A Life Worth Eating

Posted by:      November 21, 2010     /

re-posted from A Life Worth Eating


I’ve been in Montreal for just over two weeks now and when I haven’t been coding, I’ve been eating. The one place I find myself returning to almost daily — sometimes even twice a day — is a small cafe around the corner from where I’m staying. Its name is Cafe Myriade, and it has the best coffee in the city.

Myriade is owned and operated by Canadian National Barista Championship finalist Anthony Benda and his business partner Scott Rao author of The Professional Barista’s Handbook. Its drip coffee, espresso, cappuccino, macchiato, eva solo, and french press are nonpareil. Its syphon coffee is also at the top because, well, it’s the only place in the city that does it. But also important is the atmosphere, one that just makes you want to come back. Or, maybe that’s the caffeine speaking. Probably both.

The cafe is just across the street from Concordia University leading to a constant influx of students seeking a quick caffeine fix. The space itself is no more than fifty square meters with the espresso counter in one corner and a couple of small two-person tables lining the window and adjacent wall. The cafe’s exterior has a few benches and tables which is great for a warm and sunny day, but not so great for the Canadian winter. The centerpiece of the room is the Kees van der Westen Mirage triplette classic and array of Mazzer grinders. This place has the equipment, ingredients, and its barista’s skill and attitude to compete with the finest espresso anywhere.

Right now, the contents of the grinders alternates between Ritual Roaster‘s bright Double Rainbow (with an occasional guest appearance from their Sweet Tooth blend), blends from Vancouver’s 49th Parallel Coffee Roasters, and Inteligentsia‘s Black Cat. I’m not sure what the default blend will become when Ritual stops roasting its seasonal Double Rainbow. On the one hand this means that the flavor of the coffee changes pretty frequently. But more importantly, Myriade’s non-allegiance to a specific roaster shows that the cafe is not afraid to shift sources should the quality of beans change. Flavor comes first.

Shots are pulled through a 21g triple basket — the only place in Montreal currently doing this — maximizing the quantity of the bean’s natural oils. The resulting espresso is thick and velvety, and very well-balanced.

But perhaps the most appealing aspect of the cafe, aside from the highest quality espresso in the city, is the staff. Unlike New York’s Stumptown or Blue Bottle, the baristi here are plain-clothed. Rather than serving espresso from top-down, where customers are “educated” on what good espresso tastes like, here clients are part of the discovery process as well. ”How is your coffee today?” and “what do you think of today’s blend?” are fairly common questions and the feedback is duly noted (and corrected). Here, the experience is interactive.

The confidence of the expert staff shows through their humility: even the best baristi make mistakes. On one occasion a barista asked me what I thought of my macchiato. I told him I thought it was a bit too bright (a euphemism for sour). The machine was running cold. He asked if he could try it and quickly acknowledged my suspicion. Needless to say this was the last sour macchiato I had here. Great espresso is about consistency which can only be achieved through a constant process of feedback and variable re-adjustment. Through its humility and responsiveness, Myriade is self-correcting.

Unlike the house blends of New York’s cafes whose flavor profiles generally lean towards chocolate, almond, and caramel, Myriade has a flavor preference for bright and fruity. This fall, Ritual Roaster’s Double Rainbow can almost always be found in one of the three grinders and is the most acidic of the bunch. Its flavor is full of citrus and astringent red fruits.

At first I found it difficult to adjust to this brightness, but after drinking it for a few weeks I began to crave it. Its subtle notes of nectarine and peach really taste good when served as drip coffee, which is calibrated weekly via refractometer. Ritual Roaster’s Sweet Tooth is my favorite blend when its available; its flavor is a bit warmer than the Double Rainbow with additional notes of bread and pie crust supporting its more subtle acidity.

It’s difficult for me to say anything about this place short of glowing. Everything is just right: the quality of the beans they serve, the care taken during their extraction, the down-to-earth clientele, and the friendliness of the staff. These guys are just, well, delightful. Irony and sarcasm are left south of the border. The staff is not pretentious and has a genuine desire to explain everything about the coffee extraction process from origin to cup. And if they don’t know an answer, they’ll be the first to say “I’m not sure,” though more than likely one of the other baristi does.




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