The ‘art de flâner’: SENS Café

By Isabelle Bourgeault-Tassé

SENS Café | 136 Ontario Street | Website

At SENS Café, coffee is elixir. Poetry. Alchemy. It nourishes l’art de flâner, the art of lingering, of taking a moment to live well. Housed in a heritage building on the shores of Lake Ontario, this specialty café welcomes all those who are curious to explore and discover the full richness of coffee’s symphony of flavours.

Founded by Isabelle and Pierre Tardiveau, a visit to SENS Café is a must during a stay in Kingston. Originally from Annecy in the French Alps, the couple reinvented themselves in 2014, leaving behind unfulfilling careers and starting their lives from scratch.

“One day, I became interested in coffee and specialty coffee,” says Pierre. “And I’ve always liked to bring pleasure to life first and foremost!” adds Isabelle.

The couple founded the Barista Café in Annecy, inspired by the French bistro experience, where the neighborhood comes together and forge bonds with each other. It was through a chance friendship with a Canadian citizen, who discovered specialty coffee alongside the couple, that Isabelle and Pierre were persuaded to pursue new horizons in Canada.

SENS Café, which opened its doors in November 2021, is already inspiring loyalty and affection among its budding clientele: “Whenever I’m away from Kingston, SENS is one of the things I miss the most!” exclaims one devotee on social media.

“What’s magical about SENS Café are the wonderful encounters with people in our neighbourhood, our community, who come together to share a beautiful moment over good coffee,” says Isabelle.

“This notion of sharing is one of the hallmarks of third-wave cafés,” says Pierre. “The first wave began in the 1900s. We drank coffee because it was hot and good for the body. The second wave began in the 1970s, with the emergence of major players such as Starbucks and Tim Hortons, who showed the public different ways of drinking coffee: filter, espresso, with or without milk, hot or cold.”

“Then comes the third wave, which reveals the aromatic richness of coffee, through slow coffee-making methods like filters. This third wave of coffee highlights the characteristics of each of the varieties, each of the terroirs, each of the origins of coffee. As with wine, coffee offers a wealth of aromas that this third wave is intended to reveal to palates.”

“A third-wave barista is a coffee sommelier,” he continues. “That barista is interested in the origins of the coffee they serve, the farms that grow the beans, and the families of farmers who harvest the coffee. They are familiar with methods of preparation of these coffee beans and how they have been roasted. This barista will even be able to tell you about the dégustation rituals spanning many origins and which strengthen the spirit of community within these farming families, who are so deeply concerned with respect for tradition.”

It is this spirit of community that resonates with the Tardiveaus, and which echoes the French art de vivre, the art of living well.

“When we say that we want to share a little of our French way of life, it is precisely by trying to get people to slow down, to delay them a little, inviting them to take their time,” explains Isabelle.

SENS Café exists at the crossroads of Kingston’s Francophonie, a community that is both local and international, where Francophones and Francophiles rub shoulders, mingle, and share their perspectives on the world.

“We realized that word of mouth works well on the fact that we speak French. And, little by little, people pass through the door, curious, and come in to speak French to us,” explains Isabelle.

“But we never wanted to recreate a small part of France in Canada. We just want to bring a French touch to the local community,” says Pierre.

It is precisely to bring that local touch that Isabelle and Pierre sought a unique local home for their new café, a building anchored in Kingston’s story. Located in a former fish market on Ontario Street with silvery limestone walls, SENS Café gives a modern touch on a heritage city building.

Isabelle and Pierre entrusted the enormous responsibility of transforming this heritage space to Alexander Wilson Architect Inc., who has enhanced the site’s notable historical character, including its century-old shelves and chimney, all set in a luminous white space. Historical curiosities are also displayed in the space, such as an old fishing boat wheel, a local heritage objet, and a testament to the building’s origins.

“Our café offers a contemporary atmosphere in a historic cocoon,” says Pierre.

Behind the counter at SENS Café, baristas are hard at work, the orchestra of this symphony of the senses. Pierre himself trains the baristas in coffeeology, taking the time to recount the story of a particular coffee’s terroir and of the families who grow the beans, to both his team and his clientele.

“We recently tasted a coffee with aromas of passionfruit. And when you savour it, you could taste strawberry,” says Isabelle. “It takes a bit of work to get to this point. But we want everyone to be able to experience the expression of our coffees.”

Whether it’s to taste the perfumed aromas of fresh coffees, to set one’s gaze on luxurious gourmandises, or to indulge in the art de flâner, SENS Café offers a unique coffee experience in Kingston.

“We believe that good coffee should not be reserved for a minority of experts,” exclaim the Tardiveaus. “Our goal is to satisfy your curiosity, to allow you to travel within a cup, but above all to let you enjoy your coffee as you like it – and why not make beautiful encounters in a warm atmosphere at the same time.”