffee in this continent until the 1950’s when more modern devices became available.

The Vacpot method is time consuming and labour intensive. This method will not fly in the world of espresso to-go – it takes a few minutes to prepare one cup.

Coffee here is meant to be a “civilized”,  leisurely drink. The coffees are served in china settings – somewhat anachronistic and quaint in a city used to paper cups and thermal mugs.  I haven’t checked if WiFi was available here (it certainly would be incongruous with the vibe anyway). They do have an espresso machine in the shop if you prefer….but it is relegated to a secondary role – almost an afterthought.

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La Cuisson is a labour of love for Taiwanese ex-pat Jason Wu, the coffee-obsessed proprietor. This place looks almost like a museum of coffee esoterica. In his storefront window, is a collection of steampunkish Japanese cold-brewers,  odd looking coffee gadgets and other such collectibles. He also roasts his own beans on-site in an Italian made roaster. You can often catch him roasting if you pop in before they open (which by the way, is at a leisurely time of 1:00pm…surprisingly late for a caffeine addicted city such as ours).

La Cuisson Coffee Shop on Urbanspoon

Salt Spring Coffee Co. – Vancouver, BC


Salt Spring Coffee Co. – UBC Café
6308 Thunderbird Blvd
Vancouver, BC
(604) 221 6400

Playing fair on the battleground of business is a tremendous challenge. As a battle-scared solider in the cruel world of international commerce, I know this as well as anyone. For the basic principals of free enterprise and unregulated markets would suggest that as long as there is a game to be played, then to the winner should go the spoils – often at whatever the cost. And in the food service industry, this competitiveness can be seen in organizations scouring the world for expansion opportunities, negotiating very hard for locations, overlooking some environmental concerns of their suppliers in order to meet their sourcing needs, and of course, engaging in all out warfare for customers even if it means wiping out good, honest proprietors, the close communities that support them, and even cannibalizing their own sales to eliminate any remaining competition – all of this in the quest for the all mighty dollar. I am sure many of you can rattle off a few companies that would fall into this unabashed, relentless, and careless strategy when it comes to food and restaurants. In the interest of time, I will name one company that has fallen on rough times of late (probably much to the amusement of many), and generally is thought of as being an entity that would fall into this profile of a business engaged in such polarizing behaviour – the Starbucks Coffee Company.

In stark contrast to the monolith that is the Starbucks empire of coffee shops, the Salt Spring Coffee Co. boasts a mere four outlets in its entirety, all of which are based in the province of British Columbia. And this is for a company that was first started in 1996. Priding themselves on being mindful of fair trade and organics when it comes to the whole coffee bean-to-cup continuum, and the values of sustainability while still creating a good cup of coffee, it’s clear they are operating at an entirely different level from the Seattle-based mega brand. Their outlet on the beautiful University of British Columbia campus on the western edge of Vancouver would seem to be representative of their vision. Wedged within a new residential area, nestled next to a community centre and a spacious playground, with its wooden chalet-like design and relaxed atmosphere, and customers inside usually a mix of energetic students, teaching faculty taking a break, and of course nearby residents and their children – the building is very welcoming to one and all, and does not feel at all like a commercial enterprise.

It is places like this that I enjoy taking a breather, without feeling the pressure that I am to finish my drink, and move along so another hurried customer can take my seat. But by no means am I a regular coffee drinker. In fact, I would say I am one of those few working stiffs who doesn’t need a cup of Joe every morning, nor do I need to taste the flavor of coffee on breaks throughout the day. If I had to qualify myself, I would tend to be the type that drinks more teas (be it herbal, green, etc.) than anything else over coffee. So I must say that I cannot fully comment on the coffee offerings here at Salt Spring, other than to say that their menu features a choice of what they term “classic coffees’, which are comprised of selections of dark roasts, medium roasts, as well as decaf roasts. Aside from this, they do have ‘reserve coffees’, which they note as being the “next level of extraordinary, single-origin beans from the world’s best co-op growers”. The edible options that were displayed in the glass cased unit at the counter was your usual range of scones, muffins, cookies, and sandwiches.

With the recent layer of low cloud banks that recently blanketed the west coast of Canada, I thought it was fitting that my drink of choice this day was called the London Fog – a simple combination of Earl Grey tea, steamed milk and a touch of vanilla. It is a comforting warm beverage that I enjoy from time to time, when I feel the gray Vancouver doldrums. Plopping down in one of the chairs, all the while observing many others with their laptops open (yeah for free wireless!), I just took in the scene and was alone with my thoughts. I am sure many of you have your own peaceful oasis for short breaks like this in your city. With the coming holiday season, I suppose I am feeling a bit more nostalgic for all the cafés that I’ve spent time in over the years, with a warm mug in hand. I know its still early, but happy holidays everyone!

Salt Spring Coffee Co. (UBC Café ) on Urbanspoon

49th Parallel Coffee Roasters Cafe – Vancouver, BC


49th Parallel Coffee Roasters Cafe
2152 W 4th Avenue, between Arbutus and Yew
Vancouver, BC  V6J 5L1
(604)420-4901

In my never ending quest to learn more about coffee, I found myself in Vancouver chasing down what most people told me were the classic choices: J.J. Bean, Artigiano, 49th Parallel Cafe, and Elysian Room. I decide to visit 49th Parallel Cafe first. 49th Parallel Coffee Roasters is owned by Sammy and Vince Piccolo, founders of Cafe Artigiano; not just roasters, but Sammy is a World Championship-calibre Barista as well. They supply their beans to a variety of fine establishments – including Kawa Espresso in Calgary, but have recently have opened up a cafe location as a flagship store to feature their products.

After a short detour (stupid me had written down the wrong address) to the Burnaby roasting location (which was closed on a Saturday), i finally rolled into 49th Parallel’s Cafe on W 4th Avenue. Starving for caffeine. Rather that hit something on their beautiful La Marzocco, i decided to grab a clover to get the best out of their beans. A clover, for the uninitiated, is a single cup coffee brewing machine that replicates the properties of a french press, by vacuum brewing coffee, and is configurable in a variety of ways to extract the best flavours out of the beans. It used to be exclusively the domain of high end coffee shops, ringing in at a low low price of $11,000, but they were bought out by Starbucks and have recently been introduced into several Seattle-area Starbucks, with plans for expansion to more locations. Chains. Sigh.

Already a fan of 49th Parallel’s Epic espresso blend, as well as my all time favorite coffee, the Ethiopean Yergacheffe Beloya microlot that positively reeks of blueberries (it’s amazing – you have to try it), I wanted something a little different, so i went with the recommended Kenyan Kiriga – very sour, acidic, fruit forward, and extremely interesting. Well, at least that’s how i imagined the exchange. What actually happened was I asked them for a recommendation for what was sampling well, and I got a few mumbles and a “try the Kenyan”. To be honest, the service from the baristas was pretty poor, who were generally aloof and unfriendly, especially when compared to the fantastic service im used to in Alberta – Transcend, Phil and Sebastian, Kawa, Bumpy’s are all wonderfully kind, patient, and generous with a new comer to coffee like myself. This was fairly disappointing, considering my enthusiasm for coffee currently out weighs my knowledge at about 10-1, and Im always looking for new perspectives to learn from.

At a massive, 16oz serving, using what looked like 34-35g of coffee, it was a bit light on the flavour, and a bit much on volume. A few more grams wouldnt have hurt either. But the coffee was good, though the acidity was a touch hard on the stomach. 49th Parallel are definitely great roasters though – I couldn’t imagine extracting anymore flavours out of the beans than that cup did. Something that was well showcased as the cup cooled.

Anyway, bad service aside, it’s still worth the visit. The space is definitely very cool – modern, industrial with some 70’s retro touches. Their coffee is great, though I would go with a small, and their staff are very skilled. Really, at the end of the day, who needs a friendly barista anyway if they are serving coffee this good.

49th Parallel Coffee Roasters Cafe on Urbanspoon

Transcend Coffee – Edmonton, AB


Transcend Coffee
9869 – 62nd Avenue
Edmonton, AB T6E 0E4
(780) 430-9198
Open 7:30am-5:30pm, M-F; 9:30am-5:00pm Sat; Closed Sundays and Holidays

September 2008 re-visit post below

Original post below:

Unlike food, I don’t get coffee. Not yet anyway. But someday soon, i hope to. You see, many years ago, back in my University days (where i met Shokutsu), I drank coffee for stimulation – typically to keep me awake through a combo of too little sleep, and boring boring classes. This was rocket fuel – sludge loaded with sugar and cream to make it palatable. It didnt taste good, but this was the way coffee was supposed to taste. Coffee was cool. An easy date. And a necessity. And i could learn to like it.

Fast forward several years, and we have the proliferation of Starbucks. Expensive, catchy drinks with a lingo all its own. The drinks taste better than rocket fuel, but that’s because of the skinny, vanilla, extra hot, half and half, venti, whatever else is in the cup that makes it a coffee beverage. This tastes better than sludge, so im happy. But it doesnt taste like coffee. It tastes like sugar. And vanilla. But it’s good!

Today, there is a proliferation of “good” coffee – single origin, the concept of terroir, roasted dates, tasting notes. There is proper temperature and steeping time, fancy grinders and tampers. The complexity of coffee is endless. In the end, none of these things really matter. This coffee tastes better – that’s what matters.

The bottom line is simple: Transcend Coffee produces great coffee. They are passionate about coffee. And they love to educate people about coffee. Running a small roasterie in an industrial area of SW Edmonton, they have added a small retail cafe to a thriving roasting business. Their prices are cheap – relative to the expertise and the quality of their product. They have experienced baristas, who compete at a high level, to produce your espresso drinks. These have the fancy art, and the really nice full flavour. The good crema on top of your espresso, and the great textured foam. They also have a Clover Machine – an automated french press that is able to reproduce a near perfect cup of coffee each time, bringing out wonderful flavours like chocolate, citrus, grass, honey out of the coffee. Coffee is surprisingly complex – more than wine, and similar to food. The flavours you can taste will surprise you. Drink it black. Bitter, rancid coffee doesnt happen here. It’s how you taste the good stuff.

I feel particularly comfortable at Transcend. The room itself is warm and comfortable.  The people are nice. The service is friendly. They have a small selection of food (in house baked goods, outsourced baked goods, sandwiches, and chocolate bars from Chocophilia). More importantly, they are happy to discuss their #1 passion – coffee. And they put up with all my questions, no matter how inane, or oft repeated they are.

There is a slow growing movement towards “great” coffee – and Transcend definitely are helping lead the charge in Alberta. If you’re open-minded to trying it yourself, put down that cup of Starbucks and give it a shot. Like me, you may learn something new, and even enjoy it! Because afterall, at the end of the day, coffee, like food is about enjoyment.  Consume what you enjoy. And if you get something more out of it, all the power to you.  Maybe someday, i’ll get coffee. I’ll keep trying anyway. And in the meantime, i’ll keep going to Transcend Coffee, and learning a bit more about coffee sip by sip.

Transcend Coffee on Urbanspoon