Coffee. The life-blood of the travelling photographer. Having spent a fair bit of time on the road, I’ve sampled a lot of coffee. Some pretty good. Some truly awful. What follows is a short list, not quite a compendium, and not comprehensive, of coffee joints I’ve tried in my travels. You may agree, or disagree with my assessments. That’s OK. Youi’re allowed to like bad coffee.
Let me know in the comments what good and bad coffee experiences you’ve had on the road.
A good cup of coffee is a thing of beauty. It has depth of flavour and aroma. It soothes. It inspires. It lifts. Cradling a cup of hot coffee in the hands on a cold day is pure comfort. Smells and tastes of nuts, cocoa, earthiness, mintiness can all be found in good coffee. The mouth feel is silky, smooth. It has substance. There’s a complexity. It’s pleasing. It can be a spiritual experience.
I openly admit that I am an unabashed coffee snob. At home, I hand roast my own beans. In the trailer, I have my burr grinder, a percolator and a French press. The perc and press produce different results with the same beans and some days I’m in the mood for one, or the other.
Bad coffee, on the other hand, is simply a crime against the tastebuds. Sure, it may give a caffeine hit. It’s like taking cough syrup. It tastes bad, but it works. Coffee shouldn’t be like medicine.
As your intrepid correspondent, I have sacrificed to try to help you avoid those really bad coffee experiences. As I’m driving around, I have been buying coffee from all manner of chain purveyors and am ready to report some findings.
There is good coffee out there. And not from that Seattle company. Let’s face it, the only thing premium about Starbucks is the price.
Circle K – Smells and tastes like used motor oil.
Robin’s Donuts – Robin’s is a national chain. The majority of its stores are on the east coast. Dirty dishwater.
Tim Horton’s – Just don’t. Really, just don’t. Whether regular, or dark roast it always tastes burnt.
Pilot – Found at Flying J stops. Surprisingly drinkable. Not much depth, or complexity. Still, there isn’t the immediate thought to toss it in the garbage bin.
Subway – It’s K-cup coffee. Enough said.
Burger King – Drinkable, although I’m not sure how fresh it always is. And it can be just warm, not hot.
Country Time – Thin, watery and bitter. Maybe it’s bitter because of jealousy over being in 3rd, or 4th place in the doughnut store wars.
McDonald’s – Actually pretty good for chain coffee. It’s also consistent. Not bitter.
On the Go – Another gas station brand. Bitter and burnt. It’s like drinking tar thinned with paint remover with a similar aroma. Really unpleasant.
A&W – I can’t talk about it. It’s too new. The trauma is just too great.
I managed to find a really decent cup of coffee at a Sobey’s Express in Nova Scotia. It came from a Keurig machine, but the beans were ground fresh for each cup. It was hot, had some cocoa notes and a hint of natural sweetness.
Now, if you want really good coffee of course the chains are not the place to go. Independent coffee shops are where it’s at. Not all of those are good, certainly. Here a few that I found stood well above the rest.
In New Brunswick, Grains de Folie in Caraquet makes a lovely cup of coffee. They’re also known for their latté art. Ask Jean-Pascale to make you a lobster. The bakery makes really good breads, as well.
Picadilly Coffee in Sussex, NB is a boutique coffee roaster. They sell brewed coffee as well and make a mean Americano. The selection of roasted beans is excellent and they’ll grind to your requested coarseness if you wish. The shop carries a selection of baked goods and pastries from the Sussex Bake Shop, which are all quite good. The granola bar and cinnamon buns stand out, especially. The business is female-owned and all the staff are female, so it’s well worth supporting a female entrepreneur.
Samuel’s Coffee House in Summerside (there’s a seasonal shop in Cavendish, too) makes an especially fine cup. It’s smooth, not bitter, has a depth and complexity of flavour and is a pleasure to sit and sip. While you’re doing that, try the date square, also.
Columbia Coffee in Aldergrove BC brews a really nice cup of coffee. Their Nicaraguan medium roast has a pleasant natural sweetness and none of the grassiness that some medium roasts (that aren’t really medium) can have. They also sell whole beans and have a really good selection of crêpes both savoury and sweet.