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Best coffee in town


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Ok, I'm getting the feeling Saeco machines are not good. Why?

They seem good, my wife has one at work and swears by it. Shoul d I purchase one or not?

Saeco machines are, generally speaking, no better or worse than other machines of their type. Have you read CoffeeGeek's consumer reviews or detailed review of the Via Veneto? Saeco Canada is said to have lousy customer support (see here, for example), though buying the machine from an espresso specialist instead of a department store will insulate you from that. A few years ago the owner of a kitchen supply store told me the repair rate on their low-end Saecos was higher than on other brands; don't know if that's true today.

In the end, it depends on how close you want to come to the perfect espresso, the elusive god shot, and how hard you're willing to work at it. The Saeco machines offer convenience but, since they give you little control over the espresso making process and cover their and your failings with pressurized portafilters and foam enhancers, your chances of producing something excellent are slim. You're more likely to end up with a facsimile espresso. For lots of people, that's good enough. Only you can say whether it's good enough for you.

In North America, with a few blessed exceptions, being a barista is akin to working at McDonald's. In Italy, it's a vocation. The American barista pushes a button; can't tell you what beans are in the blend or how old they are; looks at you like you're speaking Martian when you ask for a ristretto or macchiato. The Italian (and serious American) grinds beans for each cup; adjusts the grind a notch because the humidity has dropped a bit; throws out the first shot because the pull was a couple of seconds short, the machine was too hot, the stream wasn't tiger striping or it just didn't feel right. It's kind of a fast food vs. slow food thing. And guess who makes better espresso.

If you intend to make espressos, as opposed to milk-based drinks like lattes and cappuccinos (milk hides a multitude of sins), don't get a machine with a pressurized portafilter (unless it can be easily and inexpensively replaced) or one that doesn't let you control variables like shot timing. And why don't you do a little comparison shopping? Head to some of Little Italy's espresso emporia (Lino, Café Union, Café Crème, Faema, etc.) and have them pull you a shot, if possible on a machine in your price range. Then get someone to pull you a shot on a Saeco. If you're happy with it, you've got your answer.

Edited by carswell (log)
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  • 1 month later...

Seems i'll be moving to within very close walking distance of Cafe Olympico. Even though I've lived on the Plateau for over five years, I've yet to venture into this well known spot, preferring to stick much closer to home.

I'm definitely going to give it a try, probably this weekend. I'm especially happy that they've turned it completely non-smoking. I can't handle cig. smoke over my morning cappuccino!

Disclaimer: 1) a renunciation of any claim to or connection with; 2) disavowal; 3) a statement made to save one's own ass

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Seems i'll be moving to within very close walking distance of Cafe Olympico. Even though I've lived on the Plateau for over five years, I've yet to venture into this well known spot, preferring to stick much closer to home.

I'm definitely going to give it a try, probably this weekend. I'm especially happy that they've turned it completely non-smoking. I can't handle cig. smoke over my morning cappuccino!

Is there still a bit of charred smell from the fire next door in January? I haven't been in a week or so, but I did find that a bit of a turn-off the last few times I dropped in. (Though I certainly don't blame them for it.) The lack of cigarette smoke is a good thing, though.

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Is there still a bit of charred smell from the fire next door in January? I haven't been in a week or so, but I did find that a bit of a turn-off the last few times I dropped in. (Though I certainly don't blame them for it.) The lack of cigarette smoke is a good thing, though.

I wondered about that upthread. Of course, the terrace will be an option before long (not this week, though, from the look of the forecast).

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If no one's updated by next weekend, i'll definitely let you know about the charred smell :)

And yeah, boo on the weather. It's almost summer! Give us terrace weather already!

Disclaimer: 1) a renunciation of any claim to or connection with; 2) disavowal; 3) a statement made to save one's own ass

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Is there still a bit of charred smell from the fire next door in January? I haven't been in a week or so, but I did find that a bit of a turn-off the last few times I dropped in. (Though I certainly don't blame them for it.) The lack of cigarette smoke is a good thing, though.

I wondered about that upthread. Of course, the terrace will be an option before long (not this week, though, from the look of the forecast).

I don't feel comfortable relaying a conversation that may or may not have been for public consumption, so I'll err on the side of vagueness: the smoking ban is not a fire-prevention measure per se.

As for the charred smell, it was pretty powerful at the time of the reopening and has been steadily fading. I expect it's still there to some degree, but as I say I haven't been in over a week now. It will probably be quite noticeable to a first-timer...

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After a couple of visits so far this week, I'm happy to say the ash smell continues to fade. Once the weather's good enough for full-time open doors and windows it should disappear fairly quickly.

Also happy to report that the lattes are as yummy as ever. Not in a position to evaluate the espresso, sorry. :smile:

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As part of our perambulations this afternoon, eGulleter arkestra and I did a soggy espresso bar crawl down St-Laurent. The Faema store's shot was a bit long but had good crema, a rich mouthfeel and a smooth, faintly bitter flavour. It's easy to see how it would do well as the basis for a latte. Cafe Italia's shot was the perfect length. Dense crema somewhere between creamy and oily. Dark, complex and deeply flavoured with an invigorating bitterness and long aftertaste. Serious stuff. Flavourwise, Café International's espresso fell between Faema's and Italia's, not as mellow as the former, not as intense as the latter. Good length and crema. All three were quality products but only Italia's was memorable.

The day before, I had an espresso at Benelo on Crescent. As mentioned upthread, the cafe recently changed owners and coffee suppliers. The new beans give a shot very much in the Northern Italian style: more tan than brunette, smooth and with only a hint of bitterness. Good length, good crema but lacking some of that Southern Italian zing. That said, it has to be one of the better espressos available downtown, especially for those who don't care for Illy. And the food is first rate; a dense confection — a kind of mounded cookie made from whole almonds, flour and honey — was one of the best pastries I've had in ages.

arkestra hit a couple of other bars during his stay, so here's hoping he chimes in with his comments.

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I am by no means an espresso expert, but i have had coffe all around Italy, including the famous caffe' sant-eustachio in Rome and Jamaican blue mountain from Tazza d'oro in Rome.

My Montreal favourite's are

Olympico (a class apart)

Latini

Fashion Bistro (Chabbannel)

Beniamino & Co in old port.

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As part of our perambulations this afternoon, eGulleter arkestra and I did a soggy espresso bar crawl down St-Laurent. The Faema store's shot was a bit long but had good crema, a rich mouthfeel and a smooth, faintly bitter flavour. It's easy to see how it would do well as the basis for a latte. Cafe Italia's shot was the perfect length. Dense crema somewhere between creamy and oily. Dark, complex and deeply flavoured with an invigorating bitterness and long aftertaste. Serious stuff. Flavourwise, Café International's espresso fell between Faema's and Italia's, not as mellow as the former, not as intense as the latter. Good length and crema. All three were quality products but only Italia's was memorable.

The day before, I had an espresso at Benelo on Crescent. As mentioned upthread, the cafe recently changed owners and coffee suppliers. The new beans give a shot very much in the Northern Italian style: more tan than brunette, smooth and with only a hint of bitterness. Good length, good crema but lacking some of that Southern Italian zing. That said, it has to be one of the better espressos available downtown, especially for those who don't care for Illy. And the food is first rate; a dense confection — a kind of mounded cookie made from whole almonds, flour and honey — was one of the best pastries I've had in ages.

arkestra hit a couple of other bars during his stay, so here's hoping he chimes in with his comments.

thanks to this thread and to carswell, i was able to enjoy some really nice espressos during a visit to montreal last week. on my first full day in the city, i made it back to benelo on crescent where i had fantastic espressos a couple years ago. as carswell mentioned, ownership has changed. the espresso was good, but not great. it's still a nice option downtown. i had a better espresso later that day at some place on montagne, between maisonneuve and sherbrooke, on the east side of the street. unfortunately, the name escapes me. (it's more of a cafe/restaurant. i had a pretty good panini while i was there.)

i thoroughly enjoyed cafe olympico on st. viateur. i was there twice and the espressos were very good each time.

but the true highlight was cafe italia on st. laurent. my first visit was with carswell and we both agreed it was the best of the three places we tried that afternoon. i returned at about 6:30 the following morning (while my wife and kids were still sleeping) to get one last good espresso (ok, so i had 2) before going home later that day. once again, exceptional. after leaving cafe italia, i walked over to see if cafe union or cafe crema were open. unfortunately, they weren't. oh well, i guess i'll have to explore them during my next visit.

i also had a very good espresso while having a quick bite at cafe zenetti near jean talon. the shot was a little long, but it was still very good. i also really loved the pizza i had there.

ironically, upon returning to southern california, i was dreading the notion of drinking the bad espressos here, only to be surprised by 2 positive experiences on my first day back. how does the saying go? even a blind dog finds an occasional bone.

thanks again for all the recommendations.

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Well, this weekend has degenerated into hectic craziness, so it looks like I won't be making it to Olympico today.

Hopefully next weekend I'll have something to report!

Disclaimer: 1) a renunciation of any claim to or connection with; 2) disavowal; 3) a statement made to save one's own ass

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i forgot to add that on my way back to the hotel from my last visit to cafe italia, i stopped at l'express and had another very good espresso. my only complaint concerns their cups -- they're too big (even if they are kind of cute).

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It's absolutely GORGEOUS out today! Left home nice and early, wandered down to Cafe Olympico, and enjoyed a cappuccino. There's a definite "we've had a fire" smell to the place, but it's not too strong, and you get used to it within about five minutes. The doors and windows were all open, the patio was set up, and the place had a huge lineup. I'll be heading back for more soon, especially once I move closer.

I did notice that, although they have some patisseries behind the counter, NO ONE was eating them. I took that as a warning and went with coffee only, figuring I'd stop into Fairmount on my way home for a few bagels, which was worth it as always.

Anyway, polishing off my second (i'm such a pig) bagel, then heading out to the SAQ for a bottle of pinot noir :)

Disclaimer: 1) a renunciation of any claim to or connection with; 2) disavowal; 3) a statement made to save one's own ass

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  • 2 months later...

Dropped by the newly opened Caffe Art Java on the north side of Mont Royal Blvd., four or five blocks east of the metro station, yesterday.

Sorry to say it's not really an espresso bar. Although there's a small counter for adulterating takeout orders, no provision has been made for ordering an espresso for immediate consumption while standing. You place and pay for your order, take a number in a plastic holder and sit at one of the tables, where they bring the order to you.

Much attention has been lavished on the decor: two levels with seating arranged to maximize opportunites for watching the to-and-froing on the boulevard; folding French doors at the front open to the street; clean, modern decoration; designer chairs; high-definition plasma screens running a latte art instructional video. The main counter is in back. The first thing you see is a refrigerator case packed with sandwiches, wraps, pastries and desserts. Behind that is the order station, a couple of grinders and a drop-dead gorgeous La Marzocco machine (I'm guessing a four grouper, though I didn't get a barista's eye view) outfitted with "naked" (spoutless) portafilters — a Montreal first as far as I know.

I began with a double espresso at a pricey $2.40. It arrived promptly in a properly heated cup. The crema was as thick as I've ever encountered; the texture exceptional; the flavour rich, layered, beautifully complex — "browner" tasting and less intense than Café Italia's but, flavourwise, probably the best I've encountered in Montreal. The only sour note was a slightly sour note, the kind you get when the machine is a bit under temp. I didn't see them make the shot so I don't know if they ran water through the group before pulling it. If they didn't, they should have because the machine wasn't seeing much use on a oppressively muggy afternoon.

The beans, ground fresh for each order, are the Leftist Blend from Gimme! Coffee in Ithica, NY. You can also buy them to take home.

Sandwiches (on baguette) and wraps run $9-11. My sandwhich — roast chicken breast with avocado and pesto — was good, though light on the pesto. It was served with chilled fresh asapragus and a cherry tomato and onion salad jarringly garnished with pistachios. Other sandwiches featured lamb; duck confit; prosciutto and parm; beef and blue cheeese; and, I believe, a veggie option. Service was pleasant if slightly confused: when ordering, I'd stated that I wanted to start with the espresso, then have the sandwhich with a bottle of mineral water. They brought the mineral water first, so I sent it back; then they forgot to bring it with the sandwich.

I'd intended to order a latte after finishing the sandwich to see if they lived up to their name. But by then the heat and humidity made the thought of a large hot milk-based drink unappealing. The lattes served to the table in front of me looked liked they'd come out of the latte-art porn video: perfect microfoam and photo-worthy rosettes.

Even on the basis of a single visit, I feel confident in saying that Caffe Art Java is one of the city's premier coffee houses. And if they can get their machine up to temp, they may well take the crown.

Edited by carswell (log)
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Hey, thanks for the post, Carswell. A coffee-geek pal of mine chatted up the owner who seemed to be saying all the right things (except for a distressing comment about the perfect "seven second shot", which is just bizarre). He got in hot-shot barristacrat Chris Deferio from Gimme Coffee to train the staff, apparently. Glad it's paying off.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Hi all,

Concerning the worrisome "seven-second shot" speak from the owner, I've heard through someone that apparently he was referring to something else. I certainly want to clear up any misconstruction on my part.

Anyway, I'll soon be checking out the grub there, too.

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  • 2 weeks later...

MaeveH spills the beans in her column in this week's Hour: Mocha mojo. First time I've seen a naked portafilter referred to as crotchless, he says, crossing his legs.

(The link will work until next Thursday, the 25th, after which time you'll have to pull up the article from the archives.)

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Where it is possible to find St-Helena coffee in Mtl?

You mean from the island, right? It's pretty rare stuff and pricey to boot. Have never seen it on sale in Montreal. Sweet Maria's in Oakland (they ship to Montreal) has carried green beans in the past but refused to stock last year's crop due to quality issues. The Island of St. Helena Coffee Company (I believe they're the one and only grower) now has a transactional website.

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  • 2 weeks later...
carswell, do you where is the best place to roast our own coffee?

Not sure I understand the question, jfl91. Are you asking who the city's best roasters are? Or maybe you're looking for someone who will roast green beans you've bought elsewhere?

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