Backroads Coffeehouse & Cakery: Life Is A Highway With Plenty of Detours

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.

Presenting…

Backroads Coffeehouse & Cakery

[680 Dundas St N5W 2Z4 (London, Ontario, Canada)]

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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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Last Remarks:

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!?!

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Comfort Rating:

five out of five

5/5

Helpful Coffee Tips:

Ten benefits of direct trade coffee:

  1. Prices are flexible and agreed upon by the farmer and the buyer
  2. Ensures the farmer gets paid a fair wage despite the highs and lows of the market of the buyer’s country
  3. Revenue goes directly to the farmer and not through a co-operative
  4. No Fairtrade licensing fees
  5. The Fairtrade Foundation doesn’t take a cut of the profits
  6. Increased demand encourages higher quality crops
  7. Producing higher quality crops is an incentive for farmers
  8. Chance to build relationships with the farmers
  9. Benefits the farmer’s community (e.g., employment opportunities)
  10. Opportunity for the buyer to invest in the farm

Now go out and impress people with your random coffee knowledge.

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Go ahead! Take the road less traveled.

Black Walnut: A Café of Village Proportions

Imagine walking into a café in a quiet, quaint village, hidden from tourists, but frequented by the locals.

Once upon a time, the mid-sized industrial city of London, Ontario had a streetcar running from the center of town to the neighboring beach town of Port Stanley, transporting beach goers to and from the city without fail. At the turn of the century, this streetcar picked up swimming costume clad families stopping diligently at several designated stations in London and the next town over, St. Thomas before arriving at the lake. One of these stops was in the quaint village within the city, Wortley Village.

 

Today, Wortley Village has maintained its quiet, exclusive, intimate demeanor, while individually owned artisan shops and cafés have flourished within this tight-knit community; a reminder of a simpler time.

 

Presenting…

Black Walnut Bakery Cafe

[134 Wortley Road N6C 3N8 (London, Ontario, Canada)]

Located in the heart of Wortley Village, Black Walnut has thrived from the village’s small community, providing the locals with a gathering place to take solace from life’s woes and an excuse to gossip over a warm brew. For the past four years, co-owners and brother-sister duo, Edward and Mandy Etheridge have graced their customers with scrumptious delicacies and tremendous coffee, and they must be exceptionally good because their success has allowed them to open a  new location downtown London (724 Richmond Road). Read all about it in our local paper, the Londoner.

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Quality of Service:

My family and I were there at their busiest hour, but despite the mass of customers, the baristas kept their cool, patiently took everyone’s orders, and served them in a reasonable amount of time. Just don’t forget to smile from time to time. (‘∀’*)

Upon entering the cafe, my mother was a little flustered by the 3 panel chalkboard menu, this having been her first time to go to a 3rd wave cafe. Not being a coffee drinker, it was cute to see her astonish over the seemingly endless variations of caffeinated beverages.

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Quality of Product:

Their cappuccino (3.50 dollars) and double shot espresso (2.89 dollars) were brewed with their well-balanced espresso blend. Black Walnut roast and package their own line of coffee blends, which are only available for purchase in store. Reason alone to come visit the charming Wortley Village.

Their sleek & shiny machines: Mazzer Grinder & Elektra Espresso Machine.

But you can’t come all this way and not indulge in their delicious baked goods. Their white cheddar & cranberry scone and lemon poppy seed cake were phenomenal.

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Quality of Atmosphere:

The interior is beautifully designed with dark wood counter, tables & floors, giving the cafe a warm & cozy feel. A quintessential chalkboard menu adorns the wall, and on sunny days, the outdoor patio is the perfect place to enjoy a cup of home brewed joe.

Interestingly enough, they don’t offer free WiFi contrary to most cafes. Some would be inconvenienced by this lack of connection, but I think it contrarily enforces connection. Instead of being distracted by beckoning texts & tweets, patrons are encouraged to engage in conversation with each other, and ergo, enriching the community feeling of the cafe.

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Last Remarks:

I will always cherish the time spent with my family at Black Walnut, a welcomed change from reviewing cafes par solo. Thank you for providing the means for such an occasion, cafe of village proportions.

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Comfort Rating:

4/5

four out of five

Helpful Coffee Tips:

Coffee beans are cultivated in over 70 equator-hugging countries around the world. The most prominent exporters are:

  1. Brazil
  2. Vietnam
  3. Colombia
  4. Indonesia
  5. Ethiopia

Although not the highest producer of coffee, beans from Kenya, India, Ivory Coast, and Costa Rica are notably recognized in the coffee world.

Now go out and impress people with your random coffee knowledge.

Life is all about great food, great drinks, and great friends. These 3 things are what inspire us everyday.