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Dec 14, 2007 03:27 PM

Finding good espresso in Montreal

Hi.... I've hunted high and low for good espresso in Montreal; no luck. Olive & Gourmando in Old Mtl. serves OK espresso, but otherwise, I can't find anything better than Van Houtte's watery version.

Any suggestions for finding the real thing? Thanks........

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    That should keep you busy for a few weeks.

    If you want the short version, the concensus seems to be that the top places are:

    Caffe in Gamba:
    Cafe Santé Veritas:
    Cafe Art Java:
    Cafe Italia:

    Other more informed chowhouders will surely have other suggestions.

    8 Replies
    1. re: SnackHappy

      How did I miss that original thread? I need more coffee! Thank you...

      1. re: SnackHappy

        Gamba and Veritas are definately worth a visit. I don't think Italia is in the same league, but they make decent espresso too. I feel that Art Java has been on a decline ever since they opened a few years ago, but they will still make a better cup than most places in the city. Whether or not you'll get a great cup will depend on whether who's working as barista.

        1. re: jbbank

          I decided to try Art Java based upon recommendations on this forum, and I got a trainee barista. I have had better espresso at second cup. Baristas are as important as beans or machine, IMHO.

          1. re: The Chemist

            which location did you go to? If you can get Luke or Alex you'll usually be taken pretty well care of as far as the coffee's concerned.

            1. re: Anth

              This was the downtown location. I was a bit offended, to be honest, having them use me as trainee fodder. Perhaps I gave off a knows nothing about coffee vibe, I donno. I will go again. And this time, if I get another trainee, I will politely explain that I want it made by the experienced barista.

              1. re: The Chemist

                Downtown is (or used to be) pretty dependable. Too bad they used you as a guinea pig. No customer should be used as a guinea pig. In the coffee shop I used to frequent in grad school, trainee made espressos (but not milk based drinks, I guess the managers thought it didn't make much difference, which makes sense) were always free; because there wasn't any guarantee that they would be up to par.

                Actually, I have a better idea: Trainee baristas should be obliged to drink their own concoctions. Lets see how fast they learn then :)

                I have to rant that I had a truly horrible espresso at the Mont Royal branch a few weeks back. It was so bitter, I couldn't even finish it. It was a late shift, and someone that I haven't seen before made my coffee.

                From all these experiences, I started to think that most good baristas seem to work early shifts. To ensure a good cup, it is almost imperative to go on a weekday morning? Non?

                1. re: emerilcantcook

                  So I went back to the downtown location this morning to check it out (8:30) and the espresso they pulled was much much better this time. They have been redeemed in my eyes.

                  I had a bit of a funny experience though... I ordered a 'double long' and this prompted the clerk to ask me what type... which confused me as I have never thought that there was more than one type of double long. I repeated my order in french, thinking it may have been a language thing but as it turned out, after a comparative discussion on the size of the pull versus the size of the cup, that what she was getting at was the difference between an americano and an italiano. This struck me as odd, because if I wanted an americano, I would have ordered a 'double long americano'. Or am I missing something?

                  Anyway, a bit of awkwardness is a small price to pay for a 'kick you in the face' espresso.

      2. There's only one place to go: Caffe in Gamba on Parc, near Fairmount. Friendly, welcoming, with a great atmosphere and a lovely selection of espresso blends. Definitely try it out!

        15 Replies
        1. re: phedre

          I agree, Gamba has the best coffee in town. I'm addicted, I'm in TO this week and very unhappy:(

          1. re: isa1

            I finally tried Caffe in Gamba last week...... I liked their attitude, their passion about coffee, their style........ but the espresso was just good, not great. I'm going to try Veritas and Italia when I'm back in January. I did, however, buy some incredible Zoka beans at Caffe in Gamba.

            1. re: thesolodiner

              I think JF, the owner, would probably agree 100% with your assessment of Caffè in Gamba. You should also add the downtown branch of Caffè ArtJava to your list btw; a double I had pulled there earlier this week was beautiful, if not quite as insanely so as when Anthony (now at Veritas) was working the machine. Also, a new spot with an exciting pedigree is about to open in the McGill ghetto, and word on the street is that a couple of North America's biggest names in quality espresso are seriously looking at setting up shop in the city, probably in the downtown core.

              CIG's Zoka beans -- the Paladino blend, to be precise -- are indeed incredible. (I just bought the dregs of the current shipment today.) Incredibly versatile, too: not only do they make fine espresso, they're also good for moka pots, French presses and even drip machines. Haven't tried them in an AeroPress but how could they miss?

              1. re: carswell

                A couple of North America's biggest names? Could you be more specific?

                On a somewhat related note, a Starbucks just opened next door to Café Veritas, at Notre Dame/St. Laurent, and on their website they're listed as having the same address (470 St. Laurent). Honest mistake or evil corporate ploy? You decide!

                1. re: KT MTL

                  "honest mistake or evil corporate ploy?"

                  Or third option: Another incompetent screw-up by the city of Montreal?

                  OOh can't wait until they restart construction on St. Denis....

                  1. re: moh

                    Agreed... the city should protect the cafe culture here more aggressively. I came from a city that now has only 1, count it.. 1 real cafe left.. The others have been run out of town by Starbucks, Second cup, Timothies, or in some cases, all three opening up next door. Letś not let it happen here.

                2. re: carswell

                  I'm still waiting to hear from Carswell on the new café with good pedigree opening up in the McGill Ghetto. I've pass through the neighbourhood frequently, and while there are some recently-vacated spaces, I haven't noticed anything that might become a café.

                  And what about those two big names looking for space downtown?

                  1. re: KT MTL

                    Well, in response to your earlier question, yes, I could be more specific but don't feel comfortable doing so in a public forum. Sorry. If all goes according to plan, I'll be speaking with someone involved with the McGill Ghetto project this week and will ask if it's OK to spill the beans. At this point, as far as I know, the big names are just rumours, and I don't want to do anything to jinx them.

                    1. re: carswell

                      Latest word from the source is that the McGill Ghetto is on hold, unfortunately. I really hope something works out soon!

                  2. re: carswell

                    Hello All:

                    Thought I'd revive this topic to see if there are any new candidates serving terrific espresso in Montreal.


                    If you have any new info about a new spot in the Montreal ghetto that would also be greatly appreciated.


                    1. re: junkanoo

                      Last I heard the McGill ghetto shop didn't pan out.

                      The two newest developments I'm aware of are the recent opening of a Caffè in Gamba counter in Place Ville-Marie and the imminent opening of Café Myriade on Mackay between de Maisonneuve and Ste-Catherine. Chowhound Anth is involved with the latter; maybe he'll chime in with details.

                      1. re: carswell

                        Yeah my involvement in a McGill ghetto cafe didn't pan out, but maybe something will still come of it? I know for sure of two other projects other than mine that are in the early stages of looking for locations downtown and in the latin quarter, and I expect both would be high quality places.

                        As for Myriade, I still expect it to be open in October. Incidentally, the Canadian Coffee and Tea show is in Montreal in October as well (along with the barista championship) and I wouldn't be surprised if some of the more established businesses from other cities take interest in setting up shop here. One can hope, anyway.

                        1. re: Anth

                          Thanks for the update guys! I look forward to checking Myriade out.

                  3. re: thesolodiner

                    I went to Gamba on my last trip to Montreal and the barista was a complete novice who admitted to me that he had never poured before that day! He didn't even know the difference between short and long pull. I ordered a double ristretto and he had no clue.

                    1. re: croslan

                      Well they have to start somewhere!


              2. The best in my opinion and my crew is Cafe dÍtalia on St Laurent and also surprisingly cafe Reve on Queen Mary and Cafe Creme on Victoria in Westmount. We have tried many many coffee places trust us if you want real coffee those are the best.

                1 Reply
                1. re: brahmi

                  I'll second Cafe Creme on Victoria - half the price of the big chains and they only serve espresso-based drinks, no "regular" coffee at all. They use Mokita beans which are pretty good, plus sell these and various machines too. Nice friendly atmosphere as well.


                2. Best espresso, bar none, is not in a cafe, but in a coffee supply store. I've found the best to be at Boutique Espresso Mali, 7655 Boul. St-Laurent (almost opposite Jarry Park). The store is run by Sicilians and the espresso is as good as any I've had in Italy (or Portugal). They also sell incredibly good beans and, best of all, if you ask, they'll give you an espresso, cappuccino or latte for free (though you may have to buy something - which I always do as that's the reason for the trek up there in the first place).

                  As for which beans to buy, my current favorite there is Goppion Gran Miscela Dolce (see the products menu here ).


                  1. I’m seeing some good recommendations here. I can’t get my day started before pumping out a double espresso from my Jura machine in the morning. I’ve been on a quest for the best bean and im sure all the foodies here will be very disappointed with my outcome – After trying Lavazzia, Illy, VanHout and a few other locals, I’ve settled on the starbucks espresso roast bean. Ok Starbucks is evil and totally uncool but the actual bean is pretty damn good.

                    That being said, id rather support a local business rather then a multi national empire. So any recommendations on where to find the best espresso beans in Montreal?

                    7 Replies
                    1. re: rdsizzle

                      My favourite local roasters are Café Union, Terra and Agga. Many of the espresso stores and bars in Little Italy also sell beans and have their partisans. You can buy Gimme! beans at Caffè ArtJava and 49th Parallel beans at Veritas. These days the top bean spot in my and many others' opinion is Caffè in Gamba, which sells 15 or so blends from some of North America's and Italy's best roasters, including Intelligentsia (Black Cat!), 49th Parallel (Epic!!) and Zoka (Paladino!!!).

                      See also

                      Edit: changed 42nd to 49th...

                        1. re: Anth

                          Hey, guy, good to see you here. Thanks for the correction, which I've edited my post to reflect. Don't know why I'm mixing the parallels up these days. Maybe I've got Dos Passos on the brain. Still, you'd think that, having seen Powell and Pressburger's *49th Parallel* -- -- last fall (fun but nowhere near as good as their *A Canterbury Tale* or *I Know Where I'm Going*), I'd keep it straight.

                      1. re: rdsizzle

                        As I said, Boutique Espresso Mali, 7655 Boul. St-Laurent. They have the best beans you'll find anywhere in the city. Starbucks espresso roast tastes like sewage in comparison to, for example, the Goppion Gran Miscela Dolce available at Mali. It's not cheap - but you get what you pay for and it's still less than 1/15th of the price per cup that you'll pay in any cafe.

                        1. re: pyropaul99

                          Interesting that you're big on Mali. I visited once when pricing machines and, after being condescended and lied to, swore never again to set foot in the store. A thread on coffeegeek quotes the staff as saying that coffee beans are better when they've aged for three to six months after roasting (!). A thread on eGullet's Montreal board has several comments re price-gouging and being "treated like an idiot," and even a poster who says the staff is knowledgeable follows up with a big but: "they are generally quite miserable to deal with [...] their arrogance knows no bounds." Obviously, I've never bought beans from them, though the espresso they served me when I visited was dreckish. That said, a few posters -- but none of the local hardcore coffee geeks, as far as I know -- have said they find their beans good, though none specify the machine they use them in or whether they use them to make straight espresso or milk-based drinks. Which other local premium suppliers (i.e. not *$s) have you tried beans from?

                          1. re: carswell

                            I know what you mean about the staff there - though I've been going for over 10 years and, if you get the right person, you get treated well. I know what I like now so don't have to deal with the more recent staff. The price is somewhat variable and they give big discounts if you buy in volume.

                            If you're not used to real Italian-style espresso, what they serve in Mali will be hard to drink - I've never had an espresso anywhere else in Montreal that is as intense as what is served in Mali. I lived in Portugal for a couple of years and the coffee there is very similar in intensity - much stronger than the espresso served in Paris for example.

                            As for other local suppliers, I did the rounds in the mid 1990s when I first bought a decent machine and tried all sorts of coffee until I found one I liked (actually two and both of them were from Mali). Since then, I've never found anything anywhere in North America (and I've travelled a lot to places like Portland OR and Seattle) that appeals to my palate as much as Goppion Miscela Dolce. Of course, everyone has their own taste and it's a pity the majority of the current staff in Mali are so dismal. But that's often the case with drug dealers isn't it?!

                            If I can't make the trip up to Mali, I usually buy Mokita espresso beans from Cafe Creme on Victoria in Westmount as these are "good enough" - though they have a much bitterer aftertaste compared to the Goppion beans and are much higher in caffeine (though that may be a plus to some). I haven't found any locally roasted beans that taste anything like the espresso in Italy and Portugal so have given up looking.



                            1. re: pyropaul99

                              I've talked to the people at Mali and have tried their beans... While discussing espresso grinders (I was looking for one), he kept trying to convince me that the only difference in grinders is speed. That grind quality is all the same for every model. And I remember the lecture on how beans peak around 4-6 months or something ridiculous. He offered me a shot, and I remember it being just slightly above average and a bit too hot. Premium espresso, it wasn't to me.

                              Their beans were really not that good. You NEED to try some 49th parallel or some Intelligentsia. The one local espresso roast I like with milk is Terra's Goccia D'oro.

                              I do like Olympico and Milano's, but I seriously recommend anyone serious about their coffee to give Caffe in Gamba and Veritas a shot. IMO, really in a league of their own.