Saturday, June 25, 2011

Habit Coffee (2)

Habit Coffee on Pandora
February 20, 2010
coffee *****
 goodies - just looked...didn't try them

Everyone seems to rave about this place, so I had to try it out.  I had tried to find it months ago, but it was so unobtrusive, austere and virtually empty, when I found it,that  I walked right by, and went into the restaurant next door (Mole). I was surprised, because if it was that good, I would have expected it to be more crowded, and when I am sketching I prefer a bit of a crowd, mainly because there is more choice of subject mater.  Habit is one  part of a trio of stores that is comprised of an organic vegetarian restaurant (no coffee), a very 'Green' organic bistro style restaurant (Mo:le) . 

I had to go back.  People kept telling me that theirs was THE best coffee in Victoria, so I did return.  It's spare and simple inside,(the Church of Coffee??) and not much seating, so not really a sit down place. It has an intensity of conversation between all of those filling all the seats.  It is very busy on this beautiful sunny day, with people on the benches outside, but mostly with take out it seems.  It's young crowd,  mostly dressed in black and very intense.  The coffee was excellent, but I found the ambiance blah.  I like some ambiance.  In my opinion 'Serious Coffee' tries too hard, and overdoes it.  Habit under does it.  There's gotta be a happy medium somewhere. So far the best balance, for me, was at Cafe Fantastico. Both places have excellent coffee although. Fantastico has Fol Epi goodies, albeit not as 'healthy' and good for you. They have their own blend roasted exclusively for them  at Hines, a Roastery on Granville Island in Vancouver.


Habit in the Atrium Building.
808 Yates
coffee *****
goodies ***** best damn biscotti i have ever had, other than my own!

I finally found a parking spot downtown, so I could check out the new Habit.  It's very different from the original Habit, but it still has the  austere, clean, uncluttered look.  The coffee of course was excellent, but the clientelle was quite different.  This coffee shop seems to appeal to downtown working people, and is well located to provide them with an excellent cuppa. While  I can appreciate the owners passion for coffee and conversation, I prefer more 'cluttered', folksy ambiance.  Must be the 'hippy' in me.

Friday, June 24, 2011

James Bay Coffee and Books

James Bay Coffee and Books @ 143  Menzies
February 17, 2010

I couldn't quite figure this place at first.  Is it a restaurant, a book store  or a coffee shop? It seems like  doesn't quite know what it is.  As a result, I didn't know if I should sit in the food part or the book part.  Finally settled into a small table opposite the counter.  I made a mistake and ordered ordinary coffee (those Americanos are expensive) and it was OK,but nothing special.  I really fear my increased coffee drinking has made me quite critical.  I had one of their biscotti, and it was dry and not too good.  It's a friendly place, and seemed to have a lot of regular take out trade. It has a funky homey feel.  They play Scrabble here on Tuesdays, and there is always a book to read.

Cafe Fantastico (5)

Cafe Fantastico #1  @ 965  King Rd, just off Quadra
Feb 16, 2010

FINALLY, I hit gold again!!!  Unbelievably good Americano.  And when I looked down at the pastry, they had what looked like really good croissants.  I have been often fooled by 'good looking' croissants, and I am even fussier about croissants than I am getting to be about coffee.

I spent a summer in Tours, France, attempting (unsuccessfully) to learn to speak French.  All I came away with was a discriminating appetite for the perfect croissants.  Every morning before class, we would search out a place for coffee and croissants, until we DID find the best place. In France the coffee shops are coffee shops, and the bakery sends over the croissants fresh from the oven early in the morning.  

So I ordered one.  And it was damn near perfect.  The only croissants in Victoria that are as good as this are from Fol Epi, a small bakery that was selling them in the market last year... only not this year, as they have opened their own shop. Sure enough, the croissants were from Fol Epi.   SIGH.... pure bliss.And they send them over fresh every morning.

It's a very busy place, with what appeared to be a very mixed, committed clientelle. Mostly they seemed to do take out and there are not that many places to sit... but there a couple of nice vintage sofas and chairs.  They roast their own coffee, and sell it as well.


Caffe Fantastico #2 1189 Mackenzie, just off Cook
 March 6, 2010

Again, a bit hard to find, but definitely a favorite of locals in a neighbourhood that has a Starbucks, Serious Cofffee and Moka House within blocks of each other.  By my reckoning, the best coffee on Cook Street.
It's in a tiny food court, accessed though the space between buildings that house the carts of a number of street vendors.  Just a couple of chairs and tables, it's more of a 'kiosk' style place for take out. There are several places to sit just outside the food court that would be pleasant in summer.  The food court also contains several ethnic food kiosks as well.   I had the excellent Americano that I am learning to expect at Fantastico.  They have a small offering of pastries from Fol Epi and Bubba Rose's


Caffe Fantastico, Dockside
March 13, 2010
***** their own.
+++++Fol Epi

I finally headed back over the bridge to check out the newest Caffe Fantastico at  Dockside.  I had heard wonderful things about it.  My knowledge of that area is nil, and it took a bit of time to find it but it was well worth it.  It's small, with few tables, and 'fronts' Fol Epi, the bakery that makes, to my mind, the most delicious pastries in the city.  Their croissants are to die for, crispy, buttery and delectable.  Their Chocolate Croissants are incredible.  The coffee was, of course up to Fantastico's high standards, so a cup of coffee and a croissant was enough to put me into a state of bliss.  This would be a great spot in summer, with its large patio facing the water and city across the way.
Caffe Fantastico - Kings and Quadra

Caffe Fantastico #4:  965 Kings at Quadra
March 15, 2010
***** Their own.
+++++ Fol Epi

It's becoming an addiction.  i can't keep away.  Coffee and a fabulous croissant brought me back to Caffe Fantastico and this is the closest to home.  I love the old sofas and chairs, but this old sofa has had it's day and gone.  I will have to return and draw the new one.  It is even better.  This young man was totally comfortable and at home surrounded by his ipod,  camera, ear buds,  his phone and  computer. The coffee shop is the office of the future!

Coffee excellent, croissant also excellent. As usual.

Tre Fantastico - Humboldt St.

Tre Fantastico, June 13, 2011
810 Humboldt St.
***** Coffee
+++++ Fol Epi Pastries.

 It took me a while to find the new version of Caffe Fantastico, but there it was on Humboldt St., across from the entrance to St. Anne's Academy, in a new hi rise.  It is located on a shady, treed street, and is 'the' coffee shop for a new resort and spa time share.  Unlike their other places, this one serves light meals along with their excellent coffee and pastries.  i was in time to have a lovely lunch sandwich, and sat across from this interesting couple making jewellery while sipping their coffee.  i first thought they were street vendors on a break, but another patron asked them, and it turns out the jewellery was all for the young woman, who was wearing some of her handiwork as well.  They both were off duty servers or baristas who worked at Tre Fantastico.  Nice, bright, friendly atmosphere, and lucky Parkside Victoria Resort and Spa to have such excellent coffee shop right there.


Crumsby Cupcake Cafe

Crumsby's Cupcake Cafe, @ 2509 Estevan, Oak Bay
February 14, 2011

Ooooops... spelling error alert! Can't change it.  Anyway, back to Victoria, after a wonderful month of sunshine and sea in the Caribbean, I continue my search for the perfect cup of coffee.  I decide to expand my search to include small Patisseries and places that roast their own coffee.  Walked Zoe down on Willows beach, and this was the closest place for coffee.  I had been putting it off, because I did know it catered to moms and kids.  It's relatively new, and is bright and cheerful.  You are faced with an overwhelming choice of incredibly decorated mini and giant muffins, as well as trendy lunches.

I ordered an Americano, and it was OK...not outstanding, but definitely OK.   As expected, the place was full of moms and dads with kids, and a bit high energy, what with all that sugar floating in the air. I indulged in a couple of obscene looking mini muffins, and they WERE good.  For some strange reason, i seemed to be surrounded by French speaking parents/kids.  Interesting, but generally unintelligible to me.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Coffee on the Road.: A short History of the Search

 Taking a sun break from Victoria's Coffee Shops

coffee vendor in Cartagena

No coffee shop posts for a while, because in January 2011, I left for a month of sunshine and sea in the Caribbean. Finding decent coffee when travelling is very difficult, even in the best coffee producing countries.  This is because their best coffee is often one of their main exports and the locals are reduced to drinking Nescafe. The only place I could count on getting good coffee while travelling was in Colombia. There it is sold on the street out of giant thermoses  in little tiny cups the size of shot glasses .  It is like ingesting pure caffeine!  As a result of my fear of not getting a decent cuppa in the morning,  I travel with my own coffee maker and coffee.

 the very first coffee maker

My very first Bodum Coffee Press
I started doing this way back 1997 when I went to Australia, with my favorite one cup, glass Bodum.  I had a feeling that British born Australia might be good on tea, but not so good on Coffee.  I found that a large Italian population had made a difference, but while good coffee was available in large centres, not so much in smaller ones.  So I made good use of it for my morning coffee, until tragedy struck.  While waiting for a bus in Adelaide to take me to Alice Springs, my backpack fell over, and I heard that unmistakable crunch of breaking glass.  I was devastated

the Alice Springs coffee maker
 I checked into the hostel in Alice, and was due to leave on a camping trip to Uluru the next morning...with no coffee maker! I was sure it would be given Nescafe in the morning. No way! I was told there was a Woolworth in town, so an understanding Aussie hosteller with a car offered to drive me.  It was almost closing time, and the guard at the door didn't want to let us in, but I pleaded my case, and told him I only needed ONE thing.  I ran around the store, looking for the right department, found it, couldn't find  what I wanted, and nearly despaired, but my 'driver' friend shouted she had found one, and my sanity was saved.  It was a slightly different style, but in a way better, as the glass was somewhat protected by a metal frame. My morning coffee was assured. That same coffee maker travelled with me to China in 1997, and to Mongolia in 1998...both countries where bringing coffee and a coffee maker was indeed a necessity. 

 The Plastic Coffee Press
 In 1999 I spent time in Nicaragua and Mexico. Despite being coffee countries, it was hard to find good coffee at that time.  That year I discovered my first one cup plunger thermos style coffee maker.   The first one on the market was plastic and I was delighted, because it  avoided the breakage problem.  It took me through trips to Central and South America in 2001 and 2003. Unfortunately it only lasted a couple of trips, and had to be replaced once because with constant use, the plastic began to sag from the boiling water.  But then the plastic ones became unavailable.They were replaced by the larger, heavier metal ones that were just too bulky and heavy for this backpacker.

My next great find was in a camping store, where
 I found a one cup metal Bodum!  This had to be the travel coffee maker of my dreams, and it went with me to West Africa in 2007 and island hopping in the Caribbean in 2005.    I am always searching for travel gear perfection, and I found it again in the camping department. I felt I had found the ultimate travel coffee maker. It is a cup shaped, metal, thermos, plunger coffee maker/cup, and with the right coffee, makes a perfect cup that you can drink out of as well.  It is the size of a normal cup,is light weight and has a handle.  All you need is boiling water - which if they are offering you Nescafe or tea, comes to the table in a thermos.   Before I left Senegal,  it was gifted to a wonderful French couple who had 'rescued' me during an airport meltdown.  They also decried the unavailability of anything but Nescafe while travelling and admired my wonderful 'cup' so I gave it to  them to thank them for all their kindness.  I knew I could replace it when I got home.

The new cup went to Churchill Manitoba (2007) and Tahiti in 2008 .  While Tahiti is a French country, and one could expect good coffee, I had been fooled once before in West Africa.  I had expected that former French colonies like Burkina Faso and Senegal would be 'safe', and only carried enough coffee to get me through British born Ghana... even stupidly leaving some behind as I lightened my pack load.  But unbelievably, there was nothing but Nescafe wherever I went, and because i gave my coffee away,  I had to switch to tea.  Luckily, I didn't really need it in Tahiti.

Here's a tip to use when you are truly desperate for a cup of coffee, and there is only Nescafe available I learned it  from an Israeli while travelling in Europe back in 1961 - the year I learned to drink coffee.

Put a teaspoonful of the dreaded Nescafe into your cup, add one or two teaspoons of sugar.  Then put in JUST ENOUGH water to dampen it, and using the spoon 'whip it' around until it is a thick, caramel coloured glob in the bottom.  Then gradually add boiling water, stir, and add milk if you want.  It isn't 'real' coffee but for some strange reason it does something to the Nescafe to make it palatable.  

Which brings me to my last trip back to the Caribbean in 2010.  I had heard that StarBucks had developed a fantastic, new, instant coffee.  They were giving out free samples, so I took some home to test.  Not bad at all.  Not as good as the real thing, but definitely doable while travelling.  So I packed up enough for a month (they come in little individual packets), and used my immersion heater to boil water in my thermos cup. Then all I had to do was add the instant coffee, and I was set for the morning!

I spent a week on the Windsurf, a luxury sailing ship, from Barbados to a number of islands.

The coffee was so so, and i beefed it up with my SB instant.  It was too hot for coffee any time other than for breakfast, and I opted for drinking great Caribbean beer instead during the day.

Friendly French couples seem to turn up in my travels and I connected with another pair on the last island I visited, Carriacou, a small island off of Grenada. I met this couple, also suffering from true coffee deprivation.  They tried out my SB instant, and it passed muster, so when I left I gave them all my remaining packets.  Travel blog of this trip can be located at one of my other blogs... but so far, it is still incomplete.