Wednesday, January 19, 2011

What's in your coffee?

Well if you are asking - there is nothing in my coffee. I love it black... just the coffee, give me drip, plunged, Americano, or espresso, I want to taste the roast, I want to taste the beans. Does the roast matter you might ask? You just need to get the beans to be a dark colour and then go for it right? Not at all. Ben Cram over at Fernwood Coffee Company that is fronted by the Parsonnage Cafe just off Cook Street takes his coffee bean roasting down to the hundreth of a second. He wants to make sure he produces a consistent flavour each time, but he wants to make sure he is getting the best possible roast for optimum flavour. I bought a home roaster a little while ago, so I needed to find out where I could get green beans to roast. I think that Fernwood produces some of the best beans in town, so I wandered down one day and struck up what proved to be a lengthy conversation with Ben. He showed me his almost brand new roaster that he uses to produce their roasted coffee in bulk. He gave me a few varieties with the promise that I would bring back the roasted beans and we would try them there at the cafe.

I took them home and did just that. I have to admit the roasting process is very precise and you have to be around as beans go from great to burnt in a VERY short amount of time. Once I had done my first batch, I ground it and used them in my Rancillio Silvia, a wonderful home espresso machine - all brass innards! It was actually not bad at all. It took me another two roastings before I was willing to take some beans down to Ben. But I did, as promised and we did two pots of personal drip to compare, same beans. In the end, his roast was a little more refined and its edges a little smoother, but the comparison was actually much better than I had anticipated. I think he might have been, slightly impressed too!

Really a truly great roast for a fabulous espresso comes from a medium roast, rather than anything too dark. I think many people associate strong with dark dark - and that can be the case to some degree, but it can actually be that dark is associated with burnt and that is associated with strong! Fernwood Coffee does a great dark roast with its Strongback Blend, but their espresso blend is quite fantastic. The other master roaster is Geir Oglend up at Drumroaster in Cobble Hill. He has been in the coffee business for years and his understanding of coffee, roasting, machines and pouring is quite unparalleled on the Island! I always try and get into his shop when I am up that way. His son pours an amazing espresso shot and knows what he is doing with milk and frothing. He can make a 1% or skim milk taste like cream with his steam wand - thus making for a terrific latte or cappuccino.

Such is also the case at Caffe Artigiano downtown at the Bedford Hotel. The baristas there are very well trained and use multiple stainless steel vessels to create their steamed milk. Again they can make milk come out like cream. When I crave a latte in town, I usually try and make a quick trip down on a Saturday morning.

I do also like the shots being poured at Discovery Coffee on Oak Bay Avenue, but have to admit that I prefer the espresso to the Americano when I am there, not sure why, almost like the flavour is being diluted. Demitasse Cafe on McNeill in Oak Bay pours a darn good shot as well - though as always it is barista dependent. That being said it has been a while since I have been dissatisfied with my Americano!

So there you go, a few adventures in coffee in the Victoria area, as well as for those of you looking for great beans. By the way Drumroaster and Parsonnage Cafe both do their own cooking and baking and make some fabulous sides for your coffee. The fruit nut scone at Drumroaster and the lemon square at Parsonnage are amazing. Parsonnage also does perhaps the best BLT you have had on fresh bread - it is worth a trip even just for the sandwich. I try and look away from the maple pecan twists at Drumroaster - I am sure there is enough sugar, butter and calories to last me a month in them - but having sampled one they are yummy!

Enjoy your local coffee experiences we are blessed to have so many wonderful spots. Traveling across the country and afar field in BC it is hard to find the quality we enjoy here!

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