Thanks to places like Le Couteau and Café Différance, Montreal is finally getting the coffee it deserves
In the antediluvian days, this city’s coffee scene was dominated by Van Houtte. And Montrealers’ tastebuds weren’t done any favours when Second Cup and Charbucks – oops, I mean Starbucks – came on the scene.
Then behold! Caffé Art Java opened its pearly gates in 2005, introducing caffeine addicts to the glories of finely wrought espresso with fancy microfoamed milk patterns. Art Java has now been surpassed, and the new firmament’s stars include downtown’s superb and by now well-established Myriade, Mile End’s Caffè in Gamba and progeny Torréfacteur Saint-Henri, and the Plateau’s Névé and seed Flocon.
And so Myriade begat Le Couteau. Chris Capell started his pro barista career at Myriade, biding his time before finding the right location on the sunny side of Saint-Denis to open his own shop just over a month ago. Look for the terrasse and the pictorial sign of a knife.
Upon entering, I first noticed the low benches and tables. Sure, there are regular tables with spots to plug in your computer, but most of the seating is designed for actually interacting. Remember when going out for coffee meant talking with other people? You’d need to be Methuselah’s age to have attended London’s first coffeehouses in the mid-17th century, but they were intended as places for discourse and public interaction, not staring at small-screened gadgets. (Paris followed suit two decades later with its first coffeehouse.)
Capell uses beans from Burnaby, B.C.’s 49th Parallel and will introduce other roasters as business picks up. Pastries (including gluten-free brownies) and Camellia sinensis tea round out the offerings.
And, near Victoria Square, Névé begat Café Différance. Half owned by the Névé team, and managed and half owned by Daniel Alvarez, this smooth joint has yet to be fully discovered and appreciated by the Old Montreal work force.
Alvarez uses beans from the roasters Madcap and Barismo, offers tea, terrific brownies, and has all the good magazines you’d want to peruse on a counter by the wall. If you’ve no one to discourse with directly, turn to the latest issues of The New Yorker, Bomb, Maisonneuve, food mag Lucky Peach, Walrus or the Economist.
Différance offers coffee classes on weekends, check their website for details and a peek into the quirky affections of Alvarez, architecture and bicycles being an obvious love.
Capell believes Montreal has benefited from the relatively late start to serious coffee. Those who are opening now are doing so with consideration, not just jumping on a trend in a glutted market. Finally, this city is getting the coffee it deserves.
4627 St-Denis; 514-940-0444
449 Viger West; 514-419-5415