*to Hanlon's razor: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Bitter about Toronto 'baristas'

Because you can never tell them how to make what you want, and relying on luck rarely works.
Never mind the variable quality of beans, wrong temperature of the water, and pomposity of 'baristas' in Toronto: I have had just one cup of coffee made how I like (Linux Cafe, and only by the owner).  This in a city with tip-jars by the register, and an attitude to tipping which is, shall I say, presumptuous.

I can describe the coffee I want in a short sentence, in one of several ways, but that doesn't mean I am likely to get it.
Long dry double macchiato.
Dry double-shot macchiato allongée.
The longer version: put an amount of hot water in the bottom of a glass equal to the double espresso you pull on top of it, to keep the crema; then mark it with not more than two tablespoons of milk foam - no milk! 

Is that so hard?  Even when I am polite and apologetic, and the puller is not busy, apparently yes.  There is more than one cognitive dissidence.  First, the puller thinks he knows better than me.  He/She is wrong, of course.  Even if they are right about what is a better cup of coffee (they are not), I am paying.  It is my right to be wrong.  Second, nobody listens in Toronto.  Nobody listens to anyone about how to drive, why we need better transit, the fact that more bikes and transit means there are fewer cars so you have more room for your bus.  Nobody listens to the fact that decent physical and mental health care and elementary education are far cheaper than jails, policing and 'family services'.  Nobody listens that voting for 'conservatives' can only be argued on hate; not financial policy as 'conservatives' have done more financial damage than 'the left'.

Sorry about that.  But it is a very narcissistic city, which is unaccountable for such a provincial and obese population.

Most of the pulled coffees in Toronto are milky desserts, a la Starbucks' polysyllabic abominations.  One of the more absurd things I have seen is a Starbucks in Lisbon: talk about faint hope.  Bear in mind that in one week in Lisbon I had just one cup of coffee that was not good, and even that was not terrible.  I would expect an inverse result, in Toronto.  Having just finished a bica at the venerable Pastéis de Belém, when leaving we saw a Starbucks just down the street. I do not want to know if it has survived. I enjoyed Lisbon and its people too much to want to know that.

Coffee should taste like coffee.  If you do not like its complex shibumi, drink a milkshake.  What I more often do is order a very regular coffee when out, as there is less to go wrong, though it not rarely does.  Eschewing the elusive foam, sans milk, I have just about given up ordering americano, as I believe an americano should have just double the volume of the espresso in it, not the quintupling I am more often handed.  You see, I like coffee more than milk, or water.  My elusive macchiato achieves all of the shibumi of coffee, with that bit of foam only polishing the sharper edges, and a bit of warm water to extend the stimulant into a beverage.  Milk foam is caramelized, giving the coffee all of the sweetness it needs from lactose, without destroying it with sucrose.  I make it at home.  On the left, a stove-top 'moka' espresso maker, and on the right a stove-top milk steamer and frother.  All that I need, but a bit of a production unless I have guests.  I usually skip the milk foam in that case.  If you want a counter-top espresso maker, spend not less than $500, or don't bother: you get better coffee from the machines, below.

I cannot share in 'coffee culture', such as it is, in Toronto.  I do not drink double-double, both because I like coffee, and do not share in the infantile N.American taste for unrelenting cheap fats and sugar.  I also do not care for the N.American figure, which is the result of same, and physical sloth.


  1. oh my, it seems we share a liking (fascination?)

  2. What a delight to read. This style of "service" is rampant across North America.

    How does the coffee served in Canada compare to the coffee served in Japan? I never drank coffee when in Canada, but I occasionally do in Japan now.

  3. Derek, my answer can only be subjective, and limited. Let's limit it further to a comparison of Toronto to Tokyo, leaving out the hinterlands of each nation. If you include the lower end coffee shops, Tokyo is far better. There are several chains in Toronto, and not a few independants, whose coffee is simply undrinkable: that rarely happens in Tokyo. When you compare the premium places, it is harder to generalize: I have not found many coffee shops in Tokyo as good as the dozen excellent ones in Toronto; however, too many of the 'premium' ones in Toronto do not serve a dependable brew (looking at you, 'Jetfuel').

    But it is worth considering the hinterlands: excrable in Canada, not terrible in Japan. One thing Japan has a lot of, and Canada too few, are automatic espresso/latte/etc makers. Why not?! Only an artist makes a better coffee than a computer, and a computer is at least consistent.

    In short, you get few awful coffees in Japan, and some excellent; you get quite a few awful coffees in Canada, and some excellent.

  4. Thanks for the hefty comparison.

    It's true like you say, that in Japan, there is reasonable predictability, not just with cafes, but most of the service industry.