Sunday, December 17, 2006


(For legal reasons this rant is a metaphor for a character in Moby Dick)

I have followed the rise and fall of a certain cafe over the years, and I think it demonstrates the problems of getting too big and not giving a flying f$@#.

A long time ago there was a cafe that took an idea that some believe came out of Seattle, (I would beg to differ), and marketed it to a larger audience...the perfect cup of coffee, idealized in an espresso. They did a pretty good job of it for awhile. No matter which cafe under the same name made the coffee, no matter who was tamping the espresso or steaming the milk, you could get a consistently decent espresso, (note "decent", not perfect).
Over a few years, probably about five, the consistency started to falter, then stagger until it became the anemic, flaccid cup o' joe we find everywhere.

(Perhaps this joe is Capt’ Ahab. I never liked the character.)

What went wrong?
I can state the obvious. Recently they moved to automated machines, but the coffee had already turned to shite before that. They had too many staff members, with such a high turnover that they just couldn’t learn from those who had perfected that ideal espresso. Perhaps the buyers bought a slightly less than best quality bean to make that .04% margin that equates tons of money.

Or maybe they just lost the love.

What love? You ask.

Every espresso maker (or barista or what ever the hell they are called), should have to physically restrain themselves from licking that thick, dense caramel foam from every espresso they so carefully extract from those finely ground oily but not too slick beans. They should wish that they could partake in every cup that they send off into the world because it is so dam good. If they don’t, then the coffee is crap.


Blogger mister anchovy said...

I don't remember which site now, but in my travels through the blogosphere, I came across somebody who referred to a place like that she called 'fivebucks'.

8:47 AM  
Blogger Underground Baker said...

Yes there are many names. You know, there were a few years there were you could get a good cup of coffee just about anywhere, when everyone was trying to out perform everyone, at least out west. But now there are fewer gems.

11:33 PM  
Anonymous candyminx said...

What? I didn't realize they had switched to automated machines. I hardly ever go there, who needs to spend so much for a cup of coffee. But if you were stuck, you might find someone who could make a good cap. I last remember having a good one in Niagara Falls and I know they were automated because the creme was really very good and I went and told her it was with an extra tip too.

I find their coffee too bitter anyways.

But I did have some cap two weeks ago and the top felt like soap suds and now I guess I know why.

The best coffee I've had in years was at mercury Espresso in east end Toronto.

11:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One son worked at a Starbuks for a while. The view, from our conversations, is that at those payrates you can't get enough staff who will learn and practice making a good cup. Making coffee, like bred and many other things in life is easy to learn how to do. But only practice and more learning and practice, make one good at it.

And like other things one turns to automation and machines to get consistancy.

I first met espresso after WWII when European immegrants brought there coffee houses, talk, chess and all the rest to here. Starbucks even at its best is a latecommer,

If any readers live in Victoria, I'm happy to swap views of teh numerous coffee places here, such as Cafe Fantastico, 2% Jazz, Paradissio di Stella etc, etc,

7:22 PM  
Blogger Underground Baker said...

Im heading over this weekend and always like to know where the best coffee can be found. Thanks!

10:02 AM  
Blogger Stagg said...

On the way back you posted this the Art Institute of Chicago's School newspaper (called F) blasted Starbucks also!!

4:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's presonal, but here are places I'd suggest that you try.

Cafe Fantastico West of Quadra on the first street south of Hillside.

Stella di Paradisio, (sp?) in Bastion Square.

2% Jazz on east side of Douglas, just south of Hillside.

Caravan (My memory is pityful) It's on the east side of Government a block or so north of the harbour.

There are many others but those are the ones I usually head for

12:03 PM  
Blogger Underground Baker said...


Hey Stagg, I know the coffee rant is plentiful out there!

10:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, did you have time to try any of the suggestions? Or do you have another prefered place?

10:23 AM  
Blogger Underground Baker said...

Hi Anon,
In the end there was not enough time to try out your suggestions. But I'm over often and will try next time.

12:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is a new business magazine in Victoria, "Douglas, Victoria' Business Magazine". In Vol 1 Issue 2 there is an article on "Victoria's Coffee Culture" that you may find of interest. They have a web site, but, unfortunately it doesn't have the articles.

8:59 PM  

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