Thursday, April 24, 2014

Cafe Review: Boxcar Social

In January, after cutting coffee out of my diet for a while, I began to drink one or two a week. In March, a traditionally stressful time at work, I began to drink coffee regularly in response to the stress and tiredness. Part of the reason for this lapse must be blamed on Boxcar Social.

Before we get into this review, let's be clear. I'm biased. I like these guys and what they do. I've handed them some of my beer to taste for reasons that will become clear. I've wrestled with writing reviews of places where I clearly like the people and get to know them before forming an opinion but in this case, it happened backwards. I also have problems writing bad reviews for the sake of bad reviews for similar reasons. That post can be found here. In my defense, nice people often make bad businesses or in other words, the nicest cashiers have the longest lineups.

Anyways, this place came out of the idea of a wine/beer/bourbon place that would serve coffee. Right now, it is just a coffee place. Since opening almost two months ago, the perpetual answer to when the alcohol licence will be in place is two weeks. It has become a bit of running gag amongst regulars.

The place was put together by the five owners who did most of the work to create two floors of exposed brick and gleaming wood, everything but the electrical and plumbing. Part of the coffee bar is science lab stuff like pots that look like beakers, equipment that registers particulate matter and scales. Rustic and high tech, a mix that you see often along trendy streets in Toronto. This is Rosedale. The morning crowd moves through the place with little fanfare and only glimpses of the genius of this place. Each barista has a different personality that is revealed in subsequent visits. If you show your interest in coffee, they may perk up and offer you something interesting in information or knowledge. They know their stuff.

Some of the faces will be familiar if you have been drinking coffee around the city. The owners have been around. What is special is that almost all the coffee is single origin by superstar roasters of the globe. The thing is, you don't feel talked down to or a knob for not knowing it. The pretensions are very low. During busy times there is nary a slurp as they "dial-in" the coffee and weigh the perfect cup, tossing those that don't meet their high standards. They still do this hard work but you don't see it. Inveterate coffee snobs who turn their nose up at sugar and milk or scoff at latte drinkers might feel a little ill at ease watching office workers head to the side board to do just that but the servers, nah.

That is what is cool about this joint. If you want to get into the coffee geekery of a beans difference between the first day roast and a week of aging, they can throw down. Even if batches from the same roaster taste a little different, they can tell you but it is not requisite knowledge. If you say that you can't taste that melony persimmon and grape notes that is listed on the bag, they don't sniff at your uneducated palate (well maybe Joe does) but rather explain to you how the roasters chose the notes. Also, if its bullshit, they'll tell you.

All in all, I'm effusive about this place. There has been two things that have made me think hard about coffee and that is rare for me. I drink a lot of coffee. A lot. As you drink more, you tend to prefer more acid and lighter roasted coffee that expose more exotic flavours. Also, espresso loses its lustre. There are few places that I enjoy an espresso in Toronto. This is one. They mess around with grind, amount of water and weight of shot to bring out what they feel are the desirable elements of a particular bean. That's the dialing in portion and what the science bits are for. None of the coffee I have had there has been above a medium. There may have been a medium dark but that would be an exception. Some of the flavour profiles have been astounding, especially when they are at the test phase of figuring this stuff out. I'd advocate for lighter roasts for espresso bars every where.

The second is the experiment of creating a regular coffee in an espresso machine. That's right. Making the equivalent of a french press or drip coffee. Technically, it's pushing the extraction at a lower pressure. Normally, this makes the coffee bitter because of the roasts and the profile of the beans chosen for the brewing method. Roasters are messing around with this idea and passing it on as experiments to the baristas. It is blurring the lines between drip and espresso. Think of the intense rich flavour on the espresso married with the clean smoothness and variability of tastes of a regular Joe. It changes, for me, what coffee can be.

I do have a few slight criticisms and I've made them known. The first is that the few employees they have lack the confidence and bonhomie of the owners. They don't have skin in the game and are probably unsure of their own abilities. They'll grow into it.

The second is that due to the subtleness of the coffees they are brewing, their lattes like the depth of taste that I like. Granted, the coffees that do work for that are traditionally roasted darker and give it that typical coffee flavour. If you want that type of thing, there is 9 bars at Yonge and St. Clair. It is a more straight forward coffee bar.

I'm not saying that Boxcar latte is not good just that I've not found them to be transcendent as the rest of their coffee experience is. They are working on it and I'm sure that they will eventually make a latte or a cafe au lait that moves what I think of these drinks but not yet.

If you want to learn and grow your coffee experience to include tasting the same bean three different ways, taste three coffees from the same region in a comparative pour over or see some experimentation then come here. I can't recommend this place enough. It is a good coffee geek experience.

Boxcar Social on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

  1. I will bring you some fresh roasted this weekend Rob.