Coffee is the new wine; espresso is the new claret.
Intelligentsia is the new Cheval Blanc; Anthony Benda is the new Véronique Rivest in Quebec.
Mr. Benda, pictured here behind his shiny Synesso at Café Santé Veritas, is the best barista in the town. His customers already knew that, but a strong third-place showing in at the Canadian National Barista Championships in Toronto yesterday meant that he was officially among the best in the country, a shining light outside Vancouver's legendary artisanal coffee scene.
Michael Yung of Caffè Artigiano (Park Royal) won the contest and Cady Wu, of Wicked Cafe, also in Vancouver, came second.
As a wineblogger, it seemed to me that this type of competition was restricted to sommeliers representing the world's greatest restaurants. Now I think it's an indication of how coffee is becoming the new wine.
For proof of this, read the feature story of last week's Dining and Wine section at NYTimes.com and if you are still in doubt, just watch the multimedia included in the report. We're talking:
- Blind coffee tastings (known as "cuppings") with some serious slurping going on
- A coffee industry newly characterized by brokers and direct trade, which mirrors the négociant/domaine dichotomy in wine production
- Quotes like "go almost anywhere, do almost anything and pay almost any price in pursuit of the perfect _" -- no, not wine... "cup of coffee" is how that statement ends
The fact is that the best coffee in the world is just as accessible to coffee drinkers as the best wine in the world is available to wine lovers. Through direct trade, the finest coffee beans on the planet are now being harvested to the top of their potential. Up until quality roasters started endeavours based on direct trade engagement of coffee growers, the best beans weren't doing that. (A similar modernizing phase in wine could be argued to have happened many years ago, before the advent of Mondavi-ating and Rolland-eering winemakers.)
WHERE TO BUY: A GAMUT OF FINE COFFEES AT CAFFÈ IN GAMBA
In Quebec, it's obvious you go to the SAQ to purchase wine. As of last month in Montreal, it's become equally clear that you go to Caffè In Gamba when you want to buy coffee. Sure, you can get some okay beans at the corner grocer, but you could also say there's drinkable wine for sale at the dépanneur. It might be true but I'm not going to condone it.
Get yourself to Caffè In Gamba in Mile End next time you're low on coffee. The place has a retro, vintage attitude to it yet it is the first to sell Intelligentsia's coffee blends in Montreal (or in all of Eastern Canada I believe -- I had to get mine in New York before this place opened). The café stocks both Kid-O and Black Cat blends. Check out Kid-O pictured first on the left along their wall of coffees).
In Gamba has great selection, as you can see, and prices are reasonable. It comes to about $9 for a sealed roasted-within-the-week 1/2 lb bag of Kid-O, which seems to be the going rate in the U.S. too. The friendly In Gamba scale, which offers free cappuccino deals, encourages customers to buy their coffee bulk. So you don't need to dole out a lot of cash to get in the game. Get a small sample for evaluative brewing or ask the barista for advice on the bean that best suits you.
Caffè In Gamba is at 5263 Ave du Parc, just north of Fairmount.
If you don't live in the Mile End area, check out the supply of other great coffee beans at these places:
Caffè ArtJava sells Gimme Coffee! beans in Plateau Mont-Royal and downtown.
Café Santé Veritas sells 49th Parallel beans in Old Montreal.