Savour Toronto Coffee Tour
Our little sister had given us this tour as a Christmas present, and we finally made the time to give this experience a shot.
e got in touch with the company via email and got a list of available dates to take this tour - about one running every week. Our meeting spot was in the East end of the city, at Tandem Cafe (www.tandemcoffee.ca) on a Saturday morning. There were about eight of us, guided by Suzanne - a petite, knowledgeable lady with a t-shirt and hat branded Savour Toronto (a nice touch). We settled at a small space near the back of the cafe by their green wall, and the tour started.
Each of us got a canvas bag with information sheets on the tour and some interesting coffee terms and facts. But...at this point the crowd was more delighted to see cups of Cortados (one of the terms we learned that day) popping up in front of us. It is an espresso cut with a small amount of warm milk. This strong drink filled about half a cup and was a very pleasant way to kickstart the morning. Suzanne was diligently bringing hot cups over as she gave us a crash course on the history of coffee supported by a few laminated images. We learned that coffee history began in Ethiopia, about the two main types of beans: Arabica and Robusta, however there are also a lot of other varieties which are much less known. After Ethiopia, the coffee culture spread to South America - ideal tropical climate for the plant to do well. At that point our visit to Tandem cafe (ran in tandem by Michie Yamamoto and partner Eugene) was over and we got outside
We walked across the street to learn about the Corktown neighborhood name and theories of where it got started. We also stopped to admire one of Toronto's historical landmarks - Enoch Turner Schoolhouse. This was one of the first public schools in Toronto. Built in 1848, it is now partially a museum and an event space. We thought that telling us about the surroundings was a unique touch to make this tour more holistic and neighborhood centric. We spent the next three and a half hours hopping to cafes, bakeries and enjoying local art. Our tour took us through plenty of local gems and got us tasting their treasures while on our sunny stroll.
This quick historic stop gave us just enough time to get to Roselle Desserts opening an hour early just for our tour us.
Roselle Desserts (www.roselleto.com) was there just for us so we had the tiny space for ourselves. This place started a couple of years ago by Roselle and her partner, both George Brown graduates. We enjoyed some of their light Mango Lime Coconut Mouse. In addition a small bite of their smooth and soft sea salt caramel which was pleasantly on the bitter side was on the plate. Lastly we had a taste of their sweet and nutty Pistachios Merengue. We were quite impressed by all these small but intensely flavorful confections.
At this point, Suzanne passed us pages on how coffee is roasted. She was very encouraging of the DIY movement and even took out a roaster machine to demonstrate us how easy it was. We marveled at a bowl of green beans passed around for us to examine and watched them turn yellow and shades of brown as they spun in the popcorn-machine like roaster a few moments later. A uniquely nutty smell spread across the room, followed by some more burned notes. We heard the first and second crack and learned about pyrolysis and the Mueller reaction in the process. In a humming near-silence of the roasting process, one could hear Ma Cherie’s fingers tapping the phone screen in search of a roasting machine on Amazon.
We took a stroll passing the subtle art pieces by the bridge then the recently opened and trendy Odin and, finally reaching Mary Macleods' (www.marymacleod.ca) only retail location. Welcomed by the sweet smell of fudge, we all picked a shortbread to try right after walking in. Their light and simple Traditional was a great lighter choice, especially next to their Wheat Walnut which was packed with nuts and hints of spices.
Next stop was St John's bakery (www.stjohnsbakery.com), another great gem on our tour. Their purpose of their existence is a sweet one - proceeds go to support the local community mission next door. Watch out for their aged and noisy loaf slicer. When working, it is a complete attention grabber, not letting anyone else say a word. We peeked into their behind-the-scenes space and tasted fresh, one-of-a-kind breads.
We slowly made our way to Riverside, getting to Ambiance Chocolate (ambiancechocolat.ca). Suzanne pointed out the Riverdale's BIA and some conceptual graffiti art under the bridge. We were just in the mood for some of their truffles, further giving in to our taste buds. Everyone got to try two, followed by a refreshing cup of cold and thick liquid Chocolate! One forget-me-not truffle is their Scotch Whisky Caramel. Maybe you can get buzzed if you have a dozen of these….
We finally made our way to the next coffee stop, the new, lofty location of Boxcar Social (www.boxcarsocial.ca) in the East end. The tour took an hour stop there for a full coffee experience. Our barista was a curious one, with a mathematical approach to the craft of coffee. We tried three cups of coffees, which we watched get ground and poured-over brewed. Each one was Ethiopian from two different locations and variations of processes pre-roasting - natural and washed. The brewing process took some time, but felt quite therapeutic and Zen (observing from the side anyway). While tasting, we learned that or barista (and perhaps Boxcar Social in general) have a relatively purist view of working with coffee. They believe that certain coffee beans only can be roasted a certain way. One bean cannot be both light and medium roast. Another curious fact that we learned here was that milks adds fats to the coffee when covering the tongue with an insulating coat masking the flavor of coffee.
Last but not least, we finished our tour at the nearby new Purple Penguin (www.purplepenguincafe.com) cafe. The owner June, really put her heart into this cafe. We tried their apple fritters as well as some of their wooden fried bagels specialty. Cheri and I were quite tempted by their menu and decided to stay for lunch. Watch out for our next post with a more in-depth review.
During out walks, we learned from Suzanne that Savour Toronto specializes in food tours. That explained the healthy mix in of bakeries and pastries on our coffee tour. However, we (no doubt) really enjoyed ourselves during this half day tour. Suzanne's holistic historic and cultural approach made this experience one-of-a-kind for us. We are already planning who to give this tour as a present to.