Café: Lit Espresso Bar

Location: 810 College Street, Toronto, ON
Other Location: 221 Roncesvalles Avenue, Toronto, ON

When I started my blog, one of the first places that I reviewed was the College Street location of Lit. At the time, my espresso taste found acidity challenging. In addition, this location was relatively new. Given Stumptown’s Hairbender iconic status as an espresso blend, I was not sure what to make of the shot that I had that day as there was definitely some interesting layers of flavours, but not a shot that I particularly enjoyed. Given the limited tasting experience I had about Hairbender, I was not sure if it was my sensitivity to brightness or the shot that I had. Months later, I found out that the Lit College location initially had some water pressure issues for the espresso machine which would sometimes cause under-extraction and excessive brightness. Given changing tastes, I can’t say with certainty, but most likely my impression on that day was a combination of my taste as well as my particular shot.

Fast forward almost a year, and the last 4 shots that I’ve had at various Lit locations (Roncesvalles, College, and Queen West) have been some of my favourite in Toronto. This is not a coincidence as many Coffeestork followers have also mentioned very positively espresso at Lit. If I’m looking for a great shot in Toronto, Lit is among the first places on my list. This was first solidified with one of my visits late last year to the new Queen West location which I was able to do as an espresso lover, not as a blogger.

A Visit

Walking up to the newly renovated Burroghes Building, I was expecting to see a coffee shop. I was pleasantly surprised to see that this new location is incorporated into a shared retail space seamlessly fitting with the furniture from Design Republic. A great simple location for focusing on coffee. Following the other locations’ equipment, this location similarly uses a La Marzocco GB/5 with Mazzer Robur with a manual doser.

After a great shot in Roncesvalles a few weeks prior, my expectations were trending upward. So I quickly ordered a shot. The coffee was ground and a highly dosed filter was tamped with vigour, and the shot is automatically started including the programmed pre-infusion. The barista closely watches the shot as well as the shot timer displayed on the machine’s LCD. When the shot is done, the barista asks me if it’s alright if he pulls another because he didn’t like how that one came out. Wow! This happens very rarely to me when I’m not recognized. Clearly part of the shop’s commitment to serve quality.

Espresso Shots
The shot that I had that day was part of my most memorable of 2010. The aroma was an interesting combination of floral jasmine notes and citrus. The shot started with small dark chocolate and caramel notes that turned into light citrus and apple fruitiness finishing with a sweet milk chocolate aftertaste leaving you wanting more. Acidity was escalating toward the back of the shot, but always seemed well balance with a creamy nutty background. A memorable and complex shot.

Conclusions: Good Spot (Ratings Guide)

Each of the last 4 shots of Haribender at Lit have been really nice shots. Based on industry talk and from my own experience, Hairbender is one of the most challenging blends to pull requiring precision to hit all the variable producing distinctively beautiful shots that are among the favourites of long-time espresso drinkers. From my chats with the friendly staff, Lit definitely has the necessary elements in place in terms of training (from professional Stumptown training staff), equipment, commitment, and passion to be executing this rewarding coffee. The commitment includes weekly coffee from New York ensuring freshness. Passion including commitment to brewing some great Stumptown single origins which are showcased through regular cupping events.

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