Thursday, December 2, 2010

The coffee culture meme is alive and well in Victoria

Dear Starbucks,
In your attempt to manufacture culture out of fast food coffee, you have been surprisingly successful for the most part. The part that isn't covered by "the most part" sucks! -- Roger Greenberg (played by Ben Stiller in the film, Greenberg)
If you say something enough times, over and over, it has the potential to become 'true' in the collective mind of the public. This is especially the case in the post-Internet era, in which things said have the potential to go viral and stick, regardless of whether they are true or not. The concept of "coffee culture" is one such meme. And Victoria apparently has it big time. I still don't know what it means. Does it mean people populating coffee places, talking about the finer nuances of coffee? Does it mean people, who are generally ignorant about the art of coffee, populating fine coffee places in large numbers? In the old days, coffee house culture was something akin to beatniks in berets and black turtle-necks sitting in cavernous, smoky clubs listening to recitations of Jack Kerouac and albums by Miles Davis and Charlie Parker. Admittedly, I don't honestly know what coffee culture is, other than it's a meme that's been propagated by the coffee industry and those with a vested interest in seeing that industry grow. Nothing wrong with that. I'm just as guilty when it comes to propagating Victoria's micro-brew beer culture, whatever that is.

The fact is, coffee has come a long way in a relative short period of time. There was a time, not long ago, when Starbucks was considered high quality, gourmet product. We need only look to the branding that percolated out of Starbucks HQ to understand some of the answer to my above query about coffee culture. Starbucks made coffee chic, cool and, at one time, quite a bit better tasting than the status quo. They even had the audacity to call their teenage staffers baristas, and still do, even though every coffee-making machine in every Starbucks has been switched to auto-barista. These days, Starbucks has become more synonymous with corporate branding evilness than coffee coolness, losing most of its coffee culture edge, thanks to the proliferation of real, independently run coffee places. Victoria has a few good ones, and a few not-so-good ones.

I'm no coffee aficionado, and I'm not among the overzealous proponents of coffee culture. It's just a bean that gets me out of bed in the morning and gives me a needed buzz at 2pm everyday. But I know a good bean, and a well brewed coffee when I drink one. My coffee bar was elevated significantly after touring the coffee fields of Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii a few years ago. For me, the flagship of any coffee place is the essence of the bean: espresso straight up.The best espresso I've ever had, bar none, was in Kona.

The best espresso in Victoria, in YRS's humble opinion, is Mirage Coffee (Blanshard Street & Government Street locations). These guys obviously take extra care in roasting their own beans, and they have, arguably, the best espresso machines in town. Their Blanshard Street location is also one of the nicer coffee rooms in the city.   Mirage Coffee on Urbanspoon

Habit Coffee is a close second, and it's new Atrium location is perhaps the best place to sit and sip if you love lots of light and sunshine.   Habit Coffee on Urbanspoon

The Parsonage Cafe off Cook Street makes great espresso, and it is home to local roaster Fernwood Coffee Company, which are the beans of choice in our household.   Parsonage Cafe on Urbanspoon

A sentimental fourth would be the Serious Coffee on Menzies in James Bay. Yes, it's a chain, but its a local chain and deserves our support much more than Starbucks does. Besides, they make a very decent espresso and their spacious room at this location has a fireplace, albeit a fake fireplace, but a fireplace still the same! Serious Coffee - James Bay on Urbanspoon

Yes, there are others worthy of note, but not mentioned here because I either haven't been, or haven't been lately, so feel free to add to the list via the comments section below. If we get enough comments by enough local people, maybe we can lay claim to our own little YRS coffee culture. Or maybe not.