Wednesday, February 24, 2010

28 Reasons I Love Hamilton... Reason 24

Why write 28 reasons I love Hamilton?

1. Hamilton is a CITY.
2. Location
3. Size (population)
4. Scale
5. Creativity and the arts
6. Buildings
7. Nature

8. Film industry
9. Markets and restaurants
10. Trails, paths, and running routes
11. Gore Park
12. Climate
13. Safety
14. Landscapes and views
15. The ability to live modestly
16. Sports teams
17. Schools
18. Entertainment options
19. The churches and (other faith groups)
20. Festivals and events
21. History
22. Waterfront
23. Small businesses

24. Coffee

Normally, I carry a travel mug. Usually it's filled with tea from home, although some mornings I'll grind and brew coffee. I like cream in my coffee, and it's a rare coffee I can drink black. But I don't drink enough coffee to buy cream, so I use milk.... or I just go out and buy a coffee if I want a really good one.

I read this book in high school that piqued my interest... then found out a lot more about coffee. I worked at Second Cup and a few other places. And no matter what I'm in the mood for, in Hamilton, I can get it.

Let me start with another story, though.

I never liked Kraft Dinner. I can eat it about three bites when it's really hot, right out of the pot. And then I look at the rest and my stomach turns. The store stuff is even worse.

About two years ago, I had real, homemade macaroni and cheese for the first time. And it was glorious. There were breadcrumbs and real cheese and the texture was completely different.

It intrigued me enough to look at recipes for fancy mac and cheese using exotic cheeses, with lobster and crab, or even truffles shaved in. Even if I'd never eat them, knowing those versions existed was neat... and I make much simpler versions of homemade mac and cheese once every few months now.

Coffee's much the same. Starting to understand there was more out there than perked "church coffee" made a whole new world open up to me... and I'm hooked.

And that's why I use my highly scientific "macaroni and cheese" comparison scale to talk about coffee quality. It's probably going to be useful in this post.

Of course, Tim Hortons started here. I've got a donut or two from that particular store. And although St. Catharines edges us out slightly for Tims-per-square-kilometre, we've still got enough Tim Hortons to keep the entire city running.

Because this is the Kraft Dinner of the coffee world. It's reliable, dependable, it's addictive, and it'll keep you truckin' through your day. However, once you've had the real thing, you'll never mistake Tim's for it again, and you do realize one day it will probably kill you. But you just keep going back - familiarity, availability, and cost keep it the cheapest drug we've got.

And boy, is there far worse coffee than Tim's. It could be "store brand" stuff that's only good for perking... or the chemical, foul equivalent to the mac and cheese you pick up in a dollar store. Luckily Hamilton is low on these. I did have the worst coffee of my life in a truck stop in Indiana last year. Fun times!

Thankfully, most Hamilton coffee is either KD-dependable - or edging towards the homemade mac and cheese level of quality. Even the fancy stuff at some places.

And there's a lot of great high-quality coffee at reasonable prices.

I'm willing to pay an extra quarter for that quality, especially when it's fair-trade as well. (If I can afford to buy a coffee that day, I can afford the extra quarter. I may not be rich, but relatively speaking, I'm a ridiculously wealthy North American consumer. I don't begrudge the quarter - or even two quarters.)

There's lots of independent shops - many of them run by passionate small business owners:
My Dog Joe's (with a James North location opening soon)
(and there's other coffeehouses on James North too)
Heart of the Hammer
Bread and Roses
Westdale Cafe (not only fair trade coffee and tea, but sustainable materials used for the finishes and floors)
Bad Dog Cafe
Grandad's Donuts (they may be a chain, but small enough to fit in here for me. Great donuts!)
FRWY (excellent cafe in spite of limited hours - volunteer-run, nonprofit)
Harbour Diner does more than coffee, but deserves a mention for their excellent $1 fair trade coffee with unlimited refills

There's chains too.
Williams (the waterfront is the most well-known one, but also near Mac and Mount Hope)
Second Cup (They sell La Minita, so I forgive them the awful/raucous Westdale location.)
Starbucks (several locations, from Locke to Ancaster to Upper James. I got caught in the Upper James location once during an EPIC rainstorm. The power was out for hours. Locke's a location I can get a lot of work done in)

And there's coffee roasters too - buying your coffee from these guys is a great way to shop locally.
Red Hill Coffee Trade
Detour Coffee
Speakeasy (haven't heard anything from them lately, but the store's still functional and their Twitter's still updated)
Bread and Roses also roasts coffee now.

That said, we could use many more coffeehouses. Heart of the Hammer opening up was encouraging - great hours and great selection.

Gore Park desperately needs a coffeehouse that can work as a meeting/work space by day and by night, not just a pit stop for caffeine refueling - and a central location like that means some of the condo dwellers would be drawn into the park, students would have a destination to stay in Gore Park for besides switching buses, and business people would have a place to go. (And I wouldn't have to travel to Westdale or Locke to plug in a laptop and concentrate for a few hours - although now Heart of the Hammer is a closer option).

Sure, Mr. Gaggia and I will meet one day when I have disposable income and counter space. Until then, I'll enjoy a cup of joe from My Dog Joe or good old Tim Hortons.

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