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.

Bringing the World Together, One Breakfast at a Time

I give you the light of Eärendil, our most beloved star. May it be a light for you in dark places, when all other lights go out.

Last Monday, I experienced a sensation I’ve never felt before. This feeling was so satisfying and at the same time enticing. No, it wasn’t physical or sexual; it was purely emotional; one that could only derive from a moment of reminiscence brought on by an act of kindness.

Every Monday, a man in his early-50s comes to my family’s house in Lübeck, Germany to do some gardening and landscaping. From his tanned skin and accented German, it’s not hard to tell that he’s not a local. In fact, he’s originally from Chile, but moved to Germany when he was a young man.

As is tradition when craftspeople (e.g., carpenters, landscapers, plumbers, etc.) work on your house from morning till evening, I prepared lunch for the gardener as a gesture of appreciation. Mama said to make him a sandwich, and curiosity had me researching “Sandwiches from Chile”, which brought me to a recipe for chacarero: thinly-sliced steak/pork, tomatoes, green beans, and chili peppers on a bun.

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He accepted the food offering with a simple smile and several moments later, he returned the empty plate with a simple “Danke”. Did he enjoy it? Did he recognize it? I wanted to ask him these questions, but I didn’t know enough German or Spanish to relay them.

Later that evening, he called the house, something he rarely does because he doesn’t have a mobile, and Mama translated to me, “He wanted to thank you for the lunch you made today. It reminded him of his mother’s cooking.” He hasn’t seen his mother for many, many years.”

I didn’t know whether to smile or cry.

The expat life might seem like a wondrous adventure to some, and it is… to some extent. However, we also have to assimilate into an entirely new culture (i.e., new language, new social etiquette, new living standards, new food, etc.), and this process can be quite stressful at times. Simple things like going to the supermarket or making a doctor’s appointment become 10 times harder. So, you can imagine the immense joy and comfort an expatriate feels when they come across something that reminds them of home.

THIS.

This is the feeling I want to share with weary travelers who are away from home.

How?

Let’s talk about my favorite meal of the day: BREAKFAST.

I. LOVE. Breakfast. Nothing makes me happier than waking up and stuffing my face with scrumptious goodies and washing it down with a freshly brewed coffee. Cereal, oatmeal, fruit, eggs ‘n toast; doesn’t matter. I love it all. Honestly, there are times when I go to bed with a smile because I’m looking forward to what awaits my tummy in the morning.

For me, breakfast is a yummy meal, as well as a symbol of new beginnings & connection. Every morning as a child, I would gather around the dining room table with my family, munching on bowls of cereal if it was a school day (i.e., Rice Krispies, Cornflakes or Cheerios because they are the cheapest and we didn’t have a lot of money, or Fruit Loops on VERY special occasions) or indulging in eggs, bacon, and toast if it was the weekend. Some mornings, one of us would be stressing about an upcoming school assignment; other days, we’d laugh nonstop until we lost track of time. No matter the traumas and tribulations that awaited us, we were gathered together as the sun rose to greet us; and once the last bite of breakfast was enjoyed, we would have the strength to take on the day’s challenges.

Away from home, my cereal bowl lays before me and the chairs around me remain empty, and as I pour the cereal and hear the melodic tap of each grain hitting the ceramic, I remember. I remember my family and the many breakfasts we shared together.

My café, 帰る [kaeru] Domicile will serve damn good coffee as well as damn good breakfast. And not just breakfast the way I remember it, but breakfast from around the world; so that every traveling soul has a chance to reminisce about home. This would be a dream come true.

I have a pretty good idea of breakfast & café culture in Canada, Japan, and most of Western Europe, but I still have much more to discover. At the moment, I’m wanderlusting fiercely for Jamaica, Brazil, Chile, Peru, the southern States, Albania, Morocco, Chad, Nigeria, Iran, India, Australia, New Zealand… just to name a few. It’s killing me to know what they eat for breakfast. And their coffee culture, is that even a thing there!?!

Stay tuned.

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Caffè Ficini: La Danza Caffè Italiano in Silenzia

Imagine walking into a café where you come for the coffee, stay for the conversation, and return for the connection.

This is not my usual café critique. This is a glimpse into the past, a taste of the habitual, and a step towards new beginnings. I’m returning to the birthplace of espresso: la bella Italia, to a place so traditional that you can’t even find it on Facebook or Google Maps. Until now.

Presenting…

Caffè Ficini

[Via Silvestri, 203, 00164 (Rome, Italy)]

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Watching Stefano Cristiani (owner & barman since 1994) work is like watching a perfectly choreographed dance. At Caffè Ficini (est. 1953), this well-experienced barman taps, spins, and glides through the coffee dance with effortless grace. The steps? Customer approaches counter. Saucer, spoon, water placed in front. Espresso ground, dosed, tamped, pulled, served. One, two, three sips then, coins are left next to the empty cup. Besides a conventional “bonjourno”, “grazie” & “ciao”, nothing is said. This is a silent dance and Stefano already knows the piques, pirouettes, and poses of each of his customers. Wash cup, wipe counter, sweep floor, refill sugar; the dance continues.

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There is no equation for making coffee Italian style because this is dance class, not math class. However, Stefano does have standards. After all, customers come here because he’s been making damn good coffee for over 20 years. Succeed or get crushed by his disapproval. With one glance, a barista (which until this point in time has only been his comedic uncle, his charming 14-year old son, and myself)’s creation is judged. Fail and he’ll throw it away, making it again himself. Time, coffee, and energy wasted. Even the espressos that pass his inspection, customers can taste the difference. Goes to show that technique is just as important as the quality of ingredients when making coffee.

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Stefano gives his instructions in Italian; slow, deliberate, only repeating the most important words, with smatterings of French when I really don’t understand. Honestly, I feel like I learned more Italian in one day than French in the past 3 months I was in Paris. If you want to learn another language, this is the way to do it: full immersion. Like a child learning its first language, you’ll soak up the new language like a sponge because your survival depends on it.

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A Day in an Italian Coffee Bar:

4:50 am – last breaths of freedom; the stillness of dawn reciprocates, “Time to start the day”

4:55 am – key turns in the lock, lights flicker on; the first sign of life

5:00 am – first dose of coffee grounded and tasted; Ficini original espresso blend from 1953

5:06 am – fresh pastries emerge from the oven

5:10 am – fresh milk delivered

5:15 am – the first espressos of the day are served; the machine is a 25-year old Fiorenzato Ducale; gleams like it was bought yesterday; a beast of a machine; takes a day to convince it not to bite, but takes years to make it purr

5:30 am – like clockwork, the regulars arrive; same people, same dogs, same time, same order, same conversations; Stefano gives me a quick rundown of each customer before they enter the bar: name, occupation, and a well-meaning & humorous critique of their personality; basically, everyone is pazzo; “I’ve had the same damn conversation with that woman every morning for the past 10 years.”

5:32 am – in two minutes flat, customers enter, are served, and exit; efficiency is key

6:00 am – daily newspaper delivered; today’s front cover: death of a mafia godfather

6:30 am – leftover brioches thrown to the birds

7:30 am – beer delivery

1:00 pm – regulars return for their post-lunch coffee before returning to work

5:30 pm – devout regulars return for their post-work coffee before returning home

7:30 pm – cleaning, restocking, arranging

8:00 pm – lights out, key turns shut; café life has ended for the day

8:01 pm – resume breaths of freedom, the dust taunts “Until tomorrow”

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Traditional vs 3rd wave Coffee Shops:

I received my barista training from a pro-3rd wave institution, and after a day in Caffè Ficini, it was light as day to see the philosophical and conventional differences between traditional and 3rd wave coffee shops:

  • It’s art while 3rd wave is math
  • It’s a feeling while 3rd wave is an equation
  • It’s about quality while 3rd wave is about appearance
  • It’s about character while 3rd wave is about perfection
  • It’s about efficiency while 3rd wave is about performance
  • It’s about economy while 3rd wave is about extravagance
  • Don’t wipe portafilters between shots; like a well-used tea pot, the buildup of coffee grind adds depth to the espresso; not to mention, it saves time
  • No timers, no thermometers, no automatic machines; you must feel when the coffee is ready

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Last Remarks:

A true traditional Italian coffee bar where locals gather to talk weather, politics, and family life. The coffee is delicious, the pastries are fresh, and the owner speaks some English and French. If you’re looking for a genuine Roman experience away from the bustle of tourists, this is the place to go.

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Comfort Rating:

5/5

five out of five

Helpful Coffee Tips:

Un Buon Caffè:

 

Ordering a coffee in Italy can be a nightmare, if you’re not familiar with espresso. You can either be super lax by simply ordering which drink you prefer and leaving the rest up to the barman OR you can be super particular, down to the type of cup you prefer to drink from.

  1. Drink:
  2. Espresso
  3. Macchiato
  4. Cappuccino
  5. Caffè Latte
  6. Caffè Hag/ Decaffeinato
  7. Corretto / Borghetti

 

  1. Brewing Time of Espresso:
  2. Cordo/ ristretto = short
  3. Normale = normal
  4. Longo = long

 

  1. Temperature of Espresso:
  2. Freddo = cold
  3. Tiepido = warm
  4. Caldo = hot

 

  1. Type of Milk:
  2. Intero = whole (3.6%)
  3. Parzialmente = partial (1.6%)

 

  1. Amount of Milk:
  2. Pocco = a little
  3. Tanto = a lot

 

  1. Milk Temp & Texture:
  2. Schiamato = foamed
  3. Scremato = steamed
  4. Freddo = cold

 

  1. Type of Cup:
  2. Vetro = glass
  3. Tazza = ceramic

Of course, you can’t forget to have a fresh-baked pastry with your espresso, and of course, ordering a brioche is a whole other kettle of fish.

The Italian’s view on the third-wave coffee trend: “When you have to add flowers and other fancy bullshit, it’s because the original ingredients are shit.”

*extra photo fun: I couldn’t help but make a small collection of the adorable pooches that enjoy Caffè Ficini as much as I. Aren’t they woof-tastic!?!

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Journey Update: Sprinting Through a Marathon

Once I was 20 years old… I only see my goals. I don’t believe in failure. Cause I know the smallest voices can make it major… Once I was 20 years old.

They say when life gives you lemons, make lemonade – But what if you’d rather make coffee? Chasing your dreams is kind of like that. You finally find that one thing that fills your soul and lifts your spirit. It’s your purpose, drive, destiny, higher calling, or whatever you want to call it. So inevitably, you pursue it like a dog chases a stick. Then Life, like the sick freak she is, sends you lemons when you’ve already invested in milk, sugar, and a coffee cup.

FIRST, LE DRAMA

At the end of June, life was finally playing in my favor. I scored a rendez-vous at a well-known Parisian café (talk about sweet deals), aced the interview, and was invited to return for a trial-run. (In France, new employees are given a trial run, which can last anywhere from one day to 3 months, wherein the employer can observe your work ethic, but can also fire you at anytime.) “Super! I’m set for my year in Paris,” I thought, “Just have to impress the socks off them at the trial-run.” In preparation, I went back to the café a few times to watch the baristas work, taking note of all the important service phrases and coffee lingo they used. In my mind, I was ready!

Then the day before the trial-run,…

They cancelled.

Just my luck, they hired someone else with more café experience, and I’m sure their lemonade tasted real good that day. Needless to say, I was devastated, and frustrated, and exhausted. (Siiiiiigh…. having dreams suck! *grumble)

So, I packed my bags, wrote a small (?) tantrum on FB, and ran away from soul-crushing Paris to my family in Lübeck, Germany.

I know. So melodramatic!

There I spent 12 glorious days recharging from and re-evaluating my 生き甲斐. (Siiiigh… damn dreams! *grumble) Spending 12 days with this awesome sista-from-another-mista also helped with recuperation. For the purposes of this article, I will call her Katniss [but with a C because of my tendency to match the first letters of the real & fictional names] because although she hasn’t killed anyone (that I know of), Catniss has the same level of badassery as the HG character; she isn’t afraid of anything. Only 11 years old, and yet she participates in triathlons just for fun; loves paddle-boarding, skateboarding, climbing trees, and unicycling; she’s also killer with a bow-and-arrow, speaks 3 languages, has traveled all over Scandinavia & Germany, cooks like a boss, and quit the Scouts because they weren’t badass enough. Oh yea, and she loves dragons. This chicka is fierce! Honestly, where was she when I was a kid!?!?!

Needless to say after a week and a half of romping around town/the German wilderness with Catniss, I’m feeling relaxed, motivated, and ready to take on the world. But first, some heartfelt appreciation.

THANK YOUs

After my slight (?) FB outburst of failed dreams and general disdain for having dreams in the first place (Siiiiigh… those mf dreams! *grumble), I was moved by your steady outpour of pure empathy, generous assistance, and wildly good advice. From someone who battles with depression and who thinks traveling alone for a long period of time is a good idea (I honestly don’t know where i get these smart (?) ideas), your words are the light when I’m in a dark place and the hand that reaches out when I’ve fallen down. I’m truly thankful.

Of course, I won’t name any names because you know who you are. Well…, I will name one name for the sake of his future success. My dearest friend, Reginald, who for some reason wouldn’t let me refer to him as Renly ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ (Why? I don’t know.), gave my resume a proper makeover. Honestly, it’s gleaming! Ergo, to all of his future employers and clients who are google stalking him atm, you can rest easy knowing your resume/your trust is in the right hands. He’s DA MAN!

NEXT STEPS TOWARDS WORLD DOMINATION

So, about my dream/purpose/whatever. (Siiigh… stupid dreams *grumble). What to do!?!

  1. At this very moment, I’m on my way to la bella Roma (34 hours via bus & train from Lübeck because I have no money) where my dear friend Sebastien graciously set up a-can’t-miss opportunity for me. I will spend the next two weeks learning to make Italian coffee in an Italian café in the traditional Italian way. Thanks for the coffee beans, Life! By the way, I can’t stress how awesome Couchsurfing is. I met Sebastien through CS. So if you want to globalize your network for free, CS = international connections.
  2. After a short jaunt in Rome, I will stop in Basel to visit my dear friend Pascal & his family, and to celebrate National Switzerland Day. I also met Pascal through CS.
  3. Then, back to Lübeck for the rest of the summer to help my famjam with landscaping & gardening whilst admiring Catniss’ badassery and learning Spanish from their Chilean employee. (I never realized how little Spanish I knew up to this point. Little as in two words – I’m sorry Spanish speaking friends. I should have made more of an effort to learn from you.) I’m also thinking about asking the owner of ONE Fairtrade, Aykut, if I can volunteer in his café for a few hours here and there. Italian coffee. Check. German coffee. Check.
  4. At the risk of wasting a 1-year visa, I’ll head back to France before the end of the summer. Either I could return to Paris and give it another shot or my dear friend Katriona has a friend who lives in the south of France and might be able to introduce me to a cafe there. Small town living or big city dreaming. Who knows? We’ll see.

Either way, I need to learn to take life as it comes with its highlights and lowlights, enjoying each day for what it is. Nothing more; nothing less. Pure contentment. No point in sprinting through a marathon.

Now back to my duoLingo studies (i.e., French, German, and Italian for logistical reasons, and Portuguese <– this one is all my Brazilian friend’s fault; obrigada, Brazil [his nickname – long story]). I’m still waiting for Japanese to become available, but either way, I will shamelessly advertise for duoLingo when learning une autre langue. First introduced to me by Dante, it’s free and fantastic; great for vocab acquisition & review, listening & speaking practice, and translating to & from English. And when you want to learn every Portuguese swear word, I’ll hook you up with Brazil.

Manda ver! [Bring it on!]

Challenge? Yes, please.

~Nicole Snobelen (owner of clothing brand, Evelyn by Nicole Snobelen, founder of The Abby Fund & one of my greatest cheerleaders)

A SHORT BUNNY TRAIL WITH LONG CONSEQUENCES

BLM vs ALM

As much as I like to poke fun of the #AllLivesMatter & #BlackLivesMatter dribble that I see on my FB Newsfeed, this racial war is deep-down not about the labels. [I talk about the dangers of label use in more detail in another post here] Whether you call it #ALM or #BLM, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that the people whom #BlackLivesMatter are representing are suffering because they’ve been mistreated by our blindly oppressive society for far too long. Therefore, contrary to its name, BLM is not about a division or supremacy of race. It’s an outcry for help, and we, people of privilege, need to do something about it because we are the ones with the blind power.

Don’t believe me? Today, I went through the national border between Germany and Switzerland, and even though I didn’t show my passport to the guard (because I absentmindedly left it in my luggage under the bus), he let me cross with a simple, “Oh, no problem!” No one else was offered the same leniency. THAT, my friends, is #whiteprivilege.

Ergo, please don’t get distracted by the labels when you are forming/expressing your opinion about BLM or ALM. It’s not about you and your self-pity of being unfairly perceived of as racist oppressors (even though we unknowingly are). So please don’t pretend that you are the victim.

If someone fell in front of you, you wouldn’t dismiss them because you don’t like the brand of their shirt. Would you!?! You would help them because they are hurt. It’s not about you and your perceived taste in shirts. Simple.

Thus the next time I see ALM or BLM hashtags followed by some pathetic whining about the unfair judgement against the privileged party or undeserved justice of the marginalized party, I WILL cross the nearest ocean, find you, and I WILL hug you…

…and hug you

…and hug you

…so tight

…until you swear to be more empathetic and less of a self-seeking victim (I would use another word, but I promised my father I wouldn’t swear as much in my blog).Yes, I just threatened you with hugs.

That, or I will team up with my culturally diverse & representative social media hounds and hunt you down. *cough Chris & Larisa *cough [Oh wait! You need cool GoT names.] *cough Sandor Clegane & Lyanna Mormont *cough

As always, thank you for reading.

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ONE FAIRTRADE und Kaffeerösterei: After War Comes Peace and with Peace Comes Coffee

Imagine walking into a café where even on an island mound, good coffee is found.

Hidden in the far northern reaches of Germany, lies a small storybook town. Cobblestone lines the roadways, facades of crow-step gable houses tower over, and Brick Gothic cathedrals beckon towards the sky, reminiscent of a medieval time. Throughout the millennia, this ancient town has been raided, occupied, bombed, and set ablaze, and yet, Lübeck remained; independent & neutral; forever known as the “lovely” (i.e., Luibice) Free City; the gateway to Scandinavia. And in this UNESCO World Heritage Site, which produced greats like Thomas Mann (writer of Death in Venice & The Magic Mountain), Justus von Dohnányi (actor of Women in Gold alongside Helen Miren), and Dieterich Buxtehude (composer & inspiration to Johann Sebastien Bach), lies a kaffeerösterei.

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Presenting…

ONE FAIRTRADE und Kaffeerösterei

[Königstraße 106, 23552 (Lübeck, Germany)]

ONE (a simple name, but with deep meaning) opened its doors to the public in the winter of ’14 by partners: Juliane Aigner & Aykut Kayabas. Don’t let their young age fool you. Both Aigner and Kayabas have been in the coffee business for over a decade. They know quality coffee when they see it (or should I say “drink it”).

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Quality of Service:

Speaking of quality, I was given the royal treatment of café visits by the man-of-the-hour himself: Aykut Kayabas. He (who looked oddly familiar) and his stunning barista welcomed me upon entering, and once seated, engaged in amicable chitchat. After mentioning my interest in coffee, Aykut offered several samples of the select beans for me to taste. He, then, patiently explained the origins and roasting times of each product, and subsequently, invited me to the front of the store to pay homage to their glorious roasting machine.

And then it hit me. He reminds me of Portlandia’s Fred Armisen. Fitting.

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Quality of Product:

Aykut’s beautiful sidekick served up a creamy cappuccino (2.80 euro, 300 yen, 4 dollars) made with their Espresso Klassisch (7% Robusta, 100% Fairtrade) blend with beans from India, Honduras, & Mexico. Its taste was as sweet as its price. As if the taste & price weren’t pleasing enough, each beverage is accompanied by piece of Fairtrade chocolate. I was so impressed with their espresso and their service that I purchased 250g of their single-origin Kolumbien, promising accents of orange. Liubice!

Learn more about their 100% Fairtrade products on their website [here] and FB page [here]

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Quality of Atmosphere:

I stumbled upon this kaffeerösterei by following my nose. Just like La Caféothèque in Paris, ONE roasts all of their beans onsite and the rich, earthy aroma can be smelt from blocks away, alluring customers like bees to honey. What a glorious and ingenious sales tactic!

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Last Remarks:

ONE stands for Organic, Natural, and Ethical, which is exactly the service, product, and atmosphere you will experience at this café, with a touch of Liubice. So, if you ever find  yourself in the north of Germany, follow your nose and your guilt-free conscious to the small storybook town of Lübeck.

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Comfort Rating:

4/5

four out of five

Helpful Coffee Tips:

Fairtrade coffee

Growing coffee, like cacao, takes a lot of sweat, blood, and tears. As a consumer, you are responsible for choosing sustainable beans that were cultivated by respectably paid farmers under ethical working conditions and not by exploited slave & child labor. You can guarantee yourself 100% guilt-free coffee by buying FAIRTRADE. Yes, it is slightly more expensive to go this route, but that extra money is going directly to the small farming cooperative, instead of the profit-hording middlemen. And you can rest easy knowing that your OrganicNaturalEthical petit noir is promoting ecological, economical, and ethical stability.

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

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Fairtrade is more about the principle than it is about the seal. It is about sustainable production, good working conditions, and fair wages ~Juliane Aigner

Café Kitsuné: A Touch of Japan in the Heart of Paris

Imagine walking into a café where fox cookies welcome you at the door, an Alice in Wonderland-esk clock hangs above, and matcha on ice awaits you. You’re not sure what other out-of-place things you will encounter, but you’re ready for anything.

Presenting…

Café Kitsuné

[51 Gallerie de Montpensier 75001 (Paris, France; 1st  district)]

 

In the two short years that Café Kitsuné has been playing in the Paris coffee game, they have dominated the arena. Their plain white cups with fancy black scrawl can be seen all over Paris: in the hands of tourists roaming the streets, in front of buskers collecting change, in the gullies littering the metro. Once, I even saw a patron bring one into Boot Café (my second home). (ノ-_-)ノ ~┻━┻ Call it beginner’s luck, but whatever Gildas Loaëc and Masaya Kuroki (founders) are doing, they’re definitely giving Starbucks a run for their money. Either way, it was time to see where all these to-go cups were coming from.

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Quality of Service:

I kid you not, I was greeted by cookies in the shape of foxes! I… wow… yup… a thousand creativity points to Café Kitsuné. For those of you unfamiliar with Japanese, kitsune (狐) means fox. Instantaneously, memories of unexpected kawaii experiences in Japan flooded my brain. Understandable considering this café is the offspring of Japanese fashion & media mecca: Maison Kitsuné.

Even on a low-key Wednesday afternoon, the lineup was out-the-door and all the tables were occupied. Two lovely lady baristas diligently manned the espresso machine and patiently waited on the ceaseless queue without losing their cool.

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Quality of Product:

On this visit, I was delegated (by my dear friend, Armand who told me [about 10 blog posts ago] that I was an idiot and going about finding a job in the wrong way. Yup! That guy!) the exciting/arduous task of getting someone who doesn’t drink coffee, doesn’t like coffee, and doesn’t go out of his way for coffee to somehow drink, like, and accept coffee. I needed to change his life. Challenge Accepted.

I thought I’d ease his palate onto le petit noir by adding a little chocolate into the mix. Plus it was a warm summer’s day, so let’s add some chill. Best solution: iced mocha latte (5.50 euros, 645 yen, 7 dollars); a double shot of espresso, a cup of steamed milk, a tablespoon or two of dark chocolate shavings/powder, and a cup of crushed ice. Cold, creamy, rich, with a touch of sweetness. What could go wrong?

Turns out, Armand doesn’t like dark chocolate either. \(●o○;)ノ

Mission Aborted… for now! I will convince you yet, Armand! Coffee is delicious.

For the more diehard coffee fans, Kitsuné imports their tasty beans from London-based roaster, Workshop Coffee Co.

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Quality of Atmosphere:

It’s no wonder Kitsuné cups are showcased all over Instagram by tourists and locals alike. Palais Royal is at its doorstep and the Louvre is a mere hop-skip-jump away. You can’t get more city-central than this.

Inside is a single counter with plenty of leaning space and a few stools on standby, reminiscent of an Italian bar. But inside can feel a little cramped, so the patio is where you want to be (if you can score a table that is). Even if it’s completely occupied, you have the elegant palace gardens to roam. It’s quite mesmerizing.

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Last Remarks:

When in Paris, follow the flock. They know where the good coffee is at. Just don’t take Armand with you. 😉

Comfort Rating:

4/5

four out of five

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Helpful Coffee Tips:

Let’s talk a little bit about iced coffee. After you’ve pulled your normal shot of espresso and before you make it into an Americano, it’s imperative to subtract 20-30ml of water from your usual recipe. So, when the ice melts, it won’t dilute your coffee and make it gross and watery. If you do so then, you’ll be left with a chill yet flavorful cup of iced joe.

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

Japan is magical. There is no other way to describe it.

La Caféothèque: The Café that Started it All

Imagine walking into a café where time has stopped. For what seems like an eternity, you bathe in the stillness surrounded by the tranquil scent of coffee. You are alone at the beginning of time.

Presenting…

La Caféothèque

[52 rue Hôtel de Ville 75004 (Paris, France; 4th district)]

Fifteen years ago, Paris was void of any decent coffee, let alone good coffee. Then along came Gloria Montenegro and changed the coffee game for everyone. She taught Parisians that le petit noir can be a delectably, delicious experience, and not a putrid attack of the senses. Opening La Caféothèque in 2005, her pioneering spirit paved the way for café legends: Thomas Lehoux (Ten Belles & Belleville Brûlerie) and Channa Galhenage (Loustic) just to name a few.

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Quality of Service:

If you’re in a rush, this is not the coffee shop for you. Once you arrive, you will be left to your own devices for what seems like an eternity before someone comes to take your order. This may seem ignorant and rude to some patrons, but take a moment to consider their intentions. Like citizens of most big cities, Parisians are constantly on-the-go, rarely having a chance to pause. Unlike most cafés where you order upon arrival, the baristas at La Caféothèque give you time to indulge in those sweet moments of nothingness before they swoop in to interrupt. Embarrassingly enough, I was so far off into Never-Neverland that I accidently stayed 30 minutes past closing. Opps! *:゚*。⋆ฺ(*´◡`)

Take a breath. Enjoy the stillness. It’s the perfect time for self-reflection [or to check out the über cute baristas].

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Quality of Product:

Being the pioneer of good coffee in Paris, La Caféothèque has had the time to perfect their beans, and oh boy do they deliver! Their flat white (5.50 euros, 645 yen, 7 dollars) and mocha (“) were delectably, delicious. The flavours were complex, yet simple. This is because all of their coffee are single-origin. No blends! Need more La Caféothèque in your life? They roast and package their own line of café or, which are available for purchase in store and online.

Cafés du Jour: Pulcal Guatemala (available online boutique), Harrar Ethiope & Dom Jiménez Republique Dominicaine (primé)

Since you will be staying for a while, might as well try one of their tasty baked goods or the quiche & salad set. No photo available… because I was hungry. Opps again! (n˘v˘•)¬

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Quality of Atmosphere:

As I mentioned before, La Caféothèque roast their beans on site so, there is a constant aroma of splendor in the air, and it will change depending on the accents of le café du jour. This café is quite internationally known thus, languages of the world and classic rock will be your background music during your stay. Korean is flowing on my left and Italian on my right. Sit in the overstuffed chair by the large storefront window, and watch the world walk by.

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Last Remarks:

La Caféothèque has become my go-to place for writing and reflection. If you will, I would like to share my first attempt at poetry written onsite. Try not to laugh!  (´•ω•`๑) ):

Paris Trudges By

Where are you going?

Do you need a rest?

Silence and serene

While Paris trudges past.

 

What are you thinking?

Do you have the time?

Stop and chat

While Paris trudges align.

 

Why are you frowning?

Do you know you’re deify?

Smile and reflect

While Paris trudges by.

 Yup… this is what happens when you have a lot of free time and too many coffees.

Comfort Rating:

4.5/5

four and a half out of five

Helpful Coffee Tips:

Coffee is a complex and delicate fruit. It can exhibit several flavors and accents, most of which can be seen on its packaging. For example:

FLAVOR –> ACCENT

  • Roasted –> smoky
  • Spices –> cinnamon
  • Nutty/Cocoa –> hazelnut
  • Sweet –> maple syrup
  • Floral –> jasmine
  • Fruity –> orange
  • Sour/Fermented –> citrus
  • Green/ Vegetative –> herbs
  • Papery/Chemical –> woody

SCAA Coffee Taster’s Flavor Wheel:

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

Breathe.

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.

Fire Roasted Coffee Company: A Diamond in the Rough

Imagine walking into a café that’s a little rough around the edges, but polished in all the right places.

Presenting…

Fire Roasted

[105 King Street N6A 1C1 (London, Ontario, Canada)]

Located in downtown London, Ontario across from the coveted entertainment conglomerate, Budweiser Gardens (formally the Labatt Center) and the venerable Covent Garden Market, Fire Roasted is a marveled addition to London’s Starbucks infested core. Local lovers of the bean unite! Started by coffee, beer, wine, and chocolate enthusiast Dave Cook in 2005, the Fire Roasted Empire has since expanded to two café locations (105 King St. & 138 Wortley Rd.), a mobile café, and an offsite roastery (900 King St. 2nd floor of Western Fair Farmer’s Market), giving London’s coffee scene a touch of sophistication it desperately needs.

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Quality of Service:

My sister and I were served by the hiptastic, Stephan. (Trust me! This adjective is suitable.) If his sweet demeanor and on fleek style doesn’t put a smile on your face, his extensive insight certainly will. Although newly employed at Fire Roasted, he wasn’t a stranger to the world of coffee. He and his co-worker enthusiastically described the origins, mixed genealogy, and expected flavors of their featured beans while they served us samples of each.

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Quality of Product:

Their cappuccino (3.75 dollars) and double shot espresso (2.75 dollars) was brewed with their delicate, multi-origin Expression Espresso. Before you start cringing over the price, 90% of FRC products are Fairtrade certified. Yea for being socially responsible consumers! AND they are locally roasted and packaged. Yea for supporting local artisans.

Other beans “on tap”: Grand Bend Biker Blend & Brazil Santos. The former will give you the caffeine kick-in-the-butt you need (thanks to those added Robusta beans) while the latter is a much smoother, single-origin blend.

Their sleek & shiny machines: Mazzer Robur Grinder & Nuova Simonelli Aurelia ll Espresso Machine.

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Quality of Atmosphere:

Typical café décor: wooden counter, chalkboard menu, exposed brick walls, and wrought iron furnished terrace. Frequented by professional, on-the-go clientele [white collar, telecommuters, and students] with a splattering of chill people watchers, day dreamers, and conversationalists. FRC has the makings of a free WiFi wielding coffice; I just wish they had plush couches for that added touch of comfort.

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Last Remarks:

If you’re downtown London, and need a hiptastic ((๑˃̵ᴗ˂̵)و) place to study, meet friends, or get some work done while getting your daily dose of the glorified bean brewed by experienced artisans, FRC is calling. I mean the only other option is Starbucks… so… Your choice!

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Comfort Rating:

4/5

four out of five

 

 

Helpful Coffee Tips:

Did you know that sweet, savory, and salty tastes are preferred during prenatal development while contrarily, bitter and sour are rejected? For those who don’t like the taste of coffee, don’t worry. It’s not your fault. Blame biology. Want to introduce a new food or drink into your preprogrammed catalogue of tastes? Frequency and quality play an imperative role in developing a preference for it.

Frequency: Coffee, like wine, beer, and dark chocolate, is an acquired taste, and so, you’re not going to like it overnight. It can take months or years to trick your mind into liking it. My magic number has always been 10 attempts, which has worked for sushi, beer, green tea, goat cheese, salad dressing, tofu, and Brussel sprouts. I’m still working on olives, but I might take my bitter resentment of those failed pickles to the grave. Damn you, olives. Damn you all to HECK.

Quality: Until quite recently, I hated coffee with a passion. Even after numerous shots of le petit noir, I couldn’t understand why people willingly drank burnt, bitter tasting water? Weirdos. It turns out, I was just drinking terrible, poor quality coffee my whole life. Thanks Nescafé instant. It wasn’t until I went to Belgium in autumn of 2015 that my previously accosted taste buds were introduced to a choice brew. And the rest is caffeine-saturated history.

So if you want to join the coffee cult, keep drinking. But only the good stuff.

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

 

“What makes our coffee different? Passion and intent. There is a belief in some quarters that foods know the emotions and intent of the person preparing it. If you truly pay attention to your product on a personal level, be there, the resulting product will taste better. We believe this to be true.”

Fragments: Café Simplicity.

Imagine walking into a café back in time where vintage is still considered modern and minimalism is valued over extravagance.

Presenting…

Fragments

[76 rue des Tournelles 75003 (Paris, France, 3rd district)]

This humble coffee hangout recently celebrated their 2nd anniversary, but their name is the only thing new to the Paris café scene. The self-taught barista & owner, Youssef, is a seasoned veteran when it comes to preparing le petit noir, having co-entrepreneur-ed the former Black Market.

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Quality of Service:

I was greeted by the young & stylish AF Youssef. If his perfectly groomed handlebar mustache doesn’t win your admiration, his heart of gold will. How do I know? Instead of pouring out an extraneous cup of java, he gave it to me free of charge. He cares. 😉

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Quality of Product:

Fragments is one of the few cafés in Paris where you can choose the dose of espresso-based drink. A single shot cappuccino is 4 euro (500 yen, 5 dollars) and a double shot cappuccino is 5 euro (600 yen, 6 dollars). The beans “on tap” alternate from KaffaCoffee Collective, and other guest roasters.

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Quality of Atmosphere: 

There’s a sense of tranquility that blankets you while you sip your brew at Fragments. At first, I couldn’t put my finger on why this was until I looked around and noticed… minimalism. When designing his cafe, Youssef took a simplistic approach. Look around and you’ll see the brick walls and exposed wood ceiling are left purposely bare. Listen carefully and you’ll hear a sound from a simpler time: vinyl records. Is there a more soul-quenching way to listen to music? I think not. This day, my ears were graced with the iconic voice of THE king of rock & rock, Elvis.

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Speaking of simpler times, I met noted historian and author of The World of the Paris Cafe, Dr. W. Scott Haine whom systematically studies the social life of cafés and other drinking establishments of 20th century Paris. Another book to add to my reading list.

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Last remarks:

You wouldn’t guess from my fashion choices, but I’m a big fan of minimalist design because it soothes anxiety and allows one to project their own imagination without distractions. That being said, I will surely visit again when I’m in need of a mental sanctuary. As well, I just learned about Fragments’ vintage bicycle collection, which intrigues/obliges me to visit again.

Comfort Rating:

4/5

four out of five

Helpful Coffee Tips:

The quality of water you use to brew your espresso is just as (if not more) important as the quality of coffee you use, which makes sense considering the ratio of ground coffee to water. Bad water makes bad coffee.

  1. Do not use tap water that has a distinct metallic taste for obvious reasons
  2. Do not use softened or distilled water because they are missing essential minerals needed for extraction.
  3. Thus, use filtered or bottled water.
  4. The perfect brewing temperature is between 195 F (91 C) and 205 F (96 C).
  5. Do not bring the water to a boil (212 F – 100 C) because it will burn the coffee.

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

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