The new posters hanging inside the popular Bank Street bakery Bread & Sons lists the espresso-based drinks on offer — cappuccino, macchiato, mochachino, caffé latté — followed by the provocative line: BEST ON THE BLOCK. ANY BLOCK.
“The first part is a bit of a joke because the only coffee place on our block is Tim Hortons,” says the bakery’s owner and barista Yoav D’Vaja. (Suffice it to say, folks who happily guzzle double-doubles are probably not in his target market.) But the second statement is one he takes very seriously. And he is ready to stand behind it.
For D’Vaja making great coffee — consistently great coffee — has been a personal project that began in August 2010. “I didn’t realize how complicated it was to get desirable and consistently good results,” he says. Only now, after travelling to Seattle, reading the literature on the subject, and hiring one of the world’s top coffee consultants to personally train him, is he ready to declare his coffee the best.
As we all know, large corporate coffee chains have turned coffee drinking into a cultural phenomenon. This means many more of us are able to state our preference between Ethiopian and Colombian beans or at least say whether we prefer a dark or medium roast. We are adept at ordering our frothy milk exactly to our specifications — extra hot, no foam etc. But do we really know a good cup of coffee from a bad one? D’Vaja isn’t so sure. He blames the coffee monopoly in our city for keeping choices to a minimum rather than allowing for the explosion of indie coffeeshops as seen in places like Toronto and Montreal.
Watching him at work behind his prized Nuova Simonelli espresso machine — the same ones used at World Barista Championships — D’Vaja’s passion for java is on display. He shows me a handful of the 49th Parallel coffee beans that he receives weekly from the renowned Vancouver-based roaster and marvels at their beauty and uniform colour, a sign of proper roasting. When I ask why they don’t have the oily sheen I’m used to seeing, D’Vaja says the oil once released from the beans quickly goes rancid and that’s part of the reason we’ve become so accustomed to drinking bitter coffee that requires cream and sugar to make it palatable. The other reason, he says, is that the beans we are used to drinking are burnt. “I think Starbucks has done more harm than good — they educated people for bad coffee,” he says.
So you might be wondering now whether or not this is indeed the best coffee in Ottawa. I say go take the challenge yourself: head down to Bread & Sons and order a cappuccino or even try the drip coffee made from the same beans and try this experiment — don’t add anything. No cream. No sugar. Taste it. Don’t be surprised if you have the sensation like this is the first real cup of coffee you have ever tasted. And if you don’t like it, well, you are out $3 and it didn’t kill you. There’s always the Tim Hortons down the block.
Bread & Sons Bakery, 195 Bank St., 613-230-5302.
Hours: Monday to Friday, 7 a.m. – 6:30 pm; Saturday 9:30 a.m. – 11 p.m.