Bitter Grounds - espresso fueled ramblings

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Sitting in Istanbul café on Eglinton, east of Yonge today, mulling over things. Good day to do that, the internet is down here so, no distractions. First thought that has wandered across my tired brain is “wow… this really is abt the best latte I’ve had in a long time”. No seriously, it’s outstanding! Oh Istanbul, where have you been all my life. I’m in the area running errands between appointments and decided if I don’t get caffeine soon, someone will have to put me on life support. Glad I did. Will come back more often.

As most people who read my Tweets and website know, I’m a disaffected Starbucks person. I like the staff, it’s just the head office is screwing up majorly and I really just can’t be bothered. I went to my first Starbucks way back in the dark ages when they had just spread north to Vancouver, no idea how many decades ago. It’s been awhile. But, the brand is old and tired now – the same old overpriced, processed foods, the same “wanna be funky so bad, but not making it” décor, and well, sorry, but the incredibly obnoxious, privileged shit for brains customers who think it’s their personal office (here’s a tip, if you want privacy for your phone call, GO HOME AND MAKE IT). I’ve had more than one encounter with idiots who demanded I move tables because I happen to be sitting where the wall plug is. Nope, sorry, first come first serve. If you’ve been there so long your laptop/ipad/tablet/whogivesadamnwhatthedeviceis is running out of juice, it’s the coffee gods telling you to fuck off and go home.

The recent “relaunch” pretty much put the end to my Starbucks days. I go if it’s cold/wet because it’s so close. But I found a great independent place in my neighbourhood, Nine Bars – excellent food, good espresso and just so relaxed, I melt into their comfy chairs. It’s a bit further, but a nice walk, so I wander yonder more often. Kind of like Istanbul. Great sense of energy and peace in here. Warm, relaxing… everything that is now lacking at Starbucks. OH and the chairs are much more comfortable. I actively avoid some places because the tables and chairs are mismatched. If I come out of a place with a back ache or worse, have to put on mountain climbing gear to get onto an oversized chair, I don’t return. Not all of us enjoy the embarrassment of trying to hike our short legs onto a seat that comes up past our waist.

I think what finally killed the brand for me was the pretensions behind the patisserie. I’ve been in French patisseries and boulangerie, and not one was done up in an Americanized suburban bridal shower pink. It really was the worse example of a North American misconception of a French pastry shop. It was off putting. The food is staggeringly banal. The usual suspects, none overly fresh any longer. All my favourites have been phased out so, there isn’t much to choose from. What has struck me is the lack of freshness now. Everything feels refrigerated, with the moisture sucked out of it.

So, I’ve been seeking out independent or small cafes around town. Something I should have done years ago, much to my lazy shame. And Toronto is teeming with cafes, some excellent, many so so and a few so dreadful I scurried out the door so fast, the staff must have thought I was unhinged. One, which will remain unnamed because I don’t relish a lawsuit for libel, smelt so appalling, I didn’t stay. The smell was coming somewhere in the direction of the washrooms. Rule of thumb, if the staff can’t be bothered keeping the bathrooms clean, you should have serious doubts about the kitchen, which you can’t see.

My big project this summer is to hit as many little cafes and coffee shops as I can. I’m a big espresso fan – rarely drink regular coffee, and I’m a hard person to please. The espresso must be strong, not bitter (contrary to what many seem to think), with a wonderful rich aftertaste. I don’t order coffee or espresso in most restaurants – so few seem to even know how to make a proper cup. Bitter, crayon coloured stuff with a suspicious looking muddy froth curling around the edges, flavour beaten out of it, seems to be the norm now. I’d rather do without than waste my money on a cuppa I will dump after 3 sips. I’m coming back to the Istanbul next week to try their Turkish coffee… oh … oh … orgasm…. Someone just went walked by with one and the aroma is divine… oh … oh … ohhhhhh…. I won’t be able to wait… Time to try one now …. Later friends.

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