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Sep 26, 2007 10:41 AM

Espresso neophyte. Best pics and prices in GTA??

I just bought a fabulous Jura espresso machine and I know nothing about espresso beans. I really need some frank advice from my fellow Chowhounders. Please educate me. I want to learn, but if it makes it easier, please just tell me which brands to buy and where I can find them at the best price in the GTA. I can live without going to Pusateri's ($$) for this purchase.


p.s. fyi. fresh key limes at T&T Cherry Street for $2.49 a bag.

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  1. As far as mass-market beans go, I've got nothing but love for the Kicking Horse Pass Cliffhanger blend - it's got a nice sweetness to it that works wonderfully for lattes and cappuccinos. It's fair trade, though, which means a higher price point. The plus side is that you can find it in almost all major supermarkets these days (either with the coffee or the organics, depending on their setup).

    I also purchase beans from Moonbean in Kensington whenever I'm in the area. They roast their own and have fairly high turnover, so there's little to no risk for stale beans. Some beans are fair-trade, and others aren't - regular beans will run you around $9/lb. All coffee served there is brewed with their own beans, so have an espresso before buying to see if it's to your liking.

    1. I too like many from Moonbeam, I am totally addicted to illy though, a bit pricier, $15 ish per tin, IMO espresso & it's uses are no place to skimp...Enjoy!

      2 Replies
        1. re: Moimoi

          In my opinion....threw it in there since (like myself) there are lots of differing feelings about makes a good or bad coissant...

      1. The most important factor in beans for espresso (or any other coffee) is freshness. Espresso is best when made from beans between 2 and 10 (maybe 14 at the outside) days after roasting. The beans need 24-48 hours to "de-gas" after roasting, following which they'll be at their prime for a week or so. (This will vary slightly by blend, but not much.)

        So, the best beans will be roasted recently, and will be labelled with the date of roast. There aren't many roasters in Toronto doing roast-date labelling. As far as I can know, the following do: Birds & Beans (in Etobicoke), Dark City Coffee (online, mail delivery only) & Green Beanery (at Bloor & Brunswick). There are a few other local roasters who will probably be able to tell you when a given batch was roasted: iDeal (in Kensington), Coffee Tree (in Bloor West Village), Moonbean (maybe, I've had hit & miss results with their beans and with getting good info from their staff), and probably others. Whole Foods also roasts in-house and posts roast dates, but they leave the roasted coffee out in the open in big baskets, which turns me off, and isn't particularly good for freshness.

        Also, there's a new espresso bar (opened last week) called Manic Coffee (College, just east of Bathurst). They will be (or possibly already are) selling beans from Intelligentsia, a top US roaster (based in Chicago). The information I got was that they'll be getting shipments of beans once or twice weekly, with beans arriving within two days of roast.

        As for Illy, I'm sure it's good when it's fresh, but it always tastes pretty stale to me out of the can and it's pretty tough to get anything approaching good crema out of it.

        For way more information on all of this, see the forums at and


        13 Replies
        1. re: detritus

          I agree on the rec for coffeegeek website - it is for coffee lovers what chowhound is for food lovers. Interesting note about Intelligentsia coffee from Chicago - they are, or at least used to be, the bean supplier for Cafe Artigiano in Vancouver, no?

          1. re: peppermint pate

            You could also order direct from Intelligentsia--I just got a shipment in today, and is it SO fresh. Both the UPS guy and my husband commented on how good the package smelled.

            1. re: foodie_expat

              This is a pretty expensive option though, especially considering the frequency with which you have to order to keep your supply fresh.

              1. re: detritus

                For those of us who live (just) outside of the GTA, it works pretty well, but you are right that I certainly don't always have 1-2 week old beans on hand. Instead, I get fresh, roasted just for me beans every month. The quality of the roast makes it worthwhile, in my opinion--even month-old intelligentsia beans taste better than what I can get from my local roaster.

                1. re: foodie_expat

                  If you don't mind me asking, what do you generally pay and how many pounds do you order at once, with shipping to Toronto (or nearby)?

                  1. re: detritus

                    I order 3-4 lb at a time, and shipping runs about $10. This week, my beans were roasted on Monday and arrived via UPS expedited on Wednesday. For the first time, I was charged about $3.00 in GST--not sure why. And I should also note that I've found the Intelligentsia order support folks very helpful.

              2. re: foodie_expat

                This is a US company, yes? Which beans do you buy and in what quantity?

                1. re: Moimoi

                  I like to try a couple of new kinds every time I order, but I am particularly fond of their Black Cat Espresso Blend, even for brewed coffee. I order each kind in 0.5 or 1 lb bags, depending on how many kinds I want to try that month, but they just started offering some beans in 5 lb bags also. And yes, they are a US company, based in Chicago.

            2. re: detritus

              Good info Josh, though I know what I enjoy drinking, I'm no expert...thanks

              1. re: detritus

                Was at Manic last week for the pre-opening after the Canadian Barista Championships. If there is one guy in all of T.O. who knows coffee backwards and forwards it's Matt Lee, Manic's owner. I'd go there. Yeah, he sells Intelly, but he'd also likely have info and opinions on every other coffee roasted between St. John's and Victoria (btw, Matt used to work at Elysian in Vancouver).

                1. re: Panini Guy

                  I went there last week and bought 1 lb of Black Cat, two days old for $16. Good service and very knowledgeable, they also have other blends and are a distributor for Intelligensia

                2. re: detritus

                  In the east, fresh beans roasted on-site available at The Remarkable Bean in the Beaches. Fair trade, organic too.

                  Remarkable Bean
                  2242 Queen St E, Toronto, ON M4E, CA

                  1. re: detritus

                    I love this site! Thanks to everyone for sharing such amazing information - this has truly been an education... Please don't slap my wrist for this, but while I am copying and pasting everyone's recos into my Palm for future reference, I am on a bit of a budget right now. I was just at a European market yesterday and saw a 2.2lb bag of espresso beans (decaf - sorry, I'm a bit hyper, so no choice) Ara Azzurro - for $14.00. That's the cheapest I've seen decaf espresso beans. Does anyone have any comments on that brand? Thanks.

                  2. i have a nespresso machine. and it is supper great. with plenty of differnet coffee to choice from and the best machine in terms of crema.

                    not cheap though

                    10 Replies
                    1. re: galambo

                      You know how Thai food just doesn't taste the same out of Thailand?....this holds true for any cuisine really. I believe the same holds true for espresso - leave the espresso blending and the roasting to the experts...

                      Espresso is a blend of approximately 7 different beans - it is a recipe that has a fine balance between robusta and arabica beans. It also has a very particular roast. The Italians have been at this a very long time and have perfected this process. That said, every company has their recipe, with their own distinct taste. Over Illy, I would suggest Sega Freddo or Lavazza. With regards to freshness, packaging these days takes care of that. You only have to be concerned when you open the bag or can. How to store your beans is a whole other topic and debate!

                      I would guess that you purchased your machine at Faema. I would suggest that you go there and try a few of the different blends that Sega Freddo makes and see which one you prefer.

                      Another subject all together is the grind. What makes the biggest difference to the quality of your coffee is the grind. Nothing tastes better then grinding your espresso fresh. Also, the grind of your espresso changes with the weather. The more humid the coarser your grind. You have to have the ability to adjust your grind when necessary.

                      The Jura is a fully automatic machine, but you will still need to adjust your grind.

                      The owners of Faema (Rocco, Lorenzo or Joe) should be able to assist you in the fine art of espresso. truly is an art.

                      I hope this helps.

                      1. re: janetzuccarini

                        FWIW, "espresso" is a methodology for making coffee, requiring a machine that delivers hot water under pressure through a coffee-filled basket. That's all "espresso" is.

                        Therefore, you can't make an espresso on a stovetop with a moka pot, or use an Aeropress or any other method short of an espresso maker.

                        However, you can make an excellent espresso using one kind of bean with a medium roast. Recipes are proprietary, not standard. You certainly don't need a seven-bean blend. If you don't believe me, go buy some good Harrar at a full city roast (or less) and run some shots. You might have to temp surf a bit, but if you really have good beans, you'll likely pull some impressive shots.

                        One more thing: the primary reason Italian roasters use robusta is to artificially prop up the crema. Robusta is widely acknowledged as a inferior bean that imparts a rubbery taste to any blend in which it's used. Hardly a positive. That's why it's so cheap to buy.

                        You have your dogma, I have mine ;-)

                        1. re: Panini Guy

                          To say to an Italian that using one kind of bean makes a good espresso, is like telling a Thai person that ketchup makes a good Pad may taste good to you,'s not how we do things back home ;-)

                          1. re: janetzuccarini

                            Only if we were talking to Italians with closed minds ==:-0

                            We visited roasters and manufacturers in Italy this summer. The ones we talked with are quite up to speed with "new world" ideas. Some of the old guard still rationalize their robusta, but the young 'uns would surprise you with how open they are to considering playing with different beans, temps, pressures, etc.

                            But you're right in that I wouldn't mention the ketchup thing to any Thais I know.

                            Btw, I didn't put cheese on my seafood while over there. Some concepts and traditions you have to respect more than others ;-)

                            1. re: Panini Guy

                              Good points! I am relieved to hear about the not putting cheese on your seafood.

                              Are you in the coffee business?

                                1. re: Panini Guy

                                  Do you have a caffe in the States? I am in Toronto.

                        2. re: janetzuccarini

                          As for storage, would you recommend something like a Click Clack air tight storage container Should I store in a cupboard, fridge or freezer? What type of container do you specifically recommend? I will be buying beans, versus ground. Are there any brands of containers you prefer? Thanks.

                          1. re: Moimoi

                            The usual advice is sealed, dark and cool. So any airtight container is fine, if you're keeping it in a cupboard, but you'll want something opaque if you're going to leave it on the counter.

                            As for keeping beans in the fridge or freezer, it's not great. The problems are (a) in the fridge, the coffee can attract odours from other food, and (b) in both the fridge and freezer, the change in temperature each time you take the beans out/put them back in is not good for them - my understanding is that its got something to do with moisture inside the beans expanding and contracting.

                            That being said, I've had some success with freezing very fresh beans (1-2 days after roast) in a double layered zipper bag with the air removed for a number of weeks. When I'm ready to use them, I take them out of the freezer and put them in my regular coffee canister and use them within a week.

                            Note: This advice is mostly relevant to freshly roasted coffee. If you're dealing with pre-staled coffee (ie: imported Italian stuff), you won't notice as much difference based on your storage methods.