Impressions on the State of Coffee in Ottawa

Posted by on 01 Aug 2014 | Filed under: Café Review, Café Walking Tour, Uncategorized

Having lived in Ottawa for just over 6 months, I feel like I should write some thoughts about coffee in town. In an effort to cover as much as possible and be as honest as possible, here are some short summaries:

IMG_1020.JPG 1) Ministry of Coffee – the leader for specialty coffee in Ottawa where I have consistently had the best shots and coffees in the city. They regularly rotate their coffee from top roasters including Heart, Phil & Sebastian, George Howell and 49th Parallel. Preparation is well understood and the staff is well trained. Elgin Street location is great … can’t wait for a permanent west end location.

2) Bridgehead – having made only 2 visits and bought one bag of coffee from them in the last six months, I feel like they have not progressed at all with their coffee in the last 2 years since my last write-up. In fact, it seems like they have regressed a bit, or my pickiness has increased. Anyhow, for me the coffee seemed middle of the road, lacking flavour, a little dirty, a little bitter at times, but drinkable in a pinch. Truthfully, I view them as a smartly run business following Starbucks in many ways but differentiating itself through a local, organic, fair-trade label. The focus for them now seems freshly baked $6 bread, sweetened cold brew, and some tasty fresh beer, not trying to cater to the specialty coffee drinker.

3) Bread and Sons – a yummy pizzeria/bakery with a coffee counter that stocks 49th Parallel coffee. Although the shops focus is not coffee, I find it a good place to pick up 49th Parallel coffee. Their mostly self-taught barista is very friendly as he pulls Old School Espresso, not my preferred Epic Espresso. Attentively pulled, although I have been not so subtly suggesting to try to get the temperature of the shot lower.

4) Illume Espresso Bar – as predicted in my first write-up, this place has become a just another mediocre coffee shop serving drinkable specialty coffee. The current choice of roaster is Pilot Coffee. The focus by the owners is profit, not a passion for serving good coffee, as was seen by the coffee choice – Pilot from Toronto or sometimes Ottawa roasters like Happy Goat. Pity since preparation is still alright and the equipment that they have is great.

5) Cafe Delices – one visit to pick up some Black Cat. My impressions of mediocrity haven’t changed because of badly pulled shots.

Any places I missed? Don’t hesitate to tweet me.

Some News and Notes from the Last 6 months

Posted by on 26 Oct 2013 | Filed under: Uncategorized

20131026-191545.jpgThe news

On a personal note, I have had a busy last 2 months where I have good reasons not to write. During this time, I have started coordinating a move of the Stork Nest to Ottawa. From a personal point of view this is great because of family, but it is working out well from a work point of view as well – my day work. Will miss some Toronto coffee friends. Now as a quick notes catch up section, I thought to share my mental notes on cafés and coffees from the last little while.

Cafés – Montreal

Had a visit in July. Only 3 coffee visits, all to Myriade – both Mile End and Downtown. The Mile End shop is awesome in terms of getting to talk to baristas, and the coffees I had were all memorable. Best espresso shot, maybe ever, was a Kenyan from Heart. If I wasn’t already one of the biggest fans, but they have changed their coffee menu a bit, as well as their water. The coffee is as always amazingly clean, crisp, and full flavoured. I should add clarity as something that also has been upped. It just keeps getting better. Good thing Montreal is two hours away from Ottawa. Proper writeup will be coming at one point.

Cafés – Ottawa

Good friend and coffee lover from Toronto, Alex, beat me to move to Ottawa about one year ago. He teamed up with with Fadi, ex-Bridgehead alum, to open up the Ministry of Coffee on Elgin Street. These guys understand extraction, and what great coffee means. In terms of beans, they rotate between top Canadian roasters. During, one of my visits, I had a beautiful Panamanian from Phil and Sebastian. This is going to be my goto Ottawa spot.

Cafés – Toronto

I haven’t tried many of the newer places, but I probably will try before I leave. I have ventured out occasionally, but nothing that I wanted to rush out to tell anything positive about. Here are some single liners:

  • Best drip coffee from this past year – a Geisha from Proud Mary brewed by Momi from Manual Labour. Matt and Katie will be missed.
  • 20131026-080949.jpg Cafe Olya in Cabbagetown. Found the coffee dirtier than I usually like. They really mix up their coffee sources, sometimes questionably.
  • deMello near Yonge and Eglinton, run by two brothers who worked at St Ali’s in Melbourne. They really understand extraction, but are still working on the roasting. It will be a while until I repeat based on dirty and flat espresso, as well as under-developed drip coffee.
  • V60 pourover of Detour Coffee at Dark Horse Queen West. Lacked flavour and was a little bitter. Unimpressed.
  • Tried some of the Sam James roasted Cut Coffee espresso at his Pocket. Woody and dirty. Hopefully it was just an off shot or batch, hopefully will get better.
  • Mercury Espresso served me up some consistently nice shots when I picked up some coffee from them. They just need to reduce their price from $14 per half pound on their George Howell coffee. I have also seen 3 week old coffee on their shelf.
  • Crema at Bloor served some pretty nice Epic shots to me over the years. I think the days for this are numbered as Crema is starting their own roaster brand, Propeller Coffee. Given the steep learning curve for new roasters, early results will be mixed, but it will be be fairer to judge in a year or so where they are going, and how they are progressing. Although local roaster coffee quality hasn’t been spectacular, you never know who might come out as a surprise over the long term.

Roaster Impressions

  • Bows and Arrows which is usually available at Mercury in Toronto has been better each bag that I tried. Has always been clean with good acidity and good flavour, but the last bag of a Nicaraguan coffee really impressed me with improved sweetness and complexity.
  • Anchored Coffee from Halifax from TIBS cafe owner, turned roaster. Tried a shot of an El Salvadoran at the Ministry in Ottawa, and it was too woody/papery. The bag of the Honduran that I bought home had the same problem. Not a fan yet.
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Roaster Overview: Coava Coffee

Posted by on 06 Mar 2013 | Filed under: Roaster Overview

DSC_0039Although only 4 years old, Coava Coffee from Portland has placed itself in the elite roaster category through many accolades in barista competitions (including Devin Chapman taking the NWBRC the last three years), innovation that it has created in brewing methodology and the quality of coffees that it has been bringing forward. It was recently a treat to get to try a broad range of its coffees including espresso and drip profiles. But before highlighting my thoughts, let me briefly touch on the roasting philosophy and Able Brewing.

Roasting Philosophy

In terms of roasting approaches, my insights came from Matt Brown, the Director of Wholesale at Coava, who described their beliefs during a chat we had. As with many roasters that I have highlighted on this blog, Coava has a strong belief in direct sourcing unique coffees that are individual examples of the terroir and uniqueness. It is dedicated to a single origin approach, without any blends, and generally roasts for two profiles, drip and espresso. In terms of roasting qualities, balance was a theme that was highlighted during our conversation, along with body and sweetness. Certainly qualities that I noticed in the cup of the coffees that I tried.

Brewing Innovation

Matt Higgins was Coava’s founding roaster who roasted several years as a roaster at Pacific Bay Coffee Roasters in Northern California, and then moved to Portland to work for the Albina Press. While at Albina, he begun roasting out of his garage and thus he started Coava in 2008 on his own. With previous roasting experience, and much coffee talent surrounding him, Coava has brought together top skills and innovators as it has opened both a roaster and a café. Then Matt invited his friend Keith Gehrke to partner in the company in Jan 2010. Together they developed the Kone as a way to help differentiate the Coava brand while making a sustainable American made filter. It quickly became apparent that roasting and manufacturing were two very different business models and so Matt and Keith developed a new brand Able Brewing. Keith stopped working at Coava in August of 2011 to focus entirely on new designs which led to the official separation of the companies in March 2012. The brewing innovations started with the Kone, a metallic filter for the Chemex which has gone through 3 improving iterations. The other product has been the Aerodisk, a metallic filter for the Aeropress, and more recently a Kickstarter-funded ceramic brewer that uses the Kone. As the brewing equipment business has come into its own, and the business models for brew equipment manufacturing and coffee roasting are dissimilar, this has led into spinoff of Able Brewing. This has allowed them to continue the business with the same cornerstones of strong research and product development to bring forward improvement to existing brew methods, while keeping with a made-in-the-US creed.

The Coffee

As I eagerly tasted the coffees that I received, the overall first impressions were of sweetness, body, cleanliness, and full flavour. All the coffees seemed to have a deep roasting penetration that brought out these qualities. While certain roasters can be characterized by light roasts that bring out a lot of acidity, my impressions of Coava were that they did not push the boundaries in this area, but that certainly the natural flavours of the beans themselves were present as each coffee had an individual character. Here are some quick impressions of the coffees:

  • Flor De Concepcion (Guatemala) – drip and espresso – a wonderful example of a classically flavoured Guatemalan DSC_0044that comforts with rich dark chocolate that is balanced with a sweet jam and citrus acidity. The structure of the espresso was great with a honey and citrus nose, combined with light front citrus acidity and a long cocoa aftertaste with good sweetness. Between 70-80% pulling ratios were nice as more complexity came out including spicy cinnamon notes. In the Aeropress, the coffee was also a favourite among tasters as the cup was comforting and interesting at the same time.
  • DSC_0045Gaturiri (Kenya) – espresso – a distinct tasting Kenyan with lots of sweetness. Strong toffee caramel combined with blackberry jam and medium citrus acidity that can be perceived to combine as a stewed tomato. Worked well with milk as the caramel and sweetness came into prominence. Generally preferred at shorter ratios in the 80-90% range as sweetness really came out and some spicy vanilla also emerged. The flavours were a bit polarizing among tasters.
  • Kilenso (Sidama Natural) – drip – a classically flavoured Ethiopian natural with berry burst on deep milk chocolate with lots of sweetness and body. For this category, the coffee was among the better in terms of cleanliness with no wininess. Definitely recommended for those who like natural coffees, but not for everyone.
  • Girasoles (Costa Rican) -drip – A juicy crispy coffee with good orange acidity and plum sweetness combining with a strong caramel body producing a flavour that I often think of as typically Costa Rican
  • Santa Sofia (El Savador) – drip – rich deep dark chocolate balanced with a brown sugar sweetness and dry finish in a clean classic cup with just the right light cherry acidity to keep it lively. To me the profile exemplified what I usually like about the Typica varietal.

Concluding Thoughts

I whole heartedly added Coava to my list of great roasters that I have enjoyed coffees from. As I am thinking of readers who will most likely enjoy them the most, the first people that I think of are those who generally lean towards sweetness over acidity, and those who enjoy taste diversity and trying. something new, rather than sticking with a certain types of profile. Having said that, I think most will find something that they will really like.

Roaster First Impressions: Pig Iron Roaster

Posted by on 24 Jan 2013 | Filed under: Roaster First Impressions

Pig Iron CoffeeRoaster Background

Pig Iron Roasters was started by Lit Espresso Bar owner Joe Agnoletti early last year. The name reflects the roaster’s love for their vintage, rebuilt Probat roaster, with which they are hoping to differentiate themselves. Joe and sister Nicole had a strong run so far with their shops that were Toronto’s only Stumptown serving shop. Certainly I have noticed their passion for coffee and their progression in the quality of their product, and I want to wish them luck in their new venture, but I am sad to see them drop Stumptown from their menu as Toronto continues to have less availability to quality American roasters. Anyhow, for those who have made a visit to Lit during the last several months, you will notice that they are exclusively serving their own Pig Iron coffee.

What I have Tasted So Far

Pig Iron RoastersI had the pleasure of going into the shop early this month, and tasting a coffee and an espresso, both which were well prepared by the barista. In our conversation, my impression was that roast profiles are still being adjusted as experience is gained, and the roasting team continues to improve. I also commend them on having a limited selection of coffee origins, as they have preferred to go with quality. Their current roasting goals have been to go light on their roasts, which has resulted in crisp acidity in both their coffee and espresso. I also left with two bags of coffee, an Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Birhanhu and their Espresso Blend, named Steel Wheel.

Early Overall Impressions of the Coffee

Based on tasting all these coffees, as well as impressions from others who I shared the coffee with, my general impression was generally favourable for a roasting team that has not had years of experience. The coffees had good balanced acidity and a some unique taste nuance coming through from what I took to be the bean, combining with nice clarity and cleanliness, although touches of woodiness occasionally showed up. My complaints were a nose which was on the milder side that could benefit from a fuller aroma, and a lack of layered complexity and sweetness in the roast. Nothing I am raving about, but certainly something that I will revisit in half an year to see how it has progressed.

Café Review: Illume Espresso Bar

Posted by on 17 Jan 2013 | Filed under: Café Review

Café: Illume Espresso Bar

Location: 1433 Wellington St W, Ottawa, ON K1Y 2X2

As I traveled to Ottawa over the holidays, Illume Espresso Bar was one of the new coffee shop openings that I was excited about as they opened a few weeks before Christmas. My early research indicated that this shop had been in the works for a while by a well-trained barista, Fadi and some partners. As for roasters, it would have 49th Parallel and Phil & Sebastian coffees on the menu. Certainly something that set my expectations higher, but unfortunately this story does not end happily.

The Brew Bar for the First Visit

When I walked in, I saw the single cup brew bar with four brew methods available: Chemex, Siphon, Clever, and Walkure Bayreuth. As I interrogated the barista about the brew methods and the available Phil and Sebastian coffees, some Bridgehead baristas were doing a tasting together and were seated on the side of the brew bar. A couple of them recognized me, and re-introduced themselves as my memory is not so good. (We also had a great conversation throughout my visit) My expectations about Illume improved again.

For my first cup I decided to go with the Walkure Beyreuth brewer which is a ceramic pour over brewer invented by the German ceramics company, dubbed the Karlsbad method. Something that I have not yet encountered which made me all the more curious. This ceramic pour over vessel has a top and bottom that is separated by a ceramic filter. I was immediately concerned about sediment, but the barista assured me that the technique and brewer resulted in very limited sediment and that the cup would still have good clarity. For the coffee, I chose one of three Phil and Sebastian coffees that were available, the Guzman Brothers Columbian. Indeed as I tasted the cup, the barista had set my expectations correctly as a very nice cup was produced. The nose that was produced had a relatively light caramel vanilla nose that preceded a cup that had a nice rounded chocolate caramel body with light sweet orange acidity. The cup and the after taste were clean with no bitterness. Overall the taste felt a touch on the light side of extraction, giving me an impression that the coffee was even more delicate. In any case, the cup was something I would be happy serving.

The First Shot

Next I turned my focus to the espresso bar which is equipped with a Kees van der Westen Mirage and a Franken-dosered Robur. The coffee being offered was the Holiday Blend from Social Coffee which was surprising as I didn’t realize that roasters were being rotated so liberally. As well, this was coffee was not very impressive when I had previously tasted in Toronto at Capital Espresso. Fadi, a part owner and second barista on duty pulled me a shot by carefully dosing and then using a knife as the dosing tool to carefully distribute. He quickly saw the first shot was off, and said that he would pour a second shot. I persuaded him to let me taste both. He was definitely right about the better shot.

The better of the shots was pulled at about a 60% ratio and had a mellow dark chocolate nose with touches of earthiness. The first sip revealed quite little acidity with body on the lighter side. The limited orange acidity gave a flatter taste to the cup that was dominated by dark chocolate, slightly astringent burnt caramel, and some earthiness that flowed into a short dry finish. I felt the shot was well pulled, but it wasn’t a coffee that I thought was well selected.

The Second Shot Visit and the Second Shot

Towards the end of my stay in Ottawa, right after New Year’s, I was in the Westboro neighborhood, and I dropped in again. The coffee on the retail shelf was the same as my pre-Christmas visit, now surpassing 3 weeks post roast. The only new thing to appear was a bag of JJ Bean Eastside blend with the descriptor of earthy on the bag. When I stepped up to the bar, unfortunately this was what they had been pulling for the week as they awaited new coffee to arrive. I asked the barista if he had tried it, but he said no since they were trying to make the coffee last until their new coffee arrived.

I should have gone for the brew bar, but part of me wanted to see how the quality was compromised. Indeed I should have not been curious as the coffee was flat, earthy, woody, ashy, and flat with lots of creamy body. Certainly something that should have been passed up.

Conclusions – In a Pinch (Ratings Guide)

I was initially conflicted on the rating as I felt a lot of things were done right in this shop. I had a great cup on the Walkure Breyuth and felt that the barista knowledge and training was very good while showing care and passion for the coffee. On the other hand, I was served two espresso blends that were lacking flavor with earthiness and astringency. Neither being something that I would select. A compromise on coffee quality which throws into questions the dedication and quality consistency at this shop.

Based on a reliable industry sources, it seems like there were internal conflicts within the shop partners, causing the Fadi to leave, who was the driving force behind the training and quality at this shop. In the long-term, the prediction is that Illume will be just another independent shop with variable quality serving economically selected coffees. Hopefully, this prediction is wrong, but based on what I saw over the holidays, it seems headed that way.

Other Reviews

  • Illume Espresso Bar on Urbanspoon

12 Most Memorable Coffees from 2012

Posted by on 31 Dec 2012 | Filed under: List

Memorable Aeropresses
Square Mile Wote
Verve Roasters Biranthu
Transcend Terra Bella
Phil and Sebastian Guatemala Patricia Perez
Heart Roasters Adulina

Memorable Shots20121231-164944.jpg
Handsome Roasters Scout’s Honor at Café Myriade
Square Mile Red Brick
Ritual Roasters Honduras Los Manos
49th Parallel Sidama Fero Organic at Bordeau Grove
49th Parallel Guatemala El Injerto
George Howell Konga Coop
Phil and Sebastian Carmen Estate

Café Review: Café Delices

Posted by on 16 Dec 2012 | Filed under: Café Review

Café: Café Delices
Location: 197 Kent Street Ottawa, ON K2P2K8


Following the satisfying Bridgehead Roastery visit, I made a quick drop by visit to the downtown Café Delices to which I had once previously visited. Although I didn’t write about my first visit, I do remember being served an underwhelming shot by an inexperienced barista. I was hoping that my second visit would be better.

The downtown cafe is a 9-5 weekday operation also serving small sandwiches and chocolates to the downtown Ottawa crowd. The biggest attraction to the shop for me is that it serves Intelligentsia Black Cat Organic coffee. Don’t know why the choice is is the organic version of Black Cat, but my guess would say that it mimics Bridgehead’s organic trend. In terms of espresso equipment, the machine is a Nuovo Simonelli Auerlia paired with a Compak K10 Fresh grinder.

The owner of the shop was the cash when I ordered the shot, and the shot was quickly prepared once I ordered it by somebody else behind the counter. Preparation was mechanical as the coffee dropped into the basket from the doserless grinder, no grooming, straight tamping, and the shot was measured using volume as a visual clue.

The Shot

The cup’s aroma was kind of flat and unmemorable as some small chocolate notes came out. The first sip startled the lips with its overly hot temperature, from which it was hard to recover. The rest of the shot tasted flat with bitter chocolate ending in mild fruity acidity. The shot felt generally unclean, and had an overly light mouthfeel from what seemed a shot towards a 50% ratio.

Conclusions: In a Pinch (Ratings Guide)

Intelligentsia Black Cat shots are a treat when they are pulled right, but to get quality, it requires baristas skill and dedication. Unfortunately during my two visits to Café Delices, the nice shot did not materialize. Based on comments from a few readers, I don’t believe my experience is unique. My recommendation would be to only visit in a pinch and you are feeling lucky.

Other Reviews

  • Café Délice on Urbanspoon

Roaster Overview: Transcend Coffee

Posted by on 03 Dec 2012 | Filed under: Roaster Overview

When the topic of top Canadian roasters comes up, Transcend is inevitably mentioned. Although Poul Mark has been one of the community builders for years in the Canadian Specialty Coffee industry, my attention for this Edmonton-based roaster only came into prominence last year when long-time Transcend employee Josh Hockin won the Canadian Barista Championship. My interest in Transcend recently grew as I had the pleasure of trying some of this year’s coffees. In addition, I also had a very interesting chat with Poul as I tried to better understand more about the key differentiators of Transcend as a roaster and their focus in the upcoming year.

What makes Transcend Different?

My impressions of Transcend were primarily based on their well-written blog and podcasts which are regularly updated and quite varied in their theme as they give insights into coffee topics that are very relevant to Transcend at the moment, industry commentary, as well as educational topics. From this reading, my image was of a company that was very committed to direct trade from its onset in a deep rooted way beyond marketing. Secondly, I saw the obsessive focus on the quality of green coffee as an avenue to cup quality. Thirdly, I noticed a company that is continually looking to improve its quality. For example, after a roasting visit this past summer to Kaffa in Norway, and their move to a Probat roaster, one of the latest focuses has been to roast lighter to get more flavor and liveliness from the beans, while still achieving the depth and caramelization necessary for a good cup

During my conversation with Poul, these facts were confirmed, but I was also able to find out some additional things about them:

  • Although Transcend directly sources a lot of coffee like bigger specialty roasters, its operations are relatively smaller as it has concentrated on building out a quality retail operation with two stores in Edmonton and a strong online retail presence, while it has a limited wholesale business operation.
  • Pricing, quality, and demand are difficult elements to manage given the margins and tradeoffs that have to be made. While paying farmers fair wages and having clean quality in the cup are important factors to specialty consumers, demand has been more sensitive to the inevitable higher pricing.
  • At the moment, Transcend finds itself at the higher end of retail coffee prices as it has some of the highest green prices among roasters. With the the resulting retail pricing, the demand for this quality is not always there. Next year, Transcend will be looking at balancing its offering by sourcing lower quality and priced green, in order to be able to offer lower priced alternatives to consumers.

Short Impressions of Coffees

For me, the higher price is something I easily get past if the taste in the cup is memorable and satisfying. After I was lucky enough to receive two drip coffees, the Michiti from Ethiopia and the Terra Bella from Costa Rica, and two espresso roasts, I seriously feel that the value is there. Overall, everyone who tasted these coffees was impressed with the flavors produced by the light roasts with good clean acidity. More specifically, here are some individual impressions:

Michiti – clean, crisp citrus acidity with semi-sweet chocolate undertones and big lime tones over top. Subtle caramel on a short finish. Acidity was lively and the flavor combination of chocolate and lime was unusual.

Terra Bella – A very likable coffee which I enjoyed very much as it had that overall comforting feeling and sweetness from the baking aroma of sugar and tropical fruit to the big chocolate caramel body with nice light apple acidity and a clean lingering milk chocolate finish. It was very well liked overall by the group who tasted it.

Espresso blend - aroma of dark caramel and almond nuttiness made a big attraction to the cup. The cup was clean feeling with some orange acidity in the front, the aroma flavors reappearing with a bit of cinnamon, and a long semi- bitter long cocoa finish. In milk, the nuttiness really appeared enjoyably.

Santa Lucia - very different from last year’s iteration which Josh used to win the Canadian Barista Championship. The huge blackberries are gone, but the overall sweetness is left. Aroma is very enjoyable mixture of dark chocolate and tropical fruitiness. In milk, sweetness, chocolate and nuttiness are very pleasant with some light plum sweetness and acidity.


The most frequent question I get is what other quality Canadian option other than 49th Parallel. From this tasting, Transcend makes a serious case for consideration among the top handful of roasters as they move to roasting with a lighter touch, bigger flavors, and beautiful liveliness. The cleanliness in the cup is also something that was always remarked, probably a result of the attention that they have given to the quality of their green.

Café Review: Bridgehead Roastery

Posted by on 15 Nov 2012 | Filed under: Café Review

Café: Bridgehead Roastery

Location: 130 Anderson Street, Ottawa, ON K1R 6T6


Having grown up in Ottawa, I make trips back once in a while, so I get to check out the coffee scene. Having visited the local shops a few times, one of the brightest spots has been the evolution of Bridgehead coffee as I have noticed improvements in process and quality over the last few years as I mentioned during my last visit. The most significant change that they have made only happened recently as they have built a large roasting facility and brought their roasting in house, leaving Montreal’s Mystique coffee. The reasons behind this move are many, but my interest has been in the effect on quality.

Early Perceptions

As Ian from Bridgehead sent me some coffees from their new roasting facilities, my initial impressions of their coffees were generally positive. In the Aeropress, I was generally seeking a little more acidity and bigger flavors and aromas, but as espresso, I was generally enjoying the coffee profile as the balance was nice and distinct flavors emerged. Specifically I found the espresso blend to be well balanced, complex, favoring the chocolate and caramel notes in the coffees with small hints of berry acidity, and on the cleaner side of coffee.

Bridgehead Constraints

Given my love of big distinct flavors, taste cleanliness, and acidity, this wasn’t coffee that hit a home run for all these elements, although the coffee did well, and was definitely moving in the right direction from the previous Mystique coffee. But given a decades worth of operations with a dozen stores and a large customer base with existing taste preferences, a large leap towards my flavor profile was not to be expected. As I have noticed with my own taste, palettes gently change over time as new things are introduced and new flavor expectations are formed.

Furthermore, Bridgehead was one of the first coffee houses to make a commitment to serving organically certified, Fair-trade coffee. This severely cuts down on the green coffee that they can buy, limiting opportunities to source. Many more coffees would be available, if the certification demands were dropped, and they opened up to organically grown, not necessarily certified, and a direct trade model. Obviously, this might raise some eyebrows requiring customer education, but moving towards a less stringent sourcing model would still meet the social goals that are a basis for some customers, while opening up to more sources of quality.

Roastery Visit

With these preconceptions and knowing the operating constraints, I visited the large new roasting facilities which have a beautifully spaced coffee house inside. As their other cafes, the espresso setup is Synesso with Mazzer Roburs, Fetco drip coffee behind the counter, but what caught my eye was a brew bar off to the side. This bar offered four brew options including Clever drip, Eva Solo, Chemex and siphon brew on which two different coffees are offered daily. Based on the barista’s description of Bridgehead’s Yirgacheffe as the brighter and more flavorful of the coffees, I opted for it.

Given that the Clever is on of the brew methods that I am looking to get into, I chose that method and observed and chatted with the barista in detail about his method. With the use of a Ditting Tanzania, a gram scale, a Hario Buono kettle, a timer, and the Clever, he went to work. As we chatted and I watched his technique, my expectations grew based on the knowledge and competence with the brew technique. We decided to share the cup, and chat about the coffee. As the coffee was hot, it had a tad of bitterness and was flat, but when we let it cool to the right level, I was impressed with the cup that was pleasantly flavorful with light acidity. With nice floral aromas, the cup was primarily sweet milk chocolate with some jasmine hints. All the elements of a nice balanced cup were present.

The Shot

Going over to the espresso bar, a balanced shot was pulled at what I guess was about a 70% ratio. Aroma and the main body were dominated by chocolates and roasted caramel notes, while some florals appeared to soften the nose. Some gentle berry acidity appeared on the front of the shot which faded quickly into a very light cocoa finish with touches of toast. Mouthfeel was heavy and creamy with nice sweetness.

Conclusions: Good Spot (Ratings Guide)

Comparing to my last visit when I thought the coffee shop rating deserved an In a Pinch rating, I thought the Bridgehead Roastery earned a Good Rating on this visit, based on improving coffee input and the much better preparation technique and extraction. Additionally, given the brew bar at the Roastery offering single cup options that appeared well executed, I would recommend visiting this location above the shops. This rating has caveats as I had a great barista that was very knowledgeable, but based on other reader comments, I get a sense that the Roastery is a well-staffed location. Additionally, as we were discussing the coffee and my taste, there was a general indication that they are looking to expanding the offering by introducing small lot coffees that are lighter roasted that will be available on the brew bar, as well as adding a grinder for a single origin espresso that will offer a cleaner, brighter espresso option. With these two additions, I would say that the rating much more entrenched.

Other Reviews

  • Bridgehead on Urbanspoon

Café Revisit: Te Aro Roasted

Posted by on 11 Nov 2012 | Filed under: Café Revisits

Location: 682 Queen Street East, Toronto, ON


Although I had a roaster visit story about Te Aro Roasted when I started the blog, people continue to ask me my thoughts about them since I do not have a review. Since it is the closest roaster to my house, and I visit on average once per month, I have been meaning to write something for a long time, but every time I start writing my feelings are mixed.

Before getting into details, let’s look at what has progressed in the last two years at Te Aro Roasted.

  • Roasting has remained on site in their Leslieville Café, but the Sivetz air roaster has been replaced by a Diedrich drum roaster.
  • A second small cafe was opened in the west end focusing on different brew methods named Crafted which I visited once. The coffee I was served was far inferior than anything I had in Leslieville. Readers have mentioned similar unimpressive experiences at Crafted
  • Many local cafes of varying quality have picked up Te Aro Roasted as their roaster. Fahrenheit is an example of a place that is doing a great job.
  • The equipment in Leslieville has slightly changed as the machine is a La Marzocco GB5 that has two Mahlkonig Twin K30 paired along with a Mazzer Robur that is sometimes filled as well.

Before describing a particular visit in detail, let us start with some of the things I like about Te Aro Roasted:

  • Top staff are passionate about coffee, are always looking to expand their knowledge, and make for some good cafe visits and discussions
  • They have developed and put in place measurement systems to train their staff to produce coffee consistently within prescribed parameters.
  • Drip coffee that I have tasted has been consistently well extracted
  • Side of sparkling water served with the espresso

On the other side, here are some things that create the mixed feelings:

  • The Big Bro Blend is generally chocolate and spice based with earthy or woody dirtiness and occasional burnt caramel astringency. The body is big with just a touch of acidity and some sweetness. I usually don’t drink milk drinks in cafes, but whenever I mention that it is not my style of espresso, they find it surprising and then mention that it works well in milk drinks.
  • Inconsistency in the other espresso offerings. Since there are up to 5 hoppers that can be filled, there is usually some other espresso offerings for choice in addition to the Big Bro. The Elevens blend is usually one of the offerings, and some of my best shots at Te Aro have come from this blend which aims to be crispier and cleaner. My favorite shots of it had clean orange citrus on top of sweet white chocolate. At times there are other coffees also available, but every time that I have veered to one of these selections, I have been disappointed as the coffee was not dialed in, or I felt the coffee or roast had flaws. Not sure if it is because of the experimental nature of this offering.
  • Variability in the coffee offerings creates unpredictability. For drip, I have had some very nice cups such as the Colombian Primavera, but also several disappointments such as the flat washed Yirgacheffe that I had on my last visit.

The Coffee my Last Visit

I usually get a cup of drip when I visit, and I have found the extractions to usually taste bang on. As to the featured coffees, I have enjoyed some cups that taste full flavored and balanced, conversely some coffee choices have come up a bit flat and lacking flavor. During my last visit, I tried their Yirgacheffe which was somewhere in the middle. The aroma was very light with lemon citrus and florals gently emerging. The main cup opened up with tea base overlaid with very light lemon citrus acidity. Chocolates emerged in the cup especially towards a short finish. Although this genre and origin of coffee is generally light and subtle, I felt that the cup could have had more flavour and acidity.

The Shot my Last Visit

As I have been recently doing, I opted for the Elevens blend rather than the Big Bro. Smoky notes combining with woodiness and some some wine like natural hints surprised me as this blend used to be fruitier. I found the taste of the cup to be dominated by a caramel astringency with a bit of bitterness that balanced with some pleasant sweetness. The mouthfeel was creamy and silky with a bit of citrus acidity to add some juiciness. Ending was turning into some chocolate and then tobacco ashiness. In terms of extractions, it seemed balanced and complete towards a longer ratio of around 65%, but for me the coffee was not as impressive as previous iterations.

Conclusions: In a Pinch (Ratings Guide)

The coffee during my last visit was not something that I was raving about, but I have found this trend to be usually the case lately during my Saturday visits. Well executed preparation, but coffee that is underwhelming, particularly the caramel astringency that appears in enough shots and sometimes ashy aftertastes. When I have bought the coffee home to pull, similar taste are also confirmed. This for me is frustrating as I have occasionally had some very nice shots of Te Aro Roasted single origin coffee in Leslieville as well as at Fahrenheit over the last year, but the frequency is not great. For this reason, I tend to visit Mercury Espresso Bar more often which is very close by. Mercury has also has quite consistently good preparation and the espresso offerings are much more often towards my taste, especially in terms of cleanliness, lacking bitterness, woodiness, and dirtiness.

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