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Calgary Espresso

mstudzinski Sep 7, 2009 12:47 AM

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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    yen RE: mstudzinski Sep 7, 2009 03:00 AM

    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. John Manzo RE: mstudzinski Sep 7, 2009 08:20 AM

      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
        yen RE: John Manzo Sep 7, 2009 11:56 AM

        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
          mstudzinski RE: yen Sep 10, 2009 09:24 AM

          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
            John Manzo RE: mstudzinski Sep 10, 2009 10:31 AM

            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
              peter.v RE: mstudzinski Sep 10, 2009 04:15 PM

              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
                Major_9000 RE: peter.v Sep 10, 2009 11:30 PM

                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
                  John Manzo RE: Major_9000 Sep 11, 2009 08:49 AM

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

                  1. re: John Manzo
                    maplesugar RE: John Manzo Sep 11, 2009 09:10 AM

                    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: http://philsebastian.com/blog/

                    1. re: maplesugar
                      John Manzo RE: maplesugar Sep 11, 2009 09:55 AM

                      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
                      Major_9000 RE: John Manzo Sep 25, 2009 10:10 PM

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

                      1. re: Major_9000
                        John Manzo RE: Major_9000 Sep 26, 2009 10:14 AM

                        it'll be on their blog- links at their site www.philsebastian.com

                  2. re: peter.v
                    mstudzinski RE: peter.v Sep 11, 2009 09:10 AM

                    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
                      John Manzo RE: mstudzinski Sep 11, 2009 09:56 AM

                      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
                      glbrown RE: peter.v Dec 8, 2011 11:13 AM

                      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. sharonanne RE: mstudzinski Sep 10, 2009 01:00 PM

                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. worldwidestuff RE: mstudzinski Sep 10, 2009 06:19 PM

                  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. CookieGal RE: mstudzinski Sep 10, 2009 07:37 PM

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

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: CookieGal
                      John Manzo RE: CookieGal Sep 10, 2009 08:58 PM

                      That's Caffe Rosso :-)

                      1. re: John Manzo
                        CookieGal RE: John Manzo Sep 10, 2009 09:24 PM

                        ha ha... multitasking mom error!

                        Cheers John!

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                      phuongbich RE: mstudzinski Dec 6, 2009 08:31 PM

                      Hi, anybody. I'm just wondering if there is any coffee shop/coffee house in Calgary provide the latte art. I love its beauty =), but i don't know where to find it.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: phuongbich
                        peter.v RE: phuongbich Dec 6, 2009 08:54 PM

                        Phil & Sebastian, Kawa, Artigiano, DeVille, Bumpy's will all pour latte art. I haven't been to Rosso or Insomnia, but I imagine they pour latte art too!

                        1. re: phuongbich
                          John Manzo RE: phuongbich Dec 7, 2009 08:17 AM

                          There are dozens of places now that Good Earth's baristas are all trained to do latte art now. There are also many indies and smaller chains that do it: Caffe Artigiano, Bumpy's, Caffe Beano, Phil and Sebastian, DeVille, Ladybug Cafe, Caffe Crema, Java Jamboree, Bean Scene (the Lakeview one, which is changing its name to Caffe Perfetto), Insomnia, and Caffe Rosso. Artigiano, P&S, DeVille and (soon) Rosso have two locations each, so maybe the question should be "who DOESN'T do latte art," the answer being Starbucks, Second Cup, and the lower quality indies like Higher Ground and all those holes in the wall on the Plus-15.

                          1. re: John Manzo
                            peter.v RE: John Manzo Dec 7, 2009 09:14 AM

                            4 years ago there would have been one cafe on this list (and you would have had to catch me on bar for rather mediocre latte art)... Calgary's come a long way.

                            1. re: peter.v
                              John Manzo RE: peter.v Dec 7, 2009 10:17 AM


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                          Larry33 RE: mstudzinski May 27, 2010 11:29 AM

                          Just wanted to share a recent observation with the Chowhounders.

                          I almost always order traditional cappuccinos when I go to Kawa and at my most recent visit last week I did not receive the usual latte art to top it. There was less textured microfoam milk and more light foam. You can still order the mini latte version of the cappuccino but it no longer appears to go by the "traditional" name.

                          On Tuesday this week I ordered a traditional cappuccino at the Artigiano in Centrium and it came with the "monk's head" foam as well. If you want latte art, you have to order the "Artigiano cappuccino". There are explanations of their drinks taped onto the counter now too.

                          Chowhounders, why this new trend of moving away from the all latte art all the time trend to the more old school caps? The cap that I got Tuesday was one of the best tasting shots that I have ever had, but due to inconsistency I think that I would prefer the "mini latte" to the "monks head" most times.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Larry33
                            John Manzo RE: Larry33 May 27, 2010 12:32 PM

                            Larry- I do think that there is a renewed appreciation for a good monk's hood among baristas; was not aware of the development at Artigiano, which sounds interesting.

                            I wouldn't judge a thing at Kawa right now- their Synesso is in the shop and they're using a crappy loaner machine, an old Simonelli.

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                            spudnik15 RE: mstudzinski Dec 9, 2011 12:23 PM

                            Lina's Italian Market has some of the best coffee I have tasted in Calgary nice place to go on a lazy saterday

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