Montreal Coffee Renaissance?

Just posted a message about my Caffè in Gamba, a new café in Montreal.

CoffeeGeek – Regional: Eastern Canada, Caffè in Gamba (Montreal Intelligentsia)

Because this café’s website isn’t online yet, I would need to repeat the info. The café is located in a new building at 5263 Park Ave., between Fairmount and Bernard. It’s first claim for fame is that it’s the first place in Montreal to have Intelligentsia coffee on its regular coffee menu. But I think it’ll become much more than this.

Owner J.F. Leduc is surprisingly soft-spoken for a passionate coffee lover. But I think he prefers it if the coffee “can speak for itself” instead of him having to hype coffee enjoyment out of existence. In fact, he has a bit of the same humble attitude you would notice in an actual barista in Northern Italy. They know what they like but they remember that they’re in the service industry! 🙂

I think Leduc can become a key player in the broader movement to make Montreal a real coffee destination.

Granted, I tend to be overly enthusiastic about such things. And I’ve been disappointed in the past. But I have a good vibe, especially after I got a chance to chat it up with Leduc.

I also notice something bigger, happening in town. There’s a number of Montrealers who really care about coffee. And Montreal’s ready for a new phase in its coffee history.

Veritas, in Old Montreal, is home to Anthony Benda, whom I consider the best barista in Montreal. They sell the Epic blend from Vancouver roaster 49th Parallel. My hope is that Veritas can help people understand the beauty that is West Coast style espresso in a culinary context.

Gamba has a different role, in my opinion. It may become a local hangout and certainly has the potential to educate people about the pleasures of espresso drinking. But my feeling is that it may spread other aspects of café culture and/or be part of something more specific to Montreal.

I’ll certainly go back to Caffè in Gamba in the near future and, as soon as they have their site up, I’ll link to it from this blog as well as other online venues.

In the meantime, maybe somebody can help J.F. set up his wireless router? 😉

11 thoughts on “Montreal Coffee Renaissance?”

  1. Bonjour Alexandre,
    I just went through your blog and I’d like to thank you for the nice thoughts.
    Actually I must admit that you sized me (and my caffè) very well.
    True, I do prefer to hear what people have to say after their first sip of espresso instead of pushing the blend first.
    The reason is simple: taste are subjective, or, more exactly, personal.
    For instance, I quite enjoy a certain percentage of Robusta, as others are allergic to it.
    Another example: I must admit that I do like the leathery-smoky taste of the Gimme at AJ… even if that could be a sign that the beans are on the verge of going stale (I was later informed of that !).
    What I’m trying to do is an open, non-demagogic espresso bar where one’s opinion is as valuable as an other.
    You also got me right when you mention “But my feeling is that it may spread other aspects of café culture and/or be part of something more specific to Montreal.” That is exactly where I’m trying to go with Caffè in Gamba (CIG). I built CIG to make sure it would be not only a nice place to have a good espresso, but also to have a nice espresso “experience”. In too many places you can barely see what is going on behind the machine and you’ve got no where to stand to chat with the Barista. I designed CIG exactly with that in mind, so you could actually see us working and most of all, so you could have a nice space at the bar to speak with us. When you think of it, having an espresso is a question of two or three gulps. This is probably why it feels fun and authentic having it at the bar, standing on your… Gamba (which means leg 🙂

    Finally, there is perhaps only one thing that I’d like to specify:
    “It’s first claim for fame is that it’s the first place in Montreal to have Intelligentsia coffee on its regular coffee menu.” Yes, I’m really proud to offer Intelli as one of my 2 daily blends. But what I’m really trying to do is offer a variety of espresso blends. I’ve always been uncomfortable with the idea of being branded with one roaster. It is actually with this very thought that was born CIG: why is it that most cafes get married with a single blend when there are so many amazing blends out there ? (huh… do not confuse espresso with your future wife !)
    In any case, a bar would normally carry more then one alcohol, right ?
    And so should it be in an espresso bar 🙂
    In short, my personal taste in choosing Intelligentsia and Vergnano as my daily blends should not overshadow the other 10 espresso blends available.

    N.B.: The Vergnano has surprised quite a few espresso aficionados. This is rewarding as it took me much effort, time and $$ to make this blend available here. A bunch of your brewing team came to the café tonight (mille merci pour cela !) and were also very pleased with the Vergnano after having both blends.
    I was originally scared that the blend be snobed out because of it’s Italian origin but it is definitely not the case 🙂

    Merci encore et à bientôt j’espère !


    P.S.: And YES, both me and my brother failed installing the router today. We have succeeded in making it work but could not get to secure it properly so we decided to unplug it…
    Any help will be welcome !
    Le bon samaritain will have free drinks while installing :-p

  2. JF,

    Thanks for the very elaborate comment. Almost worth its own blog entry though I know you’re way too busy to maintain a blog. (It’d be fun, though!)

    It may sound weird (especially for an ethnographer) but I think I didn’t realise the extent to which your bar is about the Italian model of stand-up espresso drinking. We talked about the counter and the fact that people can see the machine while sipping coffee but it didn’t register how closely this reproduces the pattern in Northern Italian cafés. I’ve mostly been to Milano, Aosta, Firenze, and Siena. Come to think of it, cafés in all of these places were exactly on the stand-up model. Which does give meaning to your café’s name. Another meaning might relate to the effects of caffeine on getting your legs shaking! 😉

    Those who haven’t met you probably don’t know that you’re not after “shameless plugs.” And I almost felt bad about being so enthusiastic about your café. But enthusiasm and hype are quite different. There’s room in Montreal for coffee enthusiasm, not for coffee hype.

    I’m very happy to learn that you’re planning on having different blends in your grinders. You seem to think the same way as I am thinking about flavour diversity and that, in itself, is a refreshing change. We talked about this briefly and seemed to agree on the whole but I’m relieved that you would go all the way in terms of your love for diversity. It might mean that some people will complain about “lack of consistency in taste” but if I understood your non-comprising attitude (no decaf), you will politely lead those consistency-lovers to another café.
    Your two-grinder and guest-blend policy reminds me of Jaime who was working at Simon’s in Cambridge, MA. Though he was mostly using one of George Howell’s blends for espresso, he made a point of having other blends available for espresso as frequently as possible. By tasting different espresso blends in the same session, you get a very different understanding of the strengths of each.
    Your thing actually goes a bit further. Your bringing Vergnano to Montreal seems like a gutsy move. More about sharing pleasures than about serving as a channel for a roaster. Let’s hope roasters won’t complain.
    And you’re right, this Vergnano blend is surprising.

    I will certainly go back as frequently as I can and I’m really hoping the place will work. It has a lot of potential and you seem to be doing the right things so far. If you can keep it up without trying to become a chain or some such, things can get very interesting indeed.

    Oh, and about the WiFi. I’m really not a specialist but I’ve been able to set mine up. Maybe if you post something somewhere about what wasn’t working, a local coffee lover and WiFi geek will be able to help you out. It’s not essential that you have WiFi at the place but it could be quite neat, especially for people who like blogging about what they taste.

  3. Wow, I am so disappointed to hear CIG does not offer decaf. Seems too purist and rigid in my opinion – caffeine is a powerful stimulant drug which does not have to be forced on JF’s patrons for them to enjoy the espresso experience. I hope he will reconsider.

  4. Is anyone aware of a Montreal coffee house which has a Clover? I just visited Ottawa and caught the Clover at the Dalhousie St. Bridgehead out of the corner of my eye on my way out. I’m frantically trying to get back to Ottawa soon to try out the Clover, but is there anything in my hometown (Montreal)?

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