Transcend Coffee

I’m a little torn on whether or not I should even write a review on our visit to Transcend Coffee (9869 62 Avenue), consistently lauded in the media and by local foodies for their approach to coffee. Granted, we had huge expectations, particularly after our sojourn to Calgary’s Phil & Sebastian’s, for an equally fantastic experience. But I’m sad to say that Transcend didn’t live up to the hype.

Surrounded by industrial buildings and warehouses, we weren’t sure what the inside of Transcend would look like. Turns out, they probably ended up choosing the off-the-beaten-path location more for cheap rent than anything else, as they had two whole floors to themselves, with the main floor divided into a retail front space with limited seating and a coffee “laboratory” and roasting area in a separate room in the back.

Count me as surprised when I spotted a Clover on the counter…I guess we didn’t have to head south after all to test out fresh French-pressed coffee. Anyway, I approached the barista with this open question, which in hindsight, probably wasn’t the right way to start off a conversation: “We’re new. Can you provide us with an introduction?” She probed us for our usual coffee preferences, and after telling her that we wanted a lighter brew, she recommended the Ethiopia Yirgacheffe. We ordered two regular Clover-brewed cups, which came to $5.

Though I understand that not every independent cafe employee is as outgoing and passionate as the one we encountered at Phil & Sebastian’s, it is difficult not to directly compare the two. Transcend’s barista really wasn’t chatty, and as we surveyed the room, it seemed to us that the Transcend crowd was made up entirely of regulars. That morning anyway, we felt like the odd patrons out.

After an abbreviated wait, we were given two filled coffee-press vessels and two Bodum double-walled glasses. We headed to the second floor to access their additional seating area, and found that we had the room to ourselves. While quiet, the furnishings had us thinking we had infiltrated someone’s home office and living room – between the desk and open files on one side, a mishmash of furniture, and a television in the corner, we didn’t feel as “at home” as we were supposed to.

Our coffee had a light brown hue to it, almost the color it takes on after the addition of milk. It was thin, and to me, had acidic notes to it, though Mack disagreed with that assertion. He remarked about its lack of an aftertaste, but we both noted that it probably wasn’t the type meant to provide that morning jolt – we were ready for more after finishing our cups. After my second brush with Clover-brewed coffee, I’m starting to question whether or not it does make a difference, at least to me. I hope the coffee tasting Mack and I are planning to attend later this spring will shed some light on specialty beans and brewing processes.

Perhaps Phil & Sebastian’s spoiled me, or perhaps I shouldn’t be looking for an “experience” at a cafe, but there has to be something (like the people and the passion behind the coffee) that sets the independents apart from the Starbucks and Second Cups of the world.

Exterior

At the bar

Second floor seating area

Our coffees

5 thoughts on “Transcend Coffee

  1. The folks at transcend take coffee very “seriously”. However, too “seriously”, smiles are hard to come by with the attendee glaring and a terse “what can I get you”.

    I was amazed that they did not know of different roasting techniques specifically Torrefacto. And I was rudely blown-off when it was mentioned, even though the fellow had no clue. Strange behaviour for a coffee/espresso geek.

    Despite the indifferent service and the dull decor, Transcend does a pretty good job with their coffee/espresso. But does not live up to the hype.

    When only concerned with what’s inside the cup: is it the best coffee/espresso in Edmonton? No, second best compared to Leva.

  2. I haven’t tried the coffee at Leva for awhile but from my experience the coffee at Transcend and Credo is better. They both use fresh roasted coffee and have the” roasted-on-date” on their bags of coffee which is still something not many roasters seem to be willing to do. I’ve been to renowned cafes in Vancouver, New York, Toronto and elsewhere and consider the service and decor at Transcend on par with them. I also had not heard of torrefacto but it’s been interesting reading about it. Seems even such people as a recent World Barista Champion was not very familiar with this roasting process so it’s not surprising that someone at Transcend may not know about it.

  3. I enjoy both Transcend and Leva, and like you Jim, I love the fact that Transcend includes the “roasted-on” date on their bags.

    Bill – you might be interested to know Poul Mark (the owner of Transcend) actually wrote a post on their blog regarding service, and specifically acknowledged that he will be looking to improve their service: http://www.transcendcoffeeblog.com/?p=917

  4. I’d try Leva again if parking wasn’t so difficult to find around the place. It would seem that some people have been disappointed by Transcend but I still think the coffee at places like it and Credo is generally much better than the Starbucks, Second Cups and other cafes in the city. I just wanted to ensure your readers knew that there are fans of Transcend out there. Perhaps there are times when there is a discrepancy between what they aspire to and what they deliver but most other places are not even trying.

  5. The coffee has a delightful taste. However it is not served hot enough for us and the wide open shape of the cups ensures rapid cooling. Not great if you came in to read the paper with your coffee. The barista informed us that “This is how they are shaped in Europe”. I guess that’s alright then. My wife and I go most mornings to Spinelli’s on the South side primarily for the good hot coffee and the ambience, but also for the much better price and the well-shaped coffee cups which maintains the temperature. Transcend is our “next best” choice but by a fairly wide margin.

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