Trans-Canada Coffee Adventure Part II: The Prairies
My next stop was Calgary - rolling into town at 4:45 pm was ill-timed to make a planned connection at Phil & Sebastian, despite trying to get Sebastian on the phone just before they closed up at the Calgary Farmer's Market for the day. "If I show up in ten minutes, will you guys still be there?" I asked. "Not really," I was told by the Hines coffee-pullin', kiosk-owners. Apparently they are rocking a LaMarzocco and a Clover at this well-reputed walkup, but since they were closed, I ended up at a dirtbag cafe in Kensington drinking a bitter macchiato watching burnouts too inept to have made it all the way to British Columbia play hacky-sack and acoustic guitar. Oh well. Next time (if there is one), I'll find my way to Phil & Sebastian.
Further north, Edmonton was another story...we rolled into town on Saturday night, me, sleepy from a hotel floor in the middle of Nowhere, Alberta... but according to Arthur, I was supposed to check out Three Bananas coffee. Would it be open so late in some random town? Oh yes, yes it would.
| Three Bananas' Geoff Linden working to change the coffeescape of Edmonton, AB |
Right downtown in one of Canada's northernmost metropilii you will find Three Bananas, a fine Intelly-based shop (oh, hello!) sitting inexplicably as the near-centrepiece of a civic square. Three Bananas is trying to bring coffee to the people, as it were - open late on weekend nights as the square fills up for free movies in the summer (when I was there, there was even a bouncy castle out there for kids...espresso + bouncy castle anyone?) and the decor nothing but sunlight and windows and pretty blue tile. Delicious (if not earth-moving) coffee, and a super-kind owner (hi Geoff!) and staff (hi Clemens!) are yours here. The LaMarzocco is cherry red, and you may also enjoy food, wireless, good couches and...well, my only real complaint was that they weren't open til 11am on Sunday so I could go get three more coffees. See you again, Three Bananas. Next time I'll also pay a visit to Transcend, who I didn't get tipped to 'til months later (who knew Edmonton's scene was, uh, raging?)
Onward to provinces west where I would stumble into the Ukrainian espresso legacy of Saskatoon...
| 49th Coffees at Museo |
A rotating selection of single-origins for the Museo pourover station
Museo Coffee + Espresso
I was trying to figure this one out in advance - fancy coffee - in an art gallery?- open til 6pm on a Sunday - in Saskatoon? Yep. Totally. I called around 4:30 (maybe I thought it was 5:30 - the time zone changes somewhere around here and everyone I was travelling with was confused) and asked when the shop would be closing up for the night. Unlike my not-close-enough encounter with Phil & Sebastian, at Museo: "Oh, we'll be open until six... or later... we're usually around for awhile. Just come by."
And come by I did, partly by city bus and partly by pleasant riverwalk, through the park and museum land of strangely nice Saskatoon. Inside the Mendel Art Gallery (pay what you can) is this little cafe, then: clean, fancy, subtle, and solid, and who's that behind the controls? Our man Jimmy O., of online muckraking fame and well-coiffed hair - enthusiastic and happy to show an otherwise innocent Torontonian the best of his trade, that is, many shots of Epic espresso, some gold-filter pourover single origin jazz, and weirdly - he even talked me into an Americano. I must've been delirious from the Saskatoonian scenery and the ride on the nearby park's tiny train.
| Jimmy O at Museo |
Saskatoon's Jimmy O is able to check his shots - and coiffeur - in the shiny LaMarzocco GB5
By 7:00 Saskatchewan time (or was it 6?!) I was fairly insanely caffeinated, but not too much to enjoy a Prairie-twisted constructivist poster display in the gallery's ground floor. Museo is a really handsome setup helped transcend more than one of my preconceived notions about Saskatchewan. Again, who knew?
Right downtown (basically behind our hotel, or was it behind the bus station?), Caffe Sola- a former Jimmy O. venture - looked promising enough. But my coffee - sorta bad, and apparently roasted in the Yukon (what?) - was only memorable for its, you know. Proximity to the bus station. Others have told me I was wrong about this place, but I'm not sure I'll have the pleasure of reevaluating this one anytime soon. Hmmm....
I missed drinking coffee in Winnipeg completely. Though according to many, I did not miss a thing at all. There was a place called the Pastry Castle that I encountered just after dinner - the cafe's tables were littered with tent cards with pix of latte art from their supplier, Fratelli Coffee. I'm guessing the Britpop band The Fratellis is better...onto the American detour.
And suddenly I wasn't in Canada anymore. I was in Minnesota! Could it be true that there was amazing coffee in St. Paul, if only I could coerce my friend Emily into driving us there? It was true! Oh great day! We first rolled up to...
St. Paul, MN
Oh, man. I did very little research on this place - and totally missed the Barista Magazine profile on it in the April/May issue too - but when I saw the sandwich board outside enticing people to come drink off the Clover (there's a Clover in St. Paul?) and the placard inside advertising this week's special featureó49th Parallel Epic Espresso (hi!) - I had a feeling I might be in the right place in this town. After some small talk with a super-shy barista (she warmed up after I told her how damn good her ristretto was...) I was intercepted by Andrew Kopplin, the owner, totally younger than me, but way more serious, and extra-friendly, dedicated and eager to talk about everything he wants his shop to be. This place was great: the usual espresso is from excellent local roaster Paradise Roasters, and the vibe throughout this store was an unpretentious but steadfast commitment to making coffee exciting and excellent. I wish I'd had time to come back here a bunch more! But we had to head over and check out friendly competitor...
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| Andrew Kopplin of Kopplin's Coffee in St. Paul, MN grinding the feature espresso of the week - Epic - to keep my Cross-Canada Tour thematically accurate |
| A shot of Paradise espresso at St. Paul's Black Sheep Coffee |
Black Sheep Coffee Cafe
Black Sheep Coffee Cafe ain't your small-scale hipster dive - there are lots of sheep here, it looks like you could really bring dozens of mothers and breastfeed openly - but they have fantastic coffee (Paradise Roasters, why didn't I bring home any of your coffee?) and it's the home of sixth-place US Barista Championship winner Peter Middlecamp. Now, he wasn't there, but his signature drink was...Jake was gracious enough to prepare one for me. And while I gotta say my spoon-taste of the basil-infused whipped cream was very good: I didn't really want it mixed with the caramel, espresso, and star anise that made up the intriguing little con panna Peter took to competition. Could be my irrational anti-caramel bias though. Don't ask me. I'm not qualified to comment on caramel...Black Sheep was a great hang, though, especially what with the torrential downpours going on outside, warmed by a superior tuna melt. Sweet and unpretentious in just that perfect midwestern way - ah, feels like home.