I love finding good coffee, and I also love supporting independent cafés. Good thing Montréal has both, and some of my favourite cafés can be found downtown, in the Plateau, and the Mile End. Le Hip-Hop Café is a relatively new addition to the Mile End neighbourhood and I had been meaning to drop by and check out the place since it opened in February. Mind you, the establishment situated at the corner of avenue Parc and rue Villeneuve is not just a café but more of a business with a concept — one that happens to offer good coffee and eats but operates for the purpose of promoting hip hop culture in Montréal.
How is everyone’s Labour Day weekend going? Mine is actually quite boring; I have been at home doing work as I have several deadlines this month even though the new school year for me officially starts on Tuesday. Regardless, I managed to enjoy the outdoors by fitting in some long runs to the mountain here in Montréal — Mont Royal (Mount Royal for anglos) — to practise some long runs and hill work. I absolutely love the mountain, which is only about 3 kilometres from my home. I will share some photos of the mountain and park in the near future, so look out for a future post on Mont Royal.
As I mentioned, I have been working from home but about half, or perhaps more than half, of the time I like to work in cafés. There are some excellent cafés here in the city, with most providing free Wi-Fi for its customers — I know, we’re spoiled that we don’t have to pay for WiFi in cafés in Montréal unlike many cities in North America. So what usually happens is that I perch myself at a café all day which can be a nice reprieve from being holed alone in my apartment. There are so many great cafés in Montréal and I definitely have my favourites, but I also love discovering new ones. Last month, my friend and I were doing some vintage furniture shopping in The Village and we came across Pourquoi Pas Espresso Bar just north of the hustle and bustle of rue Sainte-Catherine.
La Croissanterie Figaro
5200 Rue Hutchison (west of Parc at Fairmont)
Montréal, QC H2V 4B3
It was a cold day here in Montréal when my friend and I were walking in the Mile End neighbourhood and thought to warm up in a nice café. Did I ever mention how much I love cafés? I love visiting them for low-key outings though nowadays I am there to only do work.
We decided to revisit La Croissanterie Figaro after I dropped in during December to order their avocado and tofu sandwich, fondly recommended to me by Hilary. On this occasion, we came to sit in the popular crowded café bordering the Outremont and Mile End neighbourhoods of Montréal to try their freshly baked croissants and alcoholic coffee beverages.
[Image Credits: @tomoko]
Hilary might not enjoy Starbucks, but I sure do. Yup, I know they are a monopoly on the verge of taking over the world (Number 2, the character in the movie Austin Powers, is the sole shareholder) and their roasts are way to dark for the palate. But I am a sucker for any good study spots where I can camp out with WiFi for hours, and Starbucks is one of them. I actually jumped in glee when a new location opened up in my neighbourhood and loved that they played The xx’s Stars in the background. For sure I support the other cafés in my neighbourhood, but I definitely do not discount Starbucks as an option.
Well, for Tokyo-based Tomoko Shintani, she visits Starbucks for the purpose of being at Starbucks. That is, she does not go there to study or work like I do, but her Starbucks visit is for the purpose of creating illustrations using Starbucks paraphernalia. Her black and white drawings are unapologetically cutesy and girly, and Tomoko uses her Staedtler pens to incorporate her mugs and paper cups into her drawings. You can follow her on Instagram @tomoko. More of her illustrations follow below.
I have a profound distaste for Starbucks coffee, and I know many others feel the same way. I find most of their coffee-based products thoroughly revolting, and I broadcast this opinion to as many people as possible, or commiserate with them, depending on my audience. I have even taken it upon myself to devise creative tweets about the company. Indeed, a friend and I collectively decided that a new Starbucks coffee slogan could be “Starbucks coffee: tastes like ashes, roasting on a fire, in the deepest pits of a Dantean hell”, and that the Internet deserves, and needs to know this.
My disdain for Starbucks isn’t noble — it has less to do with the fact that they have sucked the soul out of neighborhoods by putting mom and pop cafes out of business and turning consumers into robots, and everything to do with their crummy coffee. I do not consider myself a “coffee snob”. I have heard people proudly declaring themselves as coffee snobs, whatever that means. I am not one. In fact, I don’t drink it all that often, and am more of a tea drinker myself. I suppose then that it may seem bizarre that I harbour such strong and negative feelings towards the company. I think it stems from a naive belief that if you’re that big, with such a devoted client base, you should be delivering, at the very least, a satisfactory product, which I believe Starbucks fails to do for the most part.
This brings me to the green tea latte. I first discovered this beverage some time ago as a student in Montreal. I am of the loud, blaring music, crowds of people, school of studying – I have always tried my best to avoid libraries. I therefore often found myself in downtown cafes, and while the city centre is populated by a fair variety of coffee chains, Starbucks is by far the most prominent of them in terms of numbers and popularity (at least amongst my friends and classmates). I’ve spent hours and hours at Starbucks in various parts of town, and finding a tolerable beverage has always been a challenge. It was my friend who introduced me to the green tea latte, and while I strongly object to the current trend of food glamourisation/veneration, I have to say that this drink brings me a special joy. I usually order it with soy milk, and it’s frothy, creamy, flavourful yet comfortingly mild. Indeed, everything one looks for in a hot beverage.
It therefore saddens me that the one drink I can stomach at Starbucks is unavailable in the United Kingdom. Other novelty beverages seem to have enjoyed success in the UK – I noticed this fall, to my horror, that pumpkin spice lattes have made it to London. I mistakenly thought that the pumpkin-flavoured product craze was reserved to North America. Starbucks’s seasonally-themed drinks aren’t the only non-coffee based items to have successfully made it onto the UK menu. Frappuccinno, in their many varieties are on offer, and from my unscientific observations, seem to enjoy good sales. So why is it that the green tea latte has not made it over? Is it too wild and unconventional for the UK consumer? I wonder whether Starbucks has made a conscious decision to exclude it from the British product mix, or whether it has been altogether neglected across EMEA, which I expect it is, given that the UK is the most US-like in consumer tastes as compared to the rest of Europe.
To get to the bottom of this I did a bit of investigating over the Internet. My research led me to the “Green Tea Latte for U.K. Starbucks” community on Facebook, which consists of a small but powerful group of 22 Likes. A member wrote in to Starbucks to inquire about the absence of the GTL on their British menu. Jessica, a Customer Care Specialist, thanked “Alec” for his feedback, and reassured him that the company regularly reviews its range to ensure a varied selection. She also pledged to share his comments with the development team.
I’m glad I’m not the only one who doesn’t understand the absence of this drink in the UK, but I find Starbucks’s response to Alec inadequate, much like their espresso. Despite Starbucks’s unclear and mysterious motivations to exclude GTLs from the UK, other chains have seen its appeal. EAT now includes the GTL on their menu, and I have even noticed small local coffee shops, like the Missing Bean in Oxford, serving it. Hopefully, Starbucks, as a global chain that has all but monopolized consumers’ coffee and hot beverage consumption, will eventually deliver a menu that is up-to-date with changing habits and tastes. In the mean time, I have discovered a few handy Youtube videos, and may try my hand at making a latte myself one of these days.