A while ago, my friend Sara gave me a free sample of Starbucks’ new VIA instant coffee. She’s not much of a coffee drinker, but I am. I take a double-walled thermos with me most everywhere, and I am deeply in love with the Cuisinart Grind and Brew we purchased last year as an anniversary gift to each other, and most often we use it to brew Kicking Horse’s Hoodoo Joe blend. But sometimes, instant coffee is all you have, so one day when we were running low I decided to try the VIA.
Surprisingly, it wasn’t awful. I wouldn’t drink it every day, but if it were between VIA and a raging migraine, I’d probably go with VIA. I tweeted this, and my friend Tamara Sheehan revealed to me that no, VIA is really just freeze-dried cat piss, and that if I had any self-respect I’d be drinking some of her coffee. You see, in addition to being a writer of GLBTQ fiction for the YA crowd, Tamara works for Discovery Coffee Roasters in Victoria. When I jokingly requested samples, Tamara very generously sent me three blends from Discovery’s lineup.
This, my friends, is what Twitter is for.
What follows are my impressions from the samples that Tamara sent me. I think each is already successful in the Victoria, but I think they would do well in Toronto, too. Although Toronto has plenty of good coffee places, they’re not spread around very well. They’re concentrated in the downtown area, which means that there are inroads to be made further north, east, and west as those areas gentrify. I’ve never visited Discovery’s locations, but they seem like the kind of places I’d enjoy, and if I’m ever in Victoria I’ll definitely drop by. Discovery has the kind of operation that I remember from Seattle’s Caffé Vita: roasting, distribution, and training coupled with a few storefronts. It’s a smart business model, because it means increasing the reach of the brand without investing in a huge number of brick-and-mortars. And offering a training course for baristas means that third parties like hotels, etc. can ensure the quality of their espresso drinks without training every single person on staff in a business with high turnover. But at the heart, there has to be good coffee. Luckily, they have that part nailed.
El Salvador Finca Alaska
Most “medium” blends are a little too light, but this one evolves from its malty whole bean into a strong wash with a sharp, bright aftertaste. That sharpness softens with the addition of milk and sugar, resulting in a surprising chocolate flavour. This coffee feels like a people pleaser, and might make a good brunch offering or Christmas morning brew. Lighter roasts also contain more caffeine, so if you’re looking for more bang for your buck, this is a good choice.
Costa Rica Bioli
This triple blend of Central American beans bills itself as a big, solid cup of drip, and I couldn’t agree more. This is the coffee you want when you enter a diner. Any diner, anywhere, anytime, for any reason. This is the coffee Dean Winchester orders when Dean Winchester orders coffee. The flavour is bold enough to stand up to any combination of milk, sugar, Bailey’s, Jameson, or whatever other flavouring agent you deploy. You could probably also use the dregs to make red-eye gravy, if that’s your thing, or pair it with sweeter recipes where a strong coffee flavour is needed to complement a dark chocolate (as in a flourless torte) or offset a white chocolate (as in a biscotti).
House Espresso Blend:
We brewed this up as drip because our espresso maker has a cracked O-ring. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it straight. Milk and sugar served only to throw it way off-base, and I think it’s best enjoyed without any accoutrements. I think it would also make a fine iced coffee for this very reason. (Iced coffee is almost impossible to sweeten appropriately without ready access to simple syrup or superfine caster sugar. But with really excellent coffee, this isn’t an issue.) However, my husband found it a little thin and generic. I suspect this was a function of brewing this blend as drip rather than espresso. Concentrated, this blend would definitely have more character and would not falter under pressure from milk, foam, or sweetener.
At this point, I should add that I’m obviously open to reviewing any other samples that are sent my way. I’m the kind of person who reads product reviews fairly regularly, and who thinks in granular detail about things like headphones, soap, and knives — the things I deal with on a daily basis. I have a small group of “favourite things” that I love interacting with and will promote to anyone who listens (including my Sony headphones, my Pacifica soap, and my Henckel knives), and I like adding to that list.