Coffee is an integral, important part of the day for me. I enjoy the taste of a good cup of coffee (French press at home). I need it to get me into a good mood and the right frame of mind in the morning, preceding a long day Monday to Friday doing my two full-time jobs, 9:00 am–3:00 pm (Educational Assistant, Elementary school) and 3:30–11:00 pm (Intensive Adult Services Worker, Group Home for the mentally challenged). I average three cups daily—breakfast, start of evening shift, after supper. I know plenty of people who consume many more cups of caffeine than I do—and not all of them push through two jobs daily.
I don’t like sleeping in too long on the weekends—except for the rare time I am sick or extremely exhausted. Nine or ten o’clock latest, but then I am already off routine, out of rhythm, and as a result more likely to be grumpy. If I were to miss my coffee—watch the Tiger roar!
There is good coffee, there is mediocre coffee, and there is liquid crap—putrid, brown slosh marketed as fine coffee. Bah! Most of the commercial store brands are made of the robusto bean—higher caffeine content, lower quality—unless the tins or bags are clearly marked “100% Arabica”—the premium coffee bean. These latter are passable-to-decent in the drip filter we use at work.
Next up the ladder: Starbucks (the crappiest of the joe franchises, although their staff are usually friendly, many establishments offer a decent seating environment, and many locations/easy access. I am partial to their espresso doppio con panna.
Then there is Tim Hortons (average, and there is the rumour that just won’t die around here: they spike their coffee with nicotine—we all know people who drink lots of joe every day, accompanied by the cigarette—more prevalent in the Maritime provinces).
At the top of the franchise pile, locally, is JJ Bean. They have a couple of locations around Vancouver. Myself, I have only frequented the one on Commercial a little north of the railway cut and Commercial/Broadway SkyTrain Stations. This establishment is generally busy—it is often difficult to get a table, stool, or chair. It is a lively place—the patrons an exuberant, vibrant crowd. There are always more than a few books, newspapers, and laptops open, and educated conversations on the go. The staff is friendly for the most part—even quite knowledgeable and helpful. A nice touch and a sign they know the coffee business: if I order an espresso, they serve me with a water on the side for the palate. This is the first place outside of Italy and Europe I personally have experienced practicing this.
I also like The Grind on Main just a couple of doors south of East King Edward. Friendly service, lots of room front and back, an assortment of free newspapers, magazines, neighbourhood advertisement postcards, and posters of events, free wireless access, and a woman I believe to be the owner or co-owner, and, I think, of Japanese background. She knows some of her daily regulars on a first-name basis. She even remembers a few who do not frequent the place quite as often. She loves to talk, is truly interested in her clientele.
For the most part, I like my coffee pretty basic—preferably in one of the European offerings. None of this pretentious shit, ordering at Starbucks or some similar joint: “I’ll have an extra hot, extra shot, Grande non-fat vanilla latte with a swirl of caramel” or something even more extravagant and perverse.
“That’s not coffee, that’s just showing off. Go to 7–11 and buy yourself a slurpee or something instead. You don’t really want a coffee. You just want everyone in the place to hear how smart and special you are, ordering some fancy, silly concoction that half of everyone else orders, thinking and acting just like you. Bah! You’re the same sort of person that talks loud enough on their cell phone about nothing important. Not everyone on the crowded, standing-room-only 99 B-line UBC express bus wants to hear that you got laid last night, about how shitty it was, but you’ll go out with him or her again because they seem a nice person and a lot like you.”
Absolute number one in my books locally: the independent Continental Coffee on the Drive, Republic of East Vancouver! This place has been around since hippiedom. Rumour or legend has it: the founder/owner of this fine establishment was supplied by Starbucks in the early ’70s when the latter was one little wooden shop across the street from Pike’s Market in Seattle. I remember seeing long-haired dudes traipsing about, delivering sacks of beans—it was the only thing they sold in those early days—every time we were down there. Each time I visit Continental, I have that flashback European experience I pine for and miss a lot. The aroma, the flavour, the satisfaction, the social scene, the ambiance!
When in Paris: there are many fine and decent establishments in the City of Lights catering to the coffee drinker. I know best the neighbourhoods in and around behind Sacré Coeur and Montmartre, toward the Cimetière de Montmartre with its hundred feral cats and mostly large family tombstones—I prefer it over the Père Lachaise cemetery for its unique character. There is usually a choice of servings—stand at the bar, inside table, outside table (cheapest to priciest). In Paris the popular one’s are un café (plain coffee with nothing added, but is strong as it is brewed like espresso); café au lait (a popular French coffee with steamed milk, and it’s almost always wonderful. You will sometimes get the coffee served in one pot or in the cup, and then a pitcher of steamed milk to pour in as you please); café crème (coffee served in a large cup with hot cream); café noisette (espresso with a dash of cream in it. It is called “noisette,” French for hazelnut, because of the rich, dark colour of the coffee); café americain (filtered coffee, similar to traditional American coffee); café léger (espresso with double the water. I generally like a café noisette or a café au lait (dunking la baguette à la confiture into a big, steaming bowl of steamed milk coffee).
In Hamburg: I like a Milchkaffee in the mornings, a Kaffee schwarz in the afternoons. Sipping at an expensive outdoor table in the heart of downtown, in full view of the Außenalster (where my paternal ancestors owned and operated a ship building business, boat rental, and passenger ferry on this man-made lake—a dammed river). And the International Youth Hostel near Landungsbrücke does a fine serving of coffee with their awesome breakfast—the best of any hostel in Continental Europe, as Germans sure know how to put on a spread, hosted in the good, substantial Hamburg style. Breakfast is very important to us Germans. Hamburg’s former coffee exchange—Kaffeebörse—used to be the hub of world. There’s the Kaffeemuseum, Münsterstrasse 23–24 (the coffee museum).
In Stuttgart: in the ’80s I knew a great little place up in the wooded hills of a large park overlooking downtown—the Mozart Café in a stone rotunda much like a bandstand. It was simple, served good, simple fare. I would go for the Schwarzes Frühstück: café noir avec une Gauloise. I used to smoke for the sheer pleasure of it (usually unfiltered Camels or Lucky Strikes, the Virginia tobacco did it—a cigarette or two daily, never more than six a day, then none for days or weeks. My German girlfriend at the time, Claudia, had turned me on to this unique way to kick my ass awake.
In Italy: espresso (known as a caffè in Italy, served in a 3-oz. or a demitasse cup. Strong in taste with a rich bronze froth known as a crema on top); doppio (simply a double espresso); ristretto (more concentrated than a regular espresso that is made with less water); lungo or caffè americano (an espresso made with more water—opposite a ristretto); macchiato (espresso that is “marked” with a dollop of steamed milk on top); caffè corretto (laced with a shot of alcohol—usually “corrected” with grappa, brandy, cognac, sambuca); cappuccino—not ordered after 11:00 am unless you want to get laughed at (espresso with foamed milk and containing equal parts espresso, steamed milk, and foamed milk); cappuccino scuro (cappuccino prepared with less milk and is a darker color); cappuccino chiaro (cappuccino prepared with more milk—but less than a caffe latte—and is lighter in color); caffè latte (espresso made with more milk than a cappuccino but only a small amount of foam. In Italy it is usually a breakfast drink); latte macchiato (steamed milk that is “marked”—sometimes ornately—with a shot of espresso coffee). I can get a decent espresso in the cheap trackside vending machines in the most waylaid train stations in Italy—better coffee than what Starbucks or Timmies has to offer.
Did you know? Saint John, New Brunswick has twenty-two Tim Hortons outlets, most of them drive-thru, within its city limits—not that big of a city (my 2002 census). Always very friendly service, but smokers galore inside the outlets—many Maritimers still smoke. And, they know immediately you’re not a local—they don’t recognize your face, they hear it in your regional “accent”—they say “You’re from away” in a nice, friendly way.