November 13, 2012

Coffee Crawl, Downtown Victoria - Part 1

A while back I asked for suggestions of places to try coffee in Victoria.  So one day, with a couple of friends, I headed out to have an Americano at five different places.  I had a medium Americano at each shop, with a splash of milk and no sugar.  This is because I like my coffee that way.  The purist may claim that Americano is the worst possible beast for coffee (watering down an espresso! Sacrilege!). I say bugger off to the purist, and say take your drinks how you like them, but don't be afraid to experiment.

I'm splitting this report into two parts.  I recommend anyone else drink 5 coffees in 4-5 hours doesn't and splits it into two halves as well.

Habit - The Atrium, 808 Yates
One of the more interesting buildings in Victoria is The Atrium.  Curving glass on one side, a deep well of light in the centre and plant life around the building to separate it from the roads.  It's also hope to a series of achingly trendy places.  There's the men's barber (Victory) where one can be artfully manscaped with a straight razor, cookculture for high priced culinary ware and Poppies artful flower arrangements. These are the sort of places I'm glad exist, but have no need of ever visiting. I mean, I love the idea of a 'proper' razor shave, but not at the prices offered ($45, even if they promise to restore my masculinity).

Having spread to another location away from the Lower Johnson hispter crawl, Habit coffee takes the curved glass walled space over looking Yates and Blanshard. The same coffee, a more open plan space, but the same simple idea : one type of coffee, one machine, some baked goods, efficient but slightly standoffish baristas. I'd call it the acceptable face of the hipster movement. Doing one thing very well, even if no-one knows quite why you do it the way you do.

The coffee is excellent. Smooth, with a up front taste, but no bitterness or burnt roast flavour. Everything here is precisely prepared, and laid out. The space itself is good for meeting one-on-one or in small groups, or lounging and reading while downtown. Except the music choice today sounded like one-third speed dub-step played through a long steel tube. The low, dull throb made me think I was in the engine room of a BC ferry.

Habit Coffee on UrbanspoonCoffee - $2.75, Overall Rating - 9/10

Mirage - 1122 Blanshard
Mirage is a more bohemian than Habit.  This location has bare brick walls, covered in bright renaissance styled art.  They were playing a variety of new age music, hardly imposing on the conversation, as here we were joined by another friend and her visiting parents.  The cafe is in a U shape, with one arm being the counter and the sales room for various coffee devices, and the other arm for tables and chairs.

What makes this a good spot is the quiet.  It's feels more intimate than other places, so it's not a bad place for a first date, where you can have a conversation without anyone over hearing.  Just make sure they know which Mirage you mean (there are 3 in the down town core of Victoria).  Not that has ever happened to me...

The coffee.  An assertive cup, with a rougher, more roasted flavour. Bitter, not undrinkably bitter, but still there, and it feels like it a much darker roast.  The iced teas my friends had weren't worth the effort.  Astringent and over brewed.  Not the refreshing glass they were expecting.

So maybe not a good first date place after all if your date likes iced tea or a mellow cup of coffee.

The caffeine buzz was beginning to come in now. So time for a walk to the next place.

Mirage Coffee on UrbanspoonCoffee - $2.95, Overall rating - 6/10

Sitka on Yates - 538 Yates
My first mistake was assuming that a place selling surf boards and casual activity wear could make a decent coffee.  My second mistake would be assuming they care.  If they did care about their coffee, this place would implode under a weight of ironic hipster-dom and be replaced with a large can of Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Yeah, so they were playing surf music, and hand acres of heft varnished oak.  They also had piles of unwashed dishes and coffee mugs right next to the cash register (this is not conducive to me wanting food or drinks).  The staff were disinterested, slow and suffering from a heavy bout of ennui.  The coffee is apparently from Discovery Coffee (see part 2).  I suspect this is true... direct from the waste bin.  Weak, bitter, stale tasting with grittiness like the grounds had leak through the machine.  I managed half a cup and left.  I apologized to my friend for going against his knowledge, and paid for his coffee as well.

SItka Cafe on UrbanspoonCoffee - $2.75, Overal rating - 1/10