Need A Cuppa Coffee?

By Jenny Lee

Though coffee beans were initially used exclusively in the Middle East for spiritual purposes, they have evolved to become a staple, sometimes even a necessity for many. When it comes to caffeine, there is no shortage of it in downtown Kingston. As a friend pointed out to me, you can’t walk a block without seeing another coffee shop. My belief is that because of this, establishments strive to offer the best, which simply means that we, the customers, benefit in both quality and atmosphere.
 
During a classic December chilly weekend packed with holiday shoppers, I set out to discover the unique features of each establishment.
 
Here are my recommendations for where you should go to fuel up, whether as a must-have drink before starting the workday or a cup to leisurely sip from as you chat with a friend or read the paper.
 
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When Coffeeco Market Square opened its doors, it followed the steps of its sister shops at Kingston Centre and Johnson Street. The focus was to create a space that opens out to the limestone view of Market Square, complete with exposed brick and limestone walls, reclaimed timber and live edge oak, floor to ceiling windows that completely open in the summer. One of my favourites is the aptly named Community Table, a long beautifully shaped piece of reclaimed wood that has been privy to many a chatty group, as well as strangers sharing communal space. The space is also meant to encourage conversation, with the intentional decision to not provide Wi-Fi to customers – something unconventional in this age of hyperconnectivity.
 
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Sarah, one of the baristas, was eager to tell me about a favourite – the holiday blend which is usually popular this season. A blend of a Brazilian medium roast combined with Costa Rican bean roasted dark, it is the most bitter of all the coffees I tasted, though not in an unpleasant way. The taste sits at the back of your tongue as it should and was full-bodied.
All the coffee is supplied by their sister company, Multatouli Coffee Merchants with the French roast and the Costa Rican roast being very popular, as are their daily made baked goods. With its welcoming atmosphere and smiling, friendly staff – this coffee shop definitely has its loyal customers coming back for more.
Also across from Springer Market Square, the weekend markets and ice skating rink are all conveniently located a stone’s throw away from the windows of Sipps. I have always half-joked that Sipps is the place to go if you like people-watching, as well as coming across individuals with fascinating life stories.
The baristas at Sipps recommended one of their most popular orders, the “Sunrise Blend,” a light-medium blend that had an excellent aroma and has full body to it. I liked it was not too bitter but had just the right level of acidity for me. To me, it is a good match for someone who needs the jolt but nothing too intense.
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I should add that this is also a great location to go with anyone who is a tea lover or dislikes coffee, as Sipps has one of the most extensive tea menus in Kingston. With great lighting (sometimes almost too much!), drool-inducing desserts, and longer hours into the evening, it is a great space to linger and enjoy yourself.
A long-time staple of downtown Kingston, Coffee and Company has seen its surroundings change dramatically over the last few years from its Princess Street-facing windows. However, it was evident from the nonstop line-up that it remains true to its roots; I had to strategically talk to the baristas when there was a slight slowing of traffic.
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A barista named Steph made time in between various drinks to let me know that their vanilla bean lattes and holiday drinks are the most popular this time of year. From what I observed, that was indeed true, though many were happy with just ordering straight coffee.
She recommended trying a light-medium blend called Sierra Verde, a new house blend that is popular. When I tried it, I found it to be robust and not too bitter, the acidity distinct on the tongue. What also stood out was the emphasis of ethical sourcing – Sierra Verde is not only organic but Rainforest Alliance-certified. I noticed as well that they import and package their own line of coffee and a few other products that are perfect for gifts. As a trio of visiting businesspeople commented, this spot is perfect for an afternoon break from the hustle and bustle of Princess Street, as well as for those studying or reading, complete with Wi-Fi. Open and airy, with the most tables and seats of any coffeeshop, it is usually a good bet if you’re looking to hunker down with books or the newspaper.
Louise Stalker had a dream when she transformed the current space from a derelict, abandoned building into a coffee shop that not only radiates comfort but also offers up quality coffee that is made with love, one cup at a time. Established in 2010, The Common Market is off the beaten track but true coffee aficionados should know their way here. When I asked for a sample of their house blend coffee, I was lucky enough to be able to try both their coffee and cappuccino.
Their house blend is a Guatamalan medium-dark roast, again from Multatuli Coffee Merchants. Louise explained to me that at first, she looked to Toronto for her coffee beans, but quickly discovered that Multatuli was some of the best in the market. Though I usually do not favour dark roasts, this one fills my senses and leaves an aftertaste that is not unpleasant at all. The cappuccino is perfectly pulled (one of the best I have seen) with some earthiness to the taste. The bubbles are velvety and smooth, creating an even surface texture, as opposed to the quickly churned out drink with a spooned-out layer of foam. Wonderfully strong and fragrant, my only regret was not being able to pick out which I liked better.
I am also told that their locally made scones and lemon tarts, as well as their variety of sandwiches made with locally produced and grown ingredients (such as meat from Seed to Sausage and chili from Garlic Fields Garden Market and Gourmet Foods) are a big hit with customers, I can tell it is an oasis that many have come to enjoy. With plans to expand their open mic nights in the new year, there is sure to be many more who discover this gem.
If you have your own expresso or coffee machine and prefer to make it yourself, Cooke’s Fine Foods offers some of the best in town. Offering the whole spectrum from light to dark, the “Chez Piggy” blend of French, Italian dark, and Mocha is a favourite, I am told. A popular light roast is named “Kingston’s Favourite” which is a blend of Colombian and Kenyan coffee beans. They offer their beans both whole and grinded, as well as their signature blend available for those on-the-go.
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Overall, each establishment had unique strengths about them and certainly from what I observed, each has its own base of customers. Each coffee shop had decent coffee but what I found that stood out for me is the depth of knowledge band the level of comfort of those making the drinks – the baristas. Some are able to rattle off the types of beans that went into a roast, or describe in detail the entire process, as they are doing it.
As a patron, I have gained a deeper understanding of not only the final product in my cup, but the essence of the process to bring about that “perfect cup of coffee”.