June 8, 2005 2:23 PM   Subscribe

Complete coffee neophyte in search of French Canadian brewing technique...

I just returned from a weeklong trip to Montréal, QB. Food was absolutely incredible, but the coffee was even better. The best way I can describe it is a thick, rich cup — not espresso-thick, though. I found this style brewed at all the good restaurants we went to, but we couldn't find this at the chain coffee shops (Second Cup, Café Presse, etc.). My Québécois hosts suggested that the coffee bean was ground finer than usual, which makes the end product thicker. The waiter at one restaurant whom we asked pointed to a regular coffee machine and suggested it was the influence of Montréal's sizable Italian contingency, who'd brought better brewing techniques to the city over the last ten years. Any suggestions?
posted by AlexReynolds to Food & Drink (12 answers total)
Could it have been "cafe allongé"? An allongé is a fairly standard way to make a cup of coffee in Quebec (and many other places): you proceed as though making an espresso but run the water through the grounds for a longer period of time. This differs from the standard practice in the rest of Canada and the States, where the closest equivalent is made by adding hot water to an espresso (In Quebec such a drink is called an "Americano").

Can you tell me specific places where you had this kind of coffee? I may be able to help more knowing that ...
posted by louigi at 3:02 PM on June 8, 2005

Louigi--in Seattle, that drink is also called an Americano! :)
posted by luneray at 3:14 PM on June 8, 2005

The freshness of the beans would be more important than the brewing method. And type of bean. Americans (I see you are from Philadelphia, AlexReynolds) tend to drink (poor to medium quality) Central and South American coffees.

If I were trying to match your description, I'd get my beans from Java, Sulawesi, Papua New Guinea or East Timor (depends on the year), roast them to a bit short of second crack and then use whatever brewing method I was in the mood for that day. Maybe a good moka pot.

It is also critical that coffee making equipment be clean. Perhaps the Quebecois clean their coffee machines more often than most US businesses do.
posted by QIbHom at 3:39 PM on June 8, 2005

Although a long, long time lover of Montreal coffee -- I hope you managed to hit the place at the corner of St-Viateur and Waverly, known by various noms du cafe; aka the best coffee in God's green acre -- I cannot give you specific help other than to point you in the direction of blork, a Montreal food blogger who knows a thing or five about coffee.
posted by docgonzo at 4:28 PM on June 8, 2005

Louigi, there was a coffee shop called L'Olympia on Rue St. Viatur, and a restaurant called Le Poisson Rouge on Rue Rachel. Both places had the kind of coffee I'm talking about.
posted by AlexReynolds at 5:52 PM on June 8, 2005

For a good, thick, rich cup of coffee I would suggest using a french press, such as this one. I prefer the french press to other methods because 1) you add boiling water to the beans (instead of 170-190 degree water), which gives it a stronger taste and 'activates,' or brews certain oils in the bean that require such a temperature, 2) the coffee brews without any immediate filtration and 3) you are free to add more or less coffee, mix in a little espresso, and vary the 'cut' of the bean (a course blend is my personal favorite, but a really thin grind will give you an even stronger cup). Basically, it puts you in control. Plus you can use it for tea, yerba mate, etc. Good luck!
posted by farishta at 6:06 PM on June 8, 2005

Yeah, l'olympico is the one I was talking about. Also known as Open da night, Vito's, Johnny's...
posted by docgonzo at 6:36 PM on June 8, 2005

L'Olympia is the place on St. Viateur that docgonzo is talking about; their coffee is made as I described. (A historical note: everyone used to call it "open da night" due to a decrepit sign that originally said "open day & night" but was missing a "y &". That sign is now gone.) I've never been to Le Poisson Rouge.
posted by louigi at 6:51 PM on June 8, 2005

Reading about its history and all the good reviews it's earned, I can't believe I went to Olympico by accident! We picked up a couple of bagels from the St. Viateur bakery and went down the street for a drink. Lo and behold. What unbelievable luck!
posted by AlexReynolds at 7:04 PM on June 8, 2005

What did you order it as? Just a cup of coffee? Actually, finer grinding for non-espresso brewing methods is generally a pretty lousy idea - it almost always leads to overextraction, and a very bitter, thin-tasting and caffeine-heavy cup.

Your best bet is to get an answer from a local resident, which is why I guess you asked here. If you don't get an answer here, then try, which is usually very active / responsive to this type of question, and almost certainly has the answer you seek.
posted by bifter at 2:26 AM on June 9, 2005

QIbHom writes "If I were trying to match your description, I'd get my beans from Java, Sulawesi, Papua New Guinea or East Timor (depends on the year), roast them to a bit short of second crack and then use whatever brewing method I was in the mood for that day. Maybe a good moka pot."

The level of detail, concern and knowledge here intimidates the hell out of me.
posted by OmieWise at 5:29 AM on June 9, 2005

I live in Montreal and I'm pretty sure that, as others have mentioned, you just had a regular old Allongé, which is literally an "elongated" shot of espresso. Basically the machine is set up for a shot and it pumps out about 3-4 oz of coffee rather than just a 1 oz shot. Many places give you steamed milk on the side to go with it as a matter of course, and for most people I know that has totally replaced any kind of filter or french press coffee in their daily consumption.

Why was it so good? The standards for coffee are pretty high in Montreal. The big chains (in Canada, Second Cup and Starbucks) were very late to the game here and I know that in the case of Second Cup they weren't sure if they could really do very well at first, because the culture was already very established. Even "dive" bars have always had very high quality espresso machines, for instance, not just high-end restos or cafés.

As others have mentioned Olimpico (aka Open da nite) makes very good coffee, and a little further south there are many places but in particular José's on Duluth at Hotel-de-Ville and Laika on St-Laurent at Duluth are both excellent.
posted by mikel at 9:44 AM on June 9, 2005

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