Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Caffé Fantastico (Kings Rd)

Address: 965 Kings Rd.
Phone: (250) 385-2326
Price: $2-5 
Notes: Home of the yuppie-hippies and artists. Free wifi. Prickly customer service.

Caffe Fantastico

Fantastico really is fantastic. A good cup of coffee is so... so... I don't think there's a word for it in the English language. It makes me want to do the Italian kiss of the hand to lips. It reminds me of good sashmi, so perhaps I can steal the Japanese word "umami." Caffé Fantastico coffee is just so um, earthy? rich? I'm bad at describing words, and it feels too pretentious but it does taste Right to me. Like pure, hot, dark coffee with no other distracting flavours.

They are pretty much the anti-starbucks, and I'm dead certain they set out to be that way! I've often spoken about the fact that Fantastico will serve the coffee their way, not your way. This is totally true. If you ask for a triple venti latte with hazelnut you will not be served. They don't do any of those things. If you miss the small window on a Saturday morning when they serve delicious pain au chocolat that's your problem, not theirs. For some inexplicable reason, they don't have sleeves for their to-go cups (environmental concerns? discouraging take-out not in your own mug? who knows! I've started bringing my own fabric sleeve...) But your coffee will be the best you've ever had, so there is a trade off.

This location is a bit more hippie and eclectic than the others (although I don't know about the soon to be or recently opened location in James Bay). The furniture all looks free or reclaimed and vintage, and the art on the walls is always fantastic and edgy. It's got a comfyness that I love, it somehow never feels crowded or chaotic no matter how big the line is, or how many people are in there. I think it's the lay out and the giant windows.

June 7, 2011
Teeth-gritting, rant-inducing service today. Bear with me.

Was needing my espresso beans ground for me. This is always a tricky thing partially because it's nearly impossible to get the perfect grind for our fussy espresso machine, and it needs it ground much finer than most home machines ever will (it makes amazing coffee but is kind of grumpy about the grind).  Part of the problem is that I have an annoying but complete and total inability to remember numbers so I can't just say 'grind it to x' I have to kind of try to remember what each individual coffee shop's settings are (plus each individual espresso seems to need it's own setting. Sigh! Really, really need to save up for a proper home grinder and avoid all this!)

I do so love it when I say (in what I hope is my least-pretentious voice) "I need it ground super fine for my Rancilio espresso maker" and the barista says "aha! I can do that!" Because I know I have a) earned coffee nerd points for having a good machine and b) they won't second guess the super-fine part and will give me what I need. I try to buy my beans at places with people who tend to be more informed about coffee culture for this very reason - I want to get what I need without quibbling.

Admittedly, I always second guess myself when I get to this part. I have, on embarrassing occasion, gotten it ground too fine.  And okay, so I have worked in customer service too and it did make me hate people so I understand the disgruntled thing a little bit but for me, it never came out with nice customers only the annoying ones and it pains me to think of myself as annoying when I am trying really hard not to be. Ultimately, there is a gentler way to have this conversation with potentially stupid customer (see: the time one of the Fantastico owners tried to talk me out of "the finest you can do" and did not succeed because I was a stubborn customer who thought I was right when I was wrong. But she was really, really nice about it!)

When I explained my machine and the setting I wanted I got a blank look and then some confusing questioning about what kind of machine it was. Or at least I was confused in the moment, it makes more sense now - but honestly! "Really loud" is relative and it has a pump but also does steam so I'm not sure how to answer when the questioning feels like I'm in the skit from Quest for the Holy Grail on the Bridge of Death ("What is your favourite colour..." "Blue! No! Yello.... AAAAAAAUUUUGGHHHHH!"). When the conversation ended with "ok... good luck with that" I was definitely not feeling the customer service love. Yuck!

February 13, 2011
Okay, maybe I'm starting to find fault in the service. I felt a little judged for choosing skim milk because apparently it screws with their fancy pour because it doesn't have any fat in the milk.

January 8, 2011
Usually I'm prepared for the service to be a little brusque, but today the guy running the till was friendly and funny and helpful. The wee boy in the line in front of me was very sad they had no pain au chocolat, but he was told that it was a shame that a boy as adorable as him in his snazzy fedora didn't get to have a chocolate croissant. However, when his dad asked for his espresso macchiato in a latte cup with a little bit of extra foam instead, the barista told him there was too much of a line to make it customized - classic Fantastico service right there, I tell ya! Still, the barista sniffed every shot he poured for quality control, and there was someone who had the sole job of steaming milk to perfection... it's just so detail-oriented I can't find fault! I just can't...

June 7, 2011
Just poured my Causeway espresso through my machine and it came out perfectly which is exciting since for months now we've accidentally purchased grounds from other places way too big for our machine, resulting in passable but sub-par espresso. 

Please note: I was never an espresso snob until we bought our own machine. Coffee was coffee was coffee. Then, we started to taste the espresso we made before adding other things to it. Now I know what burnt espresso tastes like. Now I cringe at Starbucks 95% of the time... but save oodles by making my own at home instead. 

February 13, 2011
I still like it with skim.  Often you can taste the coffee better, I swear! Not for macchiatos, but lattes or africanos... *shrug*

January 8, 2011

Today my "Africano" (they don't call it an americano misto here, as I have been frequently chastised...) wasn't as good as usual, but it might have been because they accidentally poured the wrong drink twice (although they caught their own mistake both times, and it was an honest mistake) so I feel like there wasn't as much Love in it as usual. Don't get me wrong, it was still a freaking amazing cup of coffee. I just didn't feel the heavens open up and bathe me in a shining light of OH YEAH, THAT'S GOOOOD STUFF.


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