Optimistically Cautious

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Transcend Coffee

I'm a little torn on whether or not I should even write a review on our visit to Transcend Coffee (9869 62 Avenue), consistently lauded in the media and by local foodies for their approach to coffee. Granted, we had huge expectations, particularly after our sojourn to Calgary's Phil & Sebastian's, for an equally fantastic experience. But I'm sad to say that Transcend didn't live up to the hype.

Surrounded by industrial buildings and warehouses, we weren't sure what the inside of Transcend would look like. Turns out, they probably ended up choosing the off-the-beaten-path location more for cheap rent than anything else, as they had two whole floors to themselves, with the main floor divided into a retail front space with limited seating and a coffee "laboratory" and roasting area in a separate room in the back.

Count me as surprised when I spotted a Clover on the counter...I guess we didn't have to head south after all to test out fresh French-pressed coffee. Anyway, I approached the barista with this open question, which in hindsight, probably wasn't the right way to start off a conversation: "We're new. Can you provide us with an introduction?" She probed us for our usual coffee preferences, and after telling her that we wanted a lighter brew, she recommended the Ethiopia Yirgacheffe. We ordered two regular Clover-brewed cups, which came to $5.

Though I understand that not every independent cafe employee is as outgoing and passionate as the one we encountered at Phil & Sebastian's, it is difficult not to directly compare the two. Transcend's barista really wasn't chatty, and as we surveyed the room, it seemed to us that the Transcend crowd was made up entirely of regulars. That morning anyway, we felt like the odd patrons out.

After an abbreviated wait, we were given two filled coffee-press vessels and two Bodum double-walled glasses. We headed to the second floor to access their additional seating area, and found that we had the room to ourselves. While quiet, the furnishings had us thinking we had infiltrated someone's home office and living room - between the desk and open files on one side, a mishmash of furniture, and a television in the corner, we didn't feel as "at home" as we were supposed to.

Our coffee had a light brown hue to it, almost the color it takes on after the addition of milk. It was thin, and to me, had acidic notes to it, though Mack disagreed with that assertion. He remarked about its lack of an aftertaste, but we both noted that it probably wasn't the type meant to provide that morning jolt - we were ready for more after finishing our cups. After my second brush with Clover-brewed coffee, I'm starting to question whether or not it does make a difference, at least to me. I hope the coffee tasting Mack and I are planning to attend later this spring will shed some light on specialty beans and brewing processes.

Perhaps Phil & Sebastian's spoiled me, or perhaps I shouldn't be looking for an "experience" at a cafe, but there has to be something (like the people and the passion behind the coffee) that sets the independents apart from the Starbucks and Second Cups of the world.


At the bar

Second floor seating area

Our coffees

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