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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.