The Meandering Epicurist

By Keith Edwards

Third Wave Coffee

Coffee culture in Canada is belatedly catching up with other parts of the world… particularly those in Asia. But there are difficulties. Unfortunately, we’re a miniscule market compared to Asia where virtually all the best coffee ends up.

Siarhei (pronounced Sergei) is manager of an architecturally slick modernist Third Wave Coffee shop in the St. Lawrence Market area. From the outset I can see it’s different. The counter is low and the hissing mechanicals of his espresso machines are hidden down under—below the counter. It’s a deliberate move claims Siarhei designed to facilitate conversations about coffee. Third Wave believes their product is not just premium coffee but ‘coffee education’.

This is coffee geekery without the geek. Siarhi gently guides the customer on a journey into a variety of different coffees. Hewing towards lighter roasts each is carefully tweaked to bring out the gamut of coffee flavours. No hard and fast rules here instead they rely on experiential cupping, until the team is completely satisfied with the aroma and taste. There’s nothing wrong with darker roasts insists Siarhei, its just personal preference. And while milk is available, they will do their best to steer customers to the pure essence of perfectly brewed coffee. But it doesn’t always work. After all it is the customers drink, he concedes.

During its five year existence, Third Wave has painstakingly built direct relationships with single origin coffee farms from whence they import green beans to bespoke roasted locally. I’m delighted to see they offer ‘pour over ‘using a flat-bottomed filter cup—the only way to drink fine coffee.

I try the Esperanza , a water washed single farm coffee from the highlands of Columbia. The geisha varietal of Arabica is light and sparkles in my glass cup. Its flavour is smooth, delicate and with just the right amount of acid. I also try the Hawaii—somewhat confusingly also from Columbia. This is a natural process where, instead of washing off the outer part the coffee bean, the bean is allowed to ferment and the outers drop away naturally. The result is a coffee hinting darkly of chocolate with funky fermented notes.

Coffee is a seasonal crop so the shop has new coffees every three of four months. Green beans like roasted coffee, degrade over time and consequently there needs to be a discussion about shelf life. Interestingly Siarhei takes a curiously contrarian position on aging. Based on his cupping experiments he asserts its better to let freshly roasted coffee “rest for a week or two” after roasting, particularly when it is to be drunk black.

Third Wave stands out in so many ways. The water temperature they brew at is lower than others. They treat their water and pay attention to the weather. The grind is set to course for pour over and there’s a rule about the ratio of coffee to water and so on.

My host speaks of his brew like a hard to corral living thing. “Coffee is a bitch, it changes every day” he grumbles. Somehow however, he manages to consistently wrestle it into submission and the result is one of the best cups in Toronto.

Third Wave Coffee can be ordered on-line at an appropriate premium price.


Salt + Mustard

One tends to be deferential to anyone referred to as ‘Boss Lady’ That’s the title on Olga Baliki’s business card but, I’m relieved to discover that, in person, the Boss actually embodies her website aspiration of “self care through the senses.”

Olga’s curious path is one that’s come from jewellery making via private cheffing and she’s now arrived at a retail store in the Baby Point area. Here, she presides over an array of specialty mustards and finishing salts. I’m particularly taken by her salts.

Salt is the essential but sadly overlooked culinary element. Toronto has yet to rival chef and author Mark Bitterman whose Portland Oregan store, The Meadow, stocks over 120 craft salts. However the Boss Lady has made a great start and a spirited uplift to creative cooking is just a shake away.

Salt + Mustard currently offers a hugely versatile Black Garlic salt ,(one of my favourites). Her Umami is ideal for pasta, risotto, roasted veggies or salads and there’s vanilla for tomato soups, baked goods or a sprinkle on chocolate truffle. Kick it up a notch with the Szchuan or the aptly named Red Eye (not an Air Canada overnight from Vancouver) but Olga’s take on Southern US heat that incorporates cayenne—a medium heat Turkish chili.

For gastro explorers Salt+Mustard offers a five-salt sampler (Black Garlic, Herbal, Szechuan, Hibiscus Rose and Umami).

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