Café: The Good Neighbour Espresso Bar
Location: 238 Annette Street, Toronto, ON


Review

Having to do some errands in the Junction area of Toronto, I was tempted to drop by one of my favourites, Crema, but I thought to do some exploring instead by exploring a nearby café, The Good Neighbour, right down the street from Crema. I figured it might be a good bet as I knew they used Intelligentsia beans, and I know café owners usually choose premium beans when they are serious about their coffee.

Preparation

My expectations were further driven up as I walked in and saw a 2 group La Marzocco GB/5 paired with 2 Mazzers (Majors I believe) with electronic dosing. I ordered my shot, and the barista proceeded to prepare my shot with great care. I wasn’t sure what to make of slow deliberate movements and careful watching, but as I sipped my shot, I found out he had just been trained as barista. After having my shot, I spoke to the barista and the on-duty manager who did his training. I asked the manager how much they dose and the temperature they pull at. He replied that he didn’t know because the machine maintenance person did all that. He just trains the baristas to pull by watching the shot’s timing and visual clues such as blonding. What about taste I asked? Yes, they are familiar with the sweet chocolaty taste he responded, but mostly rely on the timing and visual clues.

Given the seasonal and varying nature of the Black Cat Classic blend, it was surprising to me that the person doing the barista training would have such a mechanical outlook on the preparation. Besides the ever changing blend, baristas need to understand the other variables that could potentially have an effect on changing taste such as bean age and changing environment. I’ve commented in the past that training servers is one thing, but training impassioned baristas that can serve memorable drinks is another story. No matter the equipment and coffee, I don’t think consistently outstanding espresso is possible without the inner understanding of the barista as to how truly great espresso should taste, and the detailed understanding on the variables of attaining it. My shot this day, was another testament to this theory.

The Shot

The shot’s aroma predominately showed some floral citrus notes which was promising. The shot begin with some small citrus notes that flowed into a slight cola flavours that than turned into brighter sweet dark bitter chocolate after taste. Although this was very characteristic of Black Cat taste, the shot overall was on the thin side and lacked some body and intensity of flavour. I felt the complexity and level of layers just wasn’t there compared to some shots that I’ve had.

Conclusions: If a Pinch (Ratings Guide)

As the Black Cat blend is seasonal and I haven’t had a shot of it in 3 months, I was not exactly sure what more I should be expecting from this iteration. I picked up some of the same blend to try at home. As I’ve been pulling this shot at home, I have reconfirmed that better shots are possible with a bit more body while at the same time bringing out more flavour intensity, sweetness, and complexity. Shots that I have pulled at home in the last two days have consistently tasted better. Is it fair to compare? Given the Good Neighbour’s sophisticated equipment, I would think a well-trained barista should be able to beat me any day hands down, but a trained server guessing based on visual indicators has a harder time. Given the shots that I’ve had on average at Crema, I think Crema is my default choice in the neghbourhood.

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