Café: Thor Espresso Bar
Location: 35 Bathurst Street, Toronto, ON

Review

One of last year’s best publicized openings was Thor. Having had a preview, through my many visits to Social which has the same equipment setup, and having the pleasure of meeting one of the owners, Patrick, as he was learning about specialty coffee, Thor was a bit more of a known entity for me. Since they’ve opened, I’ve had the pleasure of visiting a few times, but never had the time to write until now. Although I am not treated as an unknown at Thor, I do feel like I can try to give a fair review.

From the start when I began speaking to Patrick about the shop that he would open, I realized that his shop concept was very elaborate, and involved many other elements beside coffee. When you visit and read about the shop online, you quickly realize that design is a central theme that it is incorporated into the space as well as the literature available. Music is also taken seriously with a DJ curating the playlist. I am sure these elements also serve as a fit to the neighborhood. On me, these details are lost as I’m just a coffee snob.

Having said that, coffee is taken seriously at Thor, but for me it is not with the same intensity as when I speak to Anthony at Cafe Myriade or Sameer at Fahrenheit. Other interests and goals share the limelight. Having said that, I’ve had some very good shots and good shots at Thor, but your opinion will vary according to how you like Social’s style of coffee.

Social Coffee Style

It has been more than a year and a half since Social has come onto the specialty coffee scene with success. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting the owner Steve many times and did an exciting event with him last year, so my impartiality is definitely not there, as he is one of the most approachable in the specialty coffee industry.

Having said that, I would characterize most Social espresso blends and single origin offerings in a certain style, although I am sure there are and will be exceptions. I would generally say they are aromatic with lots of fruity or juicy or floral notes. They are generally on the lighter roasted style without being afraid of acidity that is balanced with nice body, sometimes from a natural coffee. Background flavors are usually caramels, occasionally chocolates. Given these flavors, the coffees are usually Central American, South American, and African. You won’t find much Sumatranintheir espresso choices.

Coffee Choices

Thor was the first shop in Toronto to go with Social. The main grinder is always filled with the Thor blend which has evolved a bit but remains overall true to being heavy on fruit and wine aroma, a bit of citrus acidity in the shot followed by smooth easy chocolate. On my last visit, the blend consisted of a Panamanian, an Ethiopian, and a Brazilian. Previous incarnations had natural Ethiopians such as Amaro Gayo that really featured berry and wine tones.

In addition, Thor usually also offers a choice of a second espresso on it’s Versalab grinder. Usually a micro lot single origin espresso. This is usually my choice as I’ve had some wonderfully sweet, fruity, juicy shots from some wonderful Central American coffees.

Equipment

There was no shortage of media talking about the Slayer, and how cool and expensive it was. No doubt that it is a great looking machine, but it’s attraction for espresso fans is the pressure profiling that it allows. Typically espresso is extracted at about 9 bar of pressure. With the addition of pre infusion and the growing popularity of lever machines, the market started wondering about the effects of varying pressure during extraction. The Slayer was the first machine to provide adjustable pressure during the start of shot. One sets a mid pressure setting and then can control the extraction time at this pressure using the paddle before moving to full pressure. With the lower pressure, come slower extraction, and longer shot times.Typical shots that I’ve seen at Thor are done using a 10 seconds low pressure start, followed by a slow 20 second extraction, or sometimes slightly more. I find that Thor usually pulls a shorter shot than I’ve had at Social, but this sometimes increases intensified caramel astringency, not a desired affect. Other times, it serves to increase the body.

Although the Slayer was the most talked about machine when it appeared, the La Marzocco Strada has since entered the market allowing complete pressure adjustment either manually or through programmed pressure profiles, and has since taken a lot of the chatter away from the Slayer. The merits and benefits of varying pressure remain in contention in the espresso world. Skeptics are always cautioning consistency and repeatability.

Paired with the Slayer are a Mazzer Robur with electronic dosing and a Versalab grinder that makes single dosing of the featured single origin a breeze. The fluffiness and distribution of the Versalab grinder is coveted by many home baristas, but not very frequently seen in coffee shops.

The Shot

The shot that I had last visit is the one I will describe as it is the one I feel typifies what one could expect. The shots nose was a strong reminder of Social coffees with a berry, floral nose and wisps of citrus. The shot started with nice lemon acidity that quickly turned into intense caramel that had a bit of astringency which then flowed into a light milk chocolate light buttery finish. Part of that intense caramel was perhaps from the freshness of the coffee, but I also had the same hints at home where it was a nice feature with milk, but less so in a straight shot.

Conclusions: In a Pinch (Ratings Guide)

Next visit, I will be going for the feature espresso, as I’ve been a bigger fan of those in my past visits. Overall, I think Thor is the a great showcase cafe of Social Coffee in Toronto for those looking to try it in the city.



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