Toronto:Coffee:Queen East:Mercury Espresso Bar

It’s a daunting task when you driving down Queen East from downtown at 7:30 am looking for a place to grab a coffee and maybe a bite. The classic hot spots such as Lady Marmalade, Bonjour Brioche and Tulip are still waking up so the liquid remedy of coffee with the possibility of a pastry may be all that exists.

I progressed down the empty street, sun in my eyes and  saw a Starbucks on the right and parked, ready to succumb to over roasted coffee and a generic breakfast sandwich.  Instead, I spied the Mercury Espresso bar, which has a relative smallness of the planet itself.  I walked into a small line, staring down as I flipped the plastic between my fingers, almost convincing myself this was a cash only joint and I would have to cross the street or find a high service ATM in the vicinity.  I let the question “Do you take credit?” squeak out of my mouth. The answer was a resounding yes…minus AMEX  of course.  With that, I ordered an americano.  He did have a shade of baristattitude, but he kept it in the realm of confident versus cocky.  In order to get the bill  up a bit, I ordered a nutella cookie as a compromise to the sandwich I would have ordered at Starbucks.  I was also interested in the coffee on the shelf and chose a Matalapa from El Salvador roasted by George Howell which subsequently has turned out to be a fabulous cup of joe at home.

The americano is one of the better I have had in a while. It was smooth and like a flower garden; complete with fragrant blossoms and was  neither under or over watered.  The cookie was pretty good too.

Nutella Cookie
Nutella Cookie
George Howell Coffee
George Howell Coffee

My Take

Mercury will be a regular stop on my way to the office, although I’m only there half a dozen times a year. I will also grab a bag of coffee while I’m at it. There’s nothing special about the place other than the brew (and maybe the daily trivia question) and I suspect  the bright sun, slight breeze and serenity of an empty Toronto street may have catalyzed the experience, but I’ll take it over of the many possible destinations of the  timbucktoos scattered along the route regardless of the time of day.

Mercury Espresso Bar on Urbanspoon

Arguing with Venti Caffiends

It has been said that there are two things even friends shouldn’t discuss; religion and politics.  I would like to propose a third…coffee.

Coffee is the probably the world’s most acceptable drug and is available to anybody who wants it, even if they are self-proclaimed addicts. Baristas, uniformed teens and crotchety old waitresses alike have license to brew and dose and distribute the goods to any caffiend, day or night. The unword dictionary (www.unwords.com) defines a caffiend as follows:

Caffiend

(kă’fēnd)

1. (n.) One who is obsessed with consuming caffeine. Often surpasses caffeinatics in quantities of caffeine in the blood stream and in level of addiction.

I have witnessed many passionate arguments about coffee among caffiends. It seems a large proportion of the population pledges allegiance to a certain consumption camp and there is very little tolerance for those who subscribe to a different philosophy.

The Tim Horton’s caffiend (THC) is the lowest on the totem pole among coffee consuming peers.  They are drawn to  the functional aspect of the beverage and  seemingly sacrifice richness and taste for convenience and the ability to win a barbeque or a car twice a year. Terminology includes” Large Double Double”. They justify their habit by stressing that they pay less then two dollars for a coffee they need two hands to carry and that they can get a sour cream glazed donut or a yogurt parfait at the same time.

The Starbucks caffiend (SBC) is the mortal enemy of the group above. Seen a pretentious and snobby by the THC, they are often identified by Lululemon yoga pants, sandals or laptops. The terminology is more advanced and expansive with terms such as “Grande extra hot no foam unsweetened decaf mocha with room for dairy for Jenifer with one n”.  They react to trends such as matcha powder and green coffee extract and couple it with cake pops or butter chicken wraps.  Their justification is you get what you pay for and drinking Starbucks is just more morally and socially responsible. They also think the emblem isn’t creepy.

The independent coffeehouse caffiend  (ICC) is a smaller but loyal group.  Entry into this group simply involves ignoring the 5 Starbucks (with an optional eye roll) you pass on the way to a quirky establishment.  Not fond of Timbucktoos (my term used to describe those who frequent Tim Horton’s or Starbucks), they think the clean spoon/dirty spoon bins are good for the environment and often ask for fair trade coffee and agave nectar although they don’t know what either one is.  They are not as concerned about the food available since they are “there for the coffee”; although a locally sourced sandwich may convince them otherwise.

Sit three guys at a Tim’s and bring up SBCs (or the weather) and an immediate brotherhood is formed. Meanwhile, at Starbucks the mere mention of the fact that Tim Horton’s coffee tastes like an ashtray unite old and young together some lemon poppy seed cake or samples of the cookies and cream frappuccino.  Meanwhile, the ICCs sit oblivious to the world around them  in mismatched chairs and admire the melancholic art on the wall while serenaded by an acoustic guitar. Mix these crowds, however, and you ignite fireworks similar to that of a Catholic vs Protestant or Democrat vs Republican.  I would expect the coffee to fly if I wasn’t for the fact that it is..well….coffee.

I suppose I’m an ICC but I prefer to not judge others.  I think coffee is under appreciated,  I don’t need room for dairy and I do enjoy the uniqueness of stand alone coffee shops.  I have learned more from them than I ever have from a Starbucks or Timmy’s (see my Te Aro blog post…..coming soon).  So lets all get along, sip our brew and make fun of those who don’t drink coffee at all.  A good friend of mine once said to me “Why would I take a perfectly good glass of water and run it through dirt?” Those are fighting words, buddy.