Follow Me Foodie to Van Houtte Coffee Bootcamp in Old Montreal!
As I said in my Follow Me Foodie to Montreal & Quebec City post, “my life is like a box of chocolates”, or in this case it’s more accurate to say a “box of K-Cups”. In particular “velvety and fruity” K-Cups.
Before I start I just want to quickly recap my thoughts about Van Houtte, which I wrote in my Follow Me Foodie to Montreal & Quebec City post yesterday. I knew it only as the “gas station coffee” and I compared it to places like Starbucks, Second Cup, and Blenz. I actually somewhat still do, and although it’s not the best coffee, it is a brand that is passionate about the coffee culture in general. They don’t claim to be the best and they aren’t a boutique style coffee shop, so I only have so many expectations for it. However, they do have 90+ years of experience as master coffee roasters and they certainly taught me more than a thing or two about coffee.
Regardless if you’re a coffee drinker or not, you may find this post fascinating. I’m not about to convince you why you should drink coffee, or buy into the coffee culture of anything to that degree, because that’s all up to you, but I must say I’ve never experienced coffee at so many angles until lately. This post is more about my experience with it and what I learned.
I was recently invited to Old Montreal for a Van Houtte Coffee Getaway, which I call “coffee bootcamp”. Mind you the heaviest thing I lifted was a coffee cup, but the exercise was really for my palate. From visiting the Van Houtte factory and cafes, to “cupping” and doing coffee pairings with food, wine, cupcakes and chocolate it was almost Coffee 101, or Coffee 2011, in just over 3 days.
The Keurig Machine & K-Cups
It all started with the K-Cups and the Keurig machine. I’ve seen the fancy machines in offices and even at some newer hotels, but now I have it at home (as a gift from Van Houtte). Yup! Christmas came early this year! It’s kind of like the coffee machine of the 21st century. I’m not sure how it compares to others of its kind, but taking it as is, I think it has its pros and cons.
I like it for the main reason of each person having the opportunity to select their own K-Cup, and personalizing their own single cup of coffee. However, I really don’t like it for the same reason. It’s actually quite wasteful and I’m not a fan of the plastic K-Cups, so I do hope they look into biodegradable materials.
I did raise my plastic concern while I was on my Van Houtte factory tour and they did have an answer. Water and air is pretty much the worse things coffee grounds can be exposed to, and biodegradable material won’t protect it so that’s why they have to use plastic. I’d actually like to do more research on this, but as always my blog is open for discussion and I’d love to hear your comments below.
Visiting the Van Houtte Coffee Factory
I recently went to Jamaica where I was able to visit the Blue Mountains and the Blue Mountains coffee bean farm. It’s the birthplace of one of the best coffees in the world – see my post here. However this was my first time actually visiting the coffee factory and witnessing the production process.
Visiting the Van Houtte factory was quite incredible. As soon as I stepped foot on their property I could smell the roasting of coffee beans in the air. I was imagining it to be like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but instead of Charlie we would be greeted by an old little man with a mustache (that wasn’t for Movember), and instead of chocolate it was going to be coffee.
It was all in my head that it was going to be run by energetic oompa loompas operating gigantic machines and roasting truck loads of coffee beans, but only part of that was true. There was no Mr. Van Houtte, and I did see loads of coffee beans and gigantic machines, but surprisingly they were being roasted in relatively small batches. It wasn’t a single person hand roasting the beans, but they do use traditional European small batch roasters and slow roasting techniques.
Cupping 101 & Coffee Flavour Profiles
After a tour of the production process we were taken for “cupping”. Okay, but it’s not what you think! But wait, what are you thinking? Are you thinking that episode of Friends when Chandler uses Joey’s tailor and experiences “cupping” when he gets his pants measured? Ew. I know! It took me a while to get over that association with the word “cupping” too. But anyways, the word “cupping” in reference to coffee is totally innocent. Cupping is actually the art of tasting coffee, and it’s very similar to wine tastings and almost done the same way.
When I was able to slurp and swish and do back to back comparisons with different beans I really discovered my flavour profile. Initially I took the “Discover Your Coffee Profile” quiz on the Van Houtte website and my flavour profile came out as “Fruity and Velvety”. I questioned it’s accuracy, but after the cupping session I actually ended up picking out the “Fruity and Velvety” coffee as my favourite. I also took a liking to “Velvety and Woodsy”, so I definitely noticed how texture plays an importance on my palate. The whole experience was really unique and I was honestly excited about the whole discovery. It was an epiphany!
There are so many factors in coffee tasting and if you don’t like it, it could be just the brand, quality, way it was roasted or brewed, or the flavour profile that wasn’t for you. If discovering your coffee profile interests you, you can take the short quiz here, and if you want to prepare a cupping session at home you can see how to do it here.
Coffee & Chocolate Pairings
The tour ended with a coffee and chocolate pairing, which I’ve never even considered. The idea isn’t far fetched and I’ve done a Chocolate 101 Tasting Class at Xoxolat in Vancouver, BC, but pairing them with coffee was a whole other story. Vancouver’s own chocolatier Wendy Boys of Choolico actually paired her handmade chocolates with coffees according to flavour profiles.
Personally, I’ve always preferred milk or tea with chocolate, but trying it with coffee was quite interesting. If I wasn’t given the opportunity to do the chocolate and coffee pairings I probably wouldn’t have even realized the play in combinations. Just like wine and food, there were pairings that stood out above others, but generally I saw the exercise as a fun activity to do with chocohalics and coffee drinkers.
Coffee & Cupcake Pairings
We also ended up doing a coffee and cupcake pairing, which was again interesting, but not as good as the coffee and chocolate pairing. Sure, it’s comparing apples to oranges, but chocolate and coffee are ingredients that really go hand in hand. Cupcakes and coffee isn’t unusual, but let’s just say the cocoa bean and coffee bean have a lot more in common.
The coffee and cupcake pairings were arranged with complementary flavours and contrasting favours and I tried them all. Again, certain combinations worked better than others, but the whole experience was more for fun. Of course as a foodie, I probably took it more seriously, but that’s just me.
The Coffee Scene in Montreal
Although I was invited on a Van Houtte Coffee Getaway I still went off to explore the Montreal coffee scene on my own. I barely made a dent since there’s so many coffee shops, but at least I had something to compare to, and bring me back to a more neutral standpoint.
I was able to try a latte and a cappuccino at the Van Houtte Cafe and they actually did a really good job, and it did taste better than what I would do at home. It actually tasted better than the Van Houtte coffee from the gas stations in Vancouver and it’s definitely due to the fact that it’s being freshly brewed by trained staff or baristas. This is likely a characteristic of many brands though and the same thing happened to me with Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee.
I was surprised most by the cappuccino because of the technique. The cappuccinos in Montreal have a frothy thick foam on top that hold to a spoon even when upside-down (not exactly right), which is unlike typical cappuccinos we get in Vancouver that look more like lattes (not quite right either). The cappuccino above is from and another cafe, but the Van Houtte cappuccinos did the same. See my post for the proper cappuccino foam here.
Last, but not least I went to Cafe Myriad, which is arguably the best coffee shop and coffee in Montreal. It is a small boutique style coffee roaster so it’s incomparable to Van Houtte. It’s higher end, pricier and at another level altogether. The quality was excellent and they use some beans from 49th Parallel, but as a small coffee roaster it may face minor issues of inconsistency. Generally Cafe Myriad was the most recommended by Montrealers that are heavily invested in the coffee scene.
I ordered a regular filtered coffee and it was noticeably different. It tasted really clean, fruity, acidic yet bold. It was a bit sweet initially and then quite tart and I would consider it an excellent coffee in the overall coffee scene. So if you’re in Montreal, you may want to check this out as well.
I also tried a cappuccino from Cafe Myriad and it came out looking more like a Vancouver version of a cappuccino. I had gotten used to the Montreal style which was reminiscent of a European cappuccino with thick frothy foam on top, but this was almost like a latte. It was still very good, but the style was unexpected. There’s still endless amount of coffee shops to explore in Montreal, but as a tourist, I would be content stopping at Cafe Myriad as my one gourmet coffee experience.