Edmonton’s Coffee Scene is Perking Up: Credo Coffee

Cafes that offer specialty coffees are rapidly gaining ground and market share in Edmonton. Just to name a few – Three Bananas, Leva, daCapo, and of course, Transcend, are elevating what coffee lovers should expect from a cup of joe. More exciting than a consistent, high quality product, however, these cafes employ well-trained baristas, where coffee is not just a job, but a passion.

I’m happy to report that the specialty coffee scene has just gained another member in the city – Credo Coffee opened its doors at the end of June on the ground floor of the Icon Tower, located in the trendy and boutique-lined 104th Street. It is definitely a welcome downtown addition – I’m surprised it took so long for a cafe of this nature to materialize in the core.

Credo Coffee

Geoff Linden, formerly of Three Bananas, and who has also pulled shots at Transcend (he said himself that the specialty coffee scene in Edmonton is a small one), is behind this venture. Credo’s tagline, “coffee to believe in” draws attention to their commitment to fine coffee. While they are not in the business of roasting, they do serve only Intelligensia Direct Trade Coffee: “For a coffee to be considered Intelligensia Direct Trade there is a specific list of criteria that must be met by both Intelligentsia and our grower-partners.  In the broadest terms these coffees should be understood as a true collaboration, with both sides investing a great deal of time, energy and ideas to produce something great.”

Kenya Thunguri – one of the two brewed coffees Credo was serving

Not satisfied with simply serving great coffee (menu here), Credo also offers specialty teas, and further distinguishes itself from other cafes with fresh sandwiches and baked goods all made in-house.

The cafe is bright, benefits from a lofty openness afforded by a high ceiling and had a vibe similar to Calgary’s Caffe Artigiano. I think Credo could rearrange their seating area to further maximize their space, but I did appreciate that their table placement did allow for easy movement. In addition, like some other food establishments in the city such as Culina Highlands, Credo exhibits art work created by local artists.

Interior

Mack chose to try their macchiato ($3.25), nicely finished with latte art. I opted for a brewed dark-roast coffee ($2.50, though price could vary depending on origin), which was full-bodied and rich. It was a touch acidic, but as I am used to drinking my coffee with milk, that was expected.

Macchiato

Brewed Coffee

I hope Credo is able to secure external signage soon – with the ongoing construction in the area, it is easy to miss! I encourage you to stop by, and revel in downtown’s first specialty coffee cafe!

Credo Coffee
10134 104 Street
(780) 761-3744
Monday-Friday 7pm-9pm, Saturday 8am-9pm, Sunday 10am-5pm

A European Lair: Caffè Artigiano

While Mack was occupied at BarCampCalgary, I played tourist and had lunch at Caffè Artigiano (Unit 100, Centrum Place, 332 6 Avenue SW). A west coast import that had coffee aficionado John Manzo, among others, excited about its first location outside of metro Vancouver, I wanted to see for myself what all the hype was about.

Occupying a rather large storefront in an office tower, the high ceilinged space resembles a European lair more than a typical café at first glance. A pedway positioned above Caffè Artigiano and its neighbours prevented much natural light from coming through – but perhaps the designers preferred it that way – the dark furniture and earth toned walls absorbed what sunlight did trickle through.

Peering into the cooler that contained an assortment of premade sandwiches, wraps and treats, I decided upon the Chicken and Brie Panino ($8.59) for my main course. A Spanish Latte ($3.59), which the clerk explained to me was a latte with a bit of condensed milk added, completed my meal.

I sat down at a large table fit for a library to await my food and drink. Lucky for me, Caffè Artigiano subscribes to a number of papers (including my favorite, The Globe & Mail), and like a library, affixes each edition onto a large wooden rod.

A few minutes later, my drink was called. Beautifully presented with an artful rosetta design, I almost didn’t want to take the first sip. I did, of course, and found that the latte walked the fine line between the jolt of a strong espresso and the creamy smoothness of milk, accented as a whole with just a hint of sweetness.

My panino, served with a small cup of coleslaw, was equally satisfying. Generously filled with chicken, cheese, then grilled, it left me full but not stuffed. While the chicken was a touch dry, the thin spread of fig jam helped alleviate somewhat parched bites.

I still struggle with the idea of having to pay nearly $10 for a sandwich in a coffee shop (granted, Caffè Artigiano is not just any coffee shop). So although I may be back for another cup of coffee, I would probably head elsewhere for something to eat first.

Rosetta

Chicken and Brie Panino and a Spanish Latte

Clever Name but Rather Lame: Wild Flour Bakery

This guest post was written by Mack, an Edmonton-based geek who fancies himself a part-time foodie. You can find him online at his blog, and on Twitter.

On Sunday morning I decided to skip the conference-provided breakfast in favor of making a stop at Wild Flour Bakery, located at 211 Bear Street. I had asked Sharon for a couple of restaurant recommendations before making my way to Banff, and Wild Flour was one of the two she gave me. I think the name was probably 80% of the reason she suggested it, but I figured I’d give it a shot anyway.

Wild Flour Bakery

I arrived at Wild Flour just after 8 AM. They are open every day throughout the summer months from 7 AM until 6 PM. There was a couple ordering some of Wild Flour’s artisan breads ahead of me, so I had time to look around and take some photos. The space is very modern looking, and fairly open with seating for about 40 patrons.

The menu is broken into four sections: drinks, breakfast, sweets & treats, and lunch. I decided to order a medium Organic Fair Trade Coffee ($1.75 – they serve Kicking Horse) and the Toasted Breakfast Sandwich ($5.50, also available with two slices of Valbella ham for an addition $1.50).

At this point, things started to go downhill (that didn’t take long did it?). Maybe I’ve been spoiled at Starbucks where a barista always hands you a full cup of coffee, but I thought it was odd that I was given a cup to fill on my own. At the end of the counter were three coffee butlers, two bold roast and one medium roast. I set about filling my cup with the medium, only to find that it wouldn’t stop coming out! I started to say "It’s not stopping!" and when one of the employees finally noticed, she remarked "oh no not again!" Apparently they jam open quite frequently. Anyway, when I eventually got my cup full of bold roast I nearly burned my hand! The coffee was ridiculously hot, and there were no sleeves.

I took a seat in the corner and started reading some of the free newspapers they had available. Wild Flour prides itself on cooking with organic and local ingredients, and on making everything from scratch. With that in mind, I didn’t expect my breakfast sandwich to be ready immediately, but after about fifteen minutes of waiting I started to wonder. I took my order slip (my order number was the normally lucky 88…not so lucky this time) up to the counter to inquire. I was informed that they had "lost" my order, and that they’d make it right away. At this point I thought to myself – epic fail! It’s never acceptable for a restaurant to lose an order, especially when it isn’t that busy.

My breakfast sandwich arrived about five minutes later. The menu describes it as: "Our herbed egg frittata & three year old Quebec cheddar on sourdough." Unfortunately, the description is a lot tastier than the sandwich itself. I found the egg kind of spongy and far too thick. I think there should have been more cheese too!

On the whole, my experience at Wild Flour was a negative one. Even without the coffee incident and lost order, the breakfast sandwich wasn’t worth the money and the employees were probably the least friendly of any I encountered in Banff. I could probably be persuaded to give their lunch menu a shot, but I definitely won’t be rushing back to Wild Flour the next time I’m in Banff.

Wild Flour Bakery

Inside Wild Flour Bakery

Wild Flour Bakery

Seating

Toasted Breakfast Sandwich

Toasted Breakfast Sandwich

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

Film: “Black Gold”

After dinner, we watched the documentary Black Gold. From the movie’s website:

“Tadesse Meskela is one man on a mission to save his 74,000 struggling coffee farmers from bankruptcy. As his farmers strive to harvest some of the highest quality coffee beans on the international market, Tadesse travels the world in an attempt to find buyers willing to pay a fair price.”

The film set a global course, from the New York Stock Exchange where international coffee prices are set, to the province of Oromia, Ethiopia, where poverty is pervasive, in part due to the terminally low selling price of coffee, to London where Meskela tries to acquire new purchasers for his collective’s coffee.

I’m not a documentary-junkie, but I did find that there was something missing in the film – it needed a harder edge. Format-wise, there were the expected juxtaposition tactics of extreme destitution against the wealth of developed nations. At the same time, some jump cuts were much too jarring, weakening the effectiveness with the time needed to adjust between locales.

The filmmakers did try to broaden the scope of the problem to include international scapegoats, mentioning an apparently pivotal end of the International Coffee Agreement in 1989, as well as a breakdown of WTO talks between the EU and developing nations in 2003, but overall, this section was much too general. I suppose part of the problem was that the film up to this point had followed Meskela, and without a developed figure present at the conferences, it was difficult to continue the narrative they had worked so hard to construct.

There was one panel of text summarizing how the multinationals (Kraft, Sara Lee, et al.) had turned down requests for interviews. I’m not saying that the filmmakers had to stalk industry representatives or stage a protest in front of company headquarters à la Michael Moore, but there had to be further elaboration. Yes, governments and trade organizations are at fault, but so are the corporations.

Near the end of the movie, the camera tracks Meskela as he searches the aisles of a London supermarket for coffee originating in Oromia. He does find a package, and expresses his hope that consumers on the ground level will begin to investigate the source of coffee, and work to advocate against the injustice faced by third world farmers. I think this point should have been communicated further as well, for example, by interviewing consumers about their awareness of the coffee trade as a whole. I was waiting for the explicit condemnation of those who silently comply with unjust treatment.

So, am I now a hypocrite if I continue to partake in coffee without asking the questions that need to be asked?

I see cups of red…

Besides the return of such classics like Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” on the airways, another holiday staple I eagerly await involves Starbucks’ Holiday Trio. More than the Gingerbread Latte (my favorite of the three) however, I am looking forward to the seasonal “red cup”. Last year, their “red cups” recreated conventional yuletide scenes, encouraging the association between warm fuzzies and Starbucks. Yes, it worked on me; I’m a sap.

I stumbled across a Starbucks Gossip blog, which included the tidbit that their holiday campaign will begin on November 9, at least in the States. The yet-to-function seasonal site address is pegged to be www.itsredagain.com.

The Starbucks blog, who’s self-proclaimed role is “monitoring America’s favorite drug dealer,” contains quite the cornucopia of information. Any articles written about the coffee giant are linked to and discussed. Two stories from the month of October that intrigued me:

  • Champagne with your coffee? A couple hold their wedding reception at a Starbucks (hm, not a bad idea…)
  • Out out, cheap patron! The debate over the so-called “ghetto latte” (I think I’m a Starbucks snob – frugal customers should go elsewhere for their iced latte fix. If you’re at Starbucks, you should be prepared to pay a premium for the quality, service, and atmosphere).