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Sep 7, 2009 12:47 AM

Calgary Espresso

I am going to start a search for Calgary's finest espresso; at least according to my tastes. I will be hitting up a few key cafés three times and blogging about which one has the most consistently delicious espresso. At this point I plan to go to The Roasterie, Artigiano, Phil & Sebastian, Kawa, DeVille, a few Italian markets and Starbucks. If there are any other cafés I need to check out let me know.

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  1. You can't leave out Bumpy's or Insomnia. And I would consider cutting down your Italian markets to one. Consider adding a beano or good earth (or both), and possibly higher grounds (popular cafe in kensington) to get a more comprehensive list.

    1. For reasons I can't figure out I find the espresso at the new Artigiano (Shell Centre) to be better than the first location (Centrium), but as they're only 2 short blocks apart you can check both out.

      Starbucks? Well if you do include Starbucks do try the places that have the new machines, the lower-profile ones that have the beans receptacle that looks like a flying saucer on top. But I'd skip Starbucks and would avoid Higher Ground (sorry Yen, and welcome back!) by many, many miles. It is HORRIBLE for espresso and for coffee in general. No skill, no care, no "espresso."

      Click on my name, there is a link to my blog on my profile and under my "places I like" are the area's third-wave coffeehouses. One just-opened and missing from my list is Caffe Crema in the deep south but I haven't been there yet or even seen pics so I can't suggest it, but I'd love to read somebody's review.

      13 Replies
      1. re: John Manzo

        My preferences agree with yours on Higher Ground John (im not a fan either) but it looked to me like the OP was trying to do a wider range of coffee houses to get a more comprehensive view (thus the inclusion of Starbucks, and a few Italian markets), thus the recommendation. You have to admit, it's a popular place :) And it would give people a good reference point how each of the places stack up.

        OP - you will get huge variation in quality based on the barista themselves. For your own reference, you may want to try writing down who made your drink in each place. It may help you explain some of the variation from visit to visit.Obviously the roast itself will have a big impact as well, but that's usually out of your control :)

        1. re: yen

          Thank you very much for all your input - it all will be added to the list. I recently heard about Caffe Crema. I am interested to check it out but dread the 45 minute trek I will need to get there.

          I was considering having my survey be very specific in nature with the baristas' name, time of day, machine and other such aspects. For my own purposes however, I would like to get some different information, in particular who has the best training and consistently the best roast. I hope to visit each venue at different times of day (both peak and non peak), different days of the week and hopefully get different baristas each time but none of these factors are entirely necessary. I don't believe anyone wants to plan out when they go for espresso in order to get the best drink. Whenever you are in the mood, there should be a coffee shop that can create an equally delicious shot. Moreover, beyond the actual taste of the espresso I will be paying attention to the overall experience and environment. For me, it is very important where I drink my coffee. As a result Phil & Sebastian makes a fantastic coffee each time, but the battle to get a table amidst hundreds of families with young children kind of ruins the experience. Therefore I cannot wait for their standalone location.

          Yen, you are correct in the inclusion of Starbucks. I would like to get the most comprehensive list possible. I don't expect it to rate very highly but there are certain advantages of going to one; such as convenience. In the end I hope to compile a list of espresso in Calgary, highlighting my favorite place but also including the pros and cons of other cafés.

          1. re: mstudzinski

            well I can tell you that as formal training goes nobody in town can touch P&S, though Artigiano is also very formalised. Other places do train of course but not with a "curriculum" as well spelled out as P&S.

            1. re: mstudzinski

              As a former barista who has worked for some of the very shops you plan on visiting, I would be very hesitant about getting names from your baristas. If they offer them in small chat, that's probably not a problem, but I think even that should be kept to yourself.

              In terms of training in the city, P&S has by far the most involved regimen. They are consistently challenging themselves to be better. (Full disclosure, I did work there for 2 summer seasons.) Artigiano, as John points out, would likely come in second in terms of training.

              I would argue that consistency in best roast is not necessarily the key, but what you should be looking for is who pulls the best shot in terms of the coffee used. Higher end espresso can vary a lot as shops experiment with different beans that are better during certain seasons. With blends changing often, this can result in different tasting espressos, but if pulled with finesse, can all be fantastic.

              Ah, a tip with P&S and your espresso. Hang around the Clover side of the bar for your espresso until it comes up and drink it right there. If you're trying to find a table, you're losing all your flavorful volatile aromatics!

              1. re: peter.v

                A bit off topic but I seem to recall a rumour that P&S were going to open a cafe somewhere in Calgary, outside the FM. Is this still happening?

                1. re: Major_9000

                  It was never a rumour. October in Marda Loop and in 2010 in the new part of Chinook Centre.

                  1. re: John Manzo

                    I think perhaps Major_9000 is recalling all the time spent waiting while P&S found the right space. It seemed like ages before they announced their plans for Marda Loop and really I don't remember a press release, you only find out from say you JM or Phil & Sebastian directly.

                    P&S's website is under construction but they are updating their blog:

                    1. re: maplesugar

                      Yes you're right, and the news that P&S had purchased the site that ended up as DeVille a couple of years ago might have made it look like their expansion was a rumour but it never was; they had expansion plans from day 1. In any case we can look forward to Marda Loop opening next month!

                    2. re: John Manzo

                      If you find out exact dates please post or better yet start a new thread, I'd love to see these guys do well.

                  2. re: peter.v

                    All very fantastic, I really appreciate your input.

                    I am looking at purchasing an espresso machine for my home (perhaps the Elektra Microcasa a Leva) to get a better feel for pulling a proper shot. I wish I could do this before I did this survey but certain expenses have to come first. It is interesting how much information there is to making a good espresso. This is becoming more complex then my wine obsession. Perhaps most importantly through all of this I will gain a better appreciation for a well skilled barista.

                    1. re: mstudzinski

                      I have an EMCaL; it's my avatar. If you want some advice or just to talk about it, feel free to contact me via my blog or at jfmanzo at gmail dot com.

                    2. re: peter.v

                      Fuel for Gold opened a kiosk in the Food Court of the MacEwan Student Centre (MacHall) at the University of Calgary in September 2011. They are serving Phil & Sebastian coffee and espresso and I believe their baristas are trained at P&S.

              2. I totally defer to the other posters and I'd like to add one small note. Maintenance of the machine makes a noticeable difference even to my palate. I have no idea how you would factor that in though but some conversation about maintenance and cleaning with the not so busy baristas might be interesting.

                1. This Saturday at Fratello Coffee Roaster is the Prairie part of the Barrista competition and I believe it is open to the public? Maybe a good way to spend an afternoon with some of those Barristas? They should be in top form that day.

                  1. I would also add Cafe Rossa in Inglewood / Ramsey and Lady bug Cafe up in the hills to your list!

                    2 Replies
                      1. re: John Manzo

                        ha ha... multitasking mom error!

                        Cheers John!