Monday, January 10, 2011

Mexican Coffee in Toronto

Ideal Cafe - Outside

Another post on the theme of coffee.

I first got into the habit of carefully selecting my coffee when I lived in Toronto.  Anyone who knows Toronto will know that Kensington Market, a little neighbourhood that was home to just about every group of immigrants to Toronto, also has the biggest concentration of coffee roasters.  Some of them are nice little cafes with a rustic atmosphere that, in addition to roasting their own coffee, also serve bakery items and some food.  My favourite of these was the Moonbean Cafe, because of it's atmosphere and it's variety of coffees.  I think I've visited everytime I've been back to Canada.

Others were more purely roasters, and had some makeshift seating around the entrance.  My favourite of these was Ideal Coffee.  The makeshift seating wasn't so great (although it's definitely a part of the alternative atmosphere their regulars like,) and one of my friends actually accused them of being snobby; it wouldn't surprise me, but to be perfectly honest, I was always to enthralled by the smell of the roasting coffee to take any notice of the people who worked there. The only things I remember about the place are the stacks of coffee back behind the bar, the espresso maker, which was operated by a hand pump instead of electronic pressure, and that, as good as the lattes were, it was too inconvenient to enjoy them there, since the few seats were usually taken, and they were too uncomfortable anyway.  The people - even the ones filling the seats - don't figure into my memory.

Moonbean Cafe
BUT the coffee was (and still is, I hope) amazing.  At that time, at least it was from Veracruz, Mexico.  I had discovered this coffee before I met the Mexican friends who would eventually prompt my sudden and unplanned move to Mexico (the prompting wasn't very active - mostly my doing on the great things they told and later showed me.)  This coffee, however, was one of my first Mexican experiences which little by little grew on me and fall in love with this wonderful country and all the great things it offers.

Having now lived in Mexico, I realize there was absolutely nothing Mexican about Ideal Cafe except the coffee.

When I first lived in Cuernavaca and began buying my coffee from the roaster in the local market, I realized some important things.  First of all, the coffee in Cuernavaca was just as good, if not superior.  Another is that the coffee in Kensington was sold for about 3 times as much; this makes since it's imported, and it was bought fair-trade organic, although it couldn't be sold as organic, since the shops hadn't been certified.  Also, the people in Kensington - especially Ideal - were hippies, punks or some kind of people who wore shabby clothes, but could afford to pay $10 for a pound of coffee or $3 for a cup. (I endured the price and forced myself to drink less coffee, simply since it was so good, and well worth sacrificing quantity for quality. I almost never bought the coffee to drink there for budget reasons.)  The people in Cuernavaca's market wore just about anything, mostly just plain jeans and a t-shirt, but paid $6 for a kilo of coffee (less than $3 a pound), and less than $1 for a cup.

I was thrilled to find this little coffee roaster.  It was purely practical for practical buyers, and for that reason offered low prices.  They had 5 different roasts and ground the coffee to your specifications.  It was delivered in typical two little transparent plastic bags - to ensure freshness, I was told - as opposed to the elegantly rustic brown paper of the shops in Toronto. (Mexico also has its trendy coffee shops, but not so much in Cuernavaca; places in Mexico City - I believe Condesa and, especially, Coyoacan - have some very nice little shops with amazing coffee, and I believe a number of them roast their own. Obviously a little pricier than Cuernavaca's market, but a nicer atmosphere than Ideal and still better prices. Mexico City also has enough shops that are purely roasters of its own - one of them is where my mother-in-law buys her annual gifts of coffee for us.)

Ideal Cafe Inside
I never begrudged Kensington Market for charging me 3x as much; as I mentioned above, I still go back there when in Canada.  They were my first experience with Mexican coffee, and that alone is something to be grateful for.

Thank you Mexico for wonderful coffee - and thank you Kensington Market for roasting it and selling it to Canadians!

By the way, if you live in Toronto, my recommendations are:  If you want to sit down for a coffee and a snack, go to Moonbean - I'm not sure if Moonbean's coffee is Mexican, but it's good.  If you want to buy grounds to brew at home, go to Ideal.

(As I've said before, Playa del Carmen is still missing a coffee roaster, but the Chiapas coffee I buy in a little shop in the old working-class neighbourhood seems fairly fresh - it also comes in plastic bags.  Then again, everything in Mexico comes in plastic bags, even orange juice.)

If you want to read more about coffee, try these:

Cafe de Olla - One of my Favorites!
Coffee, Wonderful Coffee!

A Gift of Coffee
"How Many Germans Does it Take To ...

Enough writing about coffee I'm going to go make myself one!

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