Imagine stumbling into a café whose owner sees you run down by life’s unexpected hit & run disposition. She reaches out her hand and says, “I feel you. I’ve been there, too."
Just when I thought London, Ontario was void of any decent third-wave coffeehouses, my hometown pulls a fast one and Backroads cruises into town.
Arriving at the height of summer 2017, Backroads has become a shining beacon of hope for Old East Village (OEV). For anyone who grew up in London, the OEV or anything east of Adelaide St (known colloquially as EOA) for that matter was stigmatized as “sketch city”; complete with old decrepit buildings, broken storefront windows, and gang-related graffiti. This part of town wasn’t a place you would want your mother to find you hanging around. Well thanks to recent and much-needed urban renewal, this area is redeveloping, restoring, and repurposing those old decrepit buildings, welcoming in plenty of millennial-approved establishments: third-wave cafes like Backroads and 10Eighteen, independent art studios like East Village Arts Collective, 100% organic restaurants like The Root Cellar, weekend farmers’ markets overflowing with local goods, and refurbished factory-turned office spaces/craft brewery such as the former Kellogg’s plant. It’s become a blossoming hipster’s paradise: London’s very own Williamsburg.
Quality of Service:
With 10-year coffee veteran Sarah Levine at the wheel, Backroads has opted for a We Heart the Environment mentality, and why not? Caring about one’s impact on our lovely planet is a natural and sometimes profitable attitude in this day and age. Separate paper and plastic recycling bins are placed ceremoniously by the exit to encourage customers to recycle; instead of plastic stir sticks, metal spoons are provided to encourage the reuse of materials; as well, take-out cups and napkins are made with 100% decomposable paper to encourage a reduction of waste. If Backroads was a car, it would be a solar-powered coffee mobile.
Quality of Product:
Sarah and her team of baristas are no amateurs when it comes to good coffee. The cappuccino I ordered was made with the deservedly-named Punch Buggy Espresso from Hamilton-born roaster Detour Coffee and was worth every 375 pennies. Giving these beans the TLC that they deserve, they were ground with the sleek ‘n shiny Nuova Simonelli Mythos One Clima Pro and brewed with none other than top-of-the-line La Marzocco GB5. The barista who looked after my order was sweet and darling, but don’t let her pretty face and kind demeanor fool you. She served up an expertly poured cappuccino topped with a delicate foamed milk flower. But the star of the show was Sarah’s handmade dark chocolate cupcake with raspberry frosting. To. Die. For. Did I mention that she’s a cake goddess!?! Check out her Insta here!
Leading with her empathetic nature, Sarah chose to buy coffee beans from Detour Coffee not just for their amazing product but also for their incredible service. They really care about their clients and do everything in their power to make sure their customers have all the know-how of serving a cuppa joe Detour-style. They even go as far as providing in-house barista training by coffee gurus. Bought a new batch of beans? Don’t know how to brew them? Ryan (@detourbrews) to the rescue! Detour also cares deeply about fair, incentive-driven labour practices, choosing to source their beans through direct trade, which is one step beyond fair-trade. This means Detour spends the time to develop a relationship with each individual coffee farmers and are then each farmer is given full credit for their product: full credit can be found slapped on the bag’s label. It goes without saying that Backroads and Detour go hand-in-hand like a twins on a tandem bicycle.
Quality of Atmosphere:
Like a classic ‘66 Ford Mustang with a 412 horsepower 5.0 litre engine, Backroads is where the warmth of antiquity meets the incandescence of modernity. Under the floorboards lies a century of laminate on top of vinyl on top of hardwood; the displayed antiques such as a wrought iron Singer sewing table, and vintage brass scales are points of attraction throughout the café; and a stack of turn-of-the-20th-century books invite you to curl up in the upholstered winged back chair and snuggle beside the cozy fireplace. On the contrary, new life is brought in through a smorgasbord of local craftsmanship. A luminous painting placed above the mantelpiece adds a touch of colour to the room while the handcrafted ceramics which encompasses the beverages and baked goods add a touch of energy (@Amy Leigh Art); locally grown plants grace the tables (gifts from landscaping friend); and several wood crafts (a wondrous raw wood window-front bar, adorable tree-trunk-cross-section coasters, and refurbished sewing table turned self-serve station) are marvelous additions to the salon.
Backroads didn’t have the easiest beginning and required taking plenty of backroads before opening day. Delayed construction, discouraging customers, long commutes, and dishonest contractors, the setbacks seemed endless, but evidently this wasn’t Sarah’s first time experiencing life’s many unexpected twists and turns, and has since mastered its terrain.
Life doesn’t always go as planned… and that’s ok! The important thing is to keep driving and enjoy taking the backroads… and why not with a coffee in hand and a fresh-out-of-the-oven cupcake on the seat next to you!?!
Helpful Coffee Tips:
Ten benefits of direct trade coffee:
- Prices are flexible and agreed upon by the farmer and the buyer
- Ensures the farmer gets paid a fair wage despite the highs and lows of the market of the buyer’s country
- Revenue goes directly to the farmer and not through a co-operative
- No Fairtrade licensing fees
- The Fairtrade Foundation doesn’t take a cut of the profits
- Increased demand encourages higher quality crops
- Producing higher quality crops is an incentive for farmers
- Chance to build relationships with the farmers
- Benefits the farmer’s community (e.g., employment opportunities)
- Opportunity for the buyer to invest in the farm
Now go out and impress people with your random coffee knowledge.
Go ahead! Take the road less traveled.