Coffee: a beautiful, rich, and aromatic brewed beverage to enjoy alone or in good company.
Caffeine: a convenient native compound present in coffee beans to give us an extra kick during the day.
What better way to get a quick caffeine fix after a long day at work, and enjoy the deliciousness of coffee over good conversation than to have an espresso at a nearby coffee shop!
That was the philosophy that my friend Harrison and I had for this past few weeks. We were lucky to both have rotations at SPH this month, and we quickly discovered that coffee after work was important to keep us doing things that residents needed to do when we got home. Since we were in the downtown area, and we both loved coffee, our visits to various nearby coffee shops slowly developed into a ritual and something that I looked forward to. For us to better assess the quality of coffee at different coffee shops, our stand-by drink was always the espresso con panna (2 shots of espresso + whipped cream +/- caramel or chocolate drizzle). It helps that Harrison used to work at a coffee shop, so he has some knowledge about how espressos should be made. After trying out 5 different places’ espressos, we feel that we have a better idea of what a good espresso should taste like, and hopefully we are on our way to being espresso connoisseurs.
The places we have been to are Betty by Blenz (Burrard), Cafe de France (Hornby & Nelson), Beyond Coffee (lobby of the Century-Plaza hotel), Caffe Artigiano (Robson), and Baguette & Co. (Davie).
1) Betty by Blenz
Betty by Blenz was the first coffee shop we went to, as it is one of the closest to the hospital. On the first day we went, I didn’t even have an espresso, only Harrison did. We went a total of 3 times, and the service was quite pleasant although inconsistent. As you can tell in the pictures, different baristas used different sized cups – we wished that the large cup had been used all 3 times to minimize spillage of melted whipped cream espresso-y goodness. The espresso itself was not bad but not particularly memorable (although since it was the first place we went to, we didn’t really know how to compare). Every sip seemed to be a friendly but firm slap in the face to “wake up!”, but it had quite an acidic flavour that bordered on unpleasant near the end.
Our rating of the espresso itself (out of 5) is 3.
Our rating of the overall experience (including service and ambiance) is 3.
2) Cafe de France
One day, we decided to be especially adventurous and seek a new coffee spot. This led us to Cafe de France on the corner of Hornby and Nelson, a small place run by some friendly Japanese ladies. The ambiance of the place was kind of surprising; by the name, I expected to walk into a Parisian-esque cafe, but it was slightly uncomfortably humid inside, and the menu was almost childishly hand-written on a couple of boards hanging from the ceiling. Regardless, we decided to try their espresso, and after a bit of difficulty communicating with the girl, we were able to request whipped cream and some white chocolate drizzle on top (since they didn’t have caramel drizzle). We ended up sitting outside by the street for better ventilation, and although we were quite close to the noise of cars rushing by, we were still able to enjoy our espresso. We decided almost immediately that this was better than the ones we had at Betty. FIrst of all, no spillage occurred because she used big cups! Secondly, the taste was much more pleasant. Although it still packed a punch, it was much less acidic. Ex-barista Harrison believes that it’s because this Japanese lady added the whipped cream immediately after the espresso finished dripping, and did not wait for it to sit, which he has been told in the past that it is important to minimize how acidic a coffee becomes.
Espresso experience: 3.5
Overall experience: 3.5
3) Caffe Artigiano
The evening after work before our Academic Day Seminar, we decided to pay Caffe Artigiano on Robson a visit for a quality study session to do our pre-readings on CAP and HAP. I had decided not to get an espresso that day, but Harrison tried the espresso they had on promotion, which was the Brazil Santa Lucia Single Origin Espresso. I tried a small sip of it, and it made me totally regret not getting on myself. It was truly the best espresso we have had so far: super nutty, silk smooth, without acidity, and full of depth in flavour that words cannot describe. The barista was also very friendly and helpful, and even gave Harrison the whipped cream for free after he so sneakily asked for it after he paid. My one complaint was their baked goods…I ordered a lemon ricotta muffin to go with my drip coffee, but it tasted like the muffin was not fresh, so it wasn’t that great. If you get baked goods there, make sure to ask how long it’s been out.
Espresso experience: 4.5
Overall experience: 3.5
4) Beyond Coffee
I’ll preface this review by saying that it definitely was not the best experience. First of all, the barista who took our orders looked like she was having an extremely bad day, and did not spare any efforts in hiding it. Very poor in terms of customer service, but I must say that it was the first time I experienced this – usually the baristas there are super personable and friendly. In any case, the espressos we ordered seemed to reflect the barista’s sentiments of the day. It was, quite honestly, the worst tasting espresso that we had ever tried. It was extremely unpleasantly bitter, so much so that we wanted to gag after every sip. It was also not so great that the spillage was quite enormous (as you can tell by the photos). Conclusion: W will never get their espresso again.
Espresso experience: 1
Overall experience: 2
5) Baguette & Co.
Seeking yet another place, we decided to visit Baguette & Co. I had been there previously and enjoyed their lunch special very much (delicious panini + pastry + coffee/tea for a great price), and we were not disappointed by the espresso and pastries we ordered. Unfortunately they did not have whipped cream to make espresso con panna, so we ended up ordering an espresso machiatto each. The first few sips were quite delightful. The espresso was very smooth and had a timid, mellow flavour that was still full of body. However, as we let it sit for longer and continued to sip at it, it became progressively more acidic, although never to a point that it became unpleasant. I must also say, that lemon tart was amazing (just the right amount of tartness), and the berry mousse cake and napoleon were quite good as well. Having that piece of chocolate at the end was quite a treat too (even though I’m quite sure it’s from Costco). A definite plus was that the cups were filled to the brim, but no spillage! Also, the cups themselves were pretty cool with their square base – apparently “Cordon Bleu”, made in China, though. But still cool.
Espresso experience: 3.5
Overall experience: 4