Quebec City draws flocks of tourists each year with its old world charm and winter carnival. Strategically located on a cape that overlooks the widening St-Lawrence River, Old Quebec is a time capsule of 18th century life in North America. And since the city is also the provincial capital, it largely remains a bureaucrat’s town attached to local flavors and traditions.
Take coffee. Most Quebecers (most Canadians in fact…) tend to believe that Tim Horton’s ‘Dark Roast’ is the ‘summum’ of quality in coffee. Many think that a good café is a place where they roast their own coffee beans, no matter how they do it, and there are many ‘brûleries’ (roasteries) in Quebec City who serve all sorts of beverages…
But the town’s stony facades often hide cutting-edge small enterprises specializing in culture, communication or technology. There is a growing crowd of well travelled consumers who want to find near home what they are accustomed to drinking elsewhere in Canada or in the United States.
That’s why young coffee mavericks have gambled that there is a market for quality independent cafés in Quebec City. The urban renewal of St-Roch’s neighbourhood, ‘downtown’ (literally), has provided them with a perfect location to test their idea and the coffee lovers have embraced those few very goods spots who set themselves apart.
Since 2009, Nektar Caféologue is the reference for quality specialty coffees in Quebec City. The café has grown in size, the staff has become more knowledgeable and the clients have become regulars, but the co-owner Guillaume Michaud still has the same passion for coffee.
Nektar distinguishes itself with an outstanding selection of roasted coffees from many United States roasters: Intelligentsia, Metropolis, George Howell, as well as Canada’s own 49th Parallel, Pilot and Social, to name a few. Every day, there are multiple selections of both espressos and filters preparations, including a ‘Grand Cru’ featuring the top and newest arrivals.
All this coffee requires a training program, both for the staff and the general public. At Nektar, all the baristas know what they are serving and they can talk about it. A lot! Given the size of the selection and flow of clients, it shows a genuine dedication from all those who work at the café. Espresso drinks are prepared with a Nueva Simonelli Appia and there are multiple choices of filter brew methods.
Located on St-Joseph Street in St-Roch, the café has become a leader in the neighbourhood, and Michaud was among the instigators of ‘Cuisinez St-Roch’, a culinary festival, last September. With a growing reputation, it’s not surprising to see more and more tourists at Nektar.
Nektar Caféologue can be found at 235 St-Joseph E.
Brûlerie de café de Québec
There are many ‘brûleries’ in Quebec City, as we have said, but this is the one you should visit. The café occupies the ground floor of an old building on St-Jean Street, near the ‘Assemblée Nationale’ and Old Quebec. Many details—a stone wall, a brick fireplace, some wood storage—testify to past dwellers in the space, but the coffee scent has been here for some time now.
In fact, they've been selling coffee beans here since the eighties. The café is kind of a flagship for a group of four ‘brûleries’ elsewhere in the province. These days, the Diedrich roaster is used daily for small batches of single origin, microlot and/or Direct Trade products. There is a vast selection of coffees (up to 60) and regular costumers always inquire about new arrivals.
The espresso bar, a mainstay of Faubourg St-Jean, is the perfect place to taste those coffees. There is a whimsical ambiance in the café, highlighted by the funny use of coffee accessories in the window displays. The staff works on a small but efficient Elektra Sixties Compact.
Among the baristas, Jean-Daniel Lavoie is arguably one of the best in town. He made his first appearance at the Canadian National Barista Championship, earlier this fall, in Toronto. Passionate and knowledgeable, he competed with Brûlerie coffees and feels they are now at par with well known Third Wave brands.
Brûlerie De Café De Québec is located at 575 St-Jean.
Dose bar à café
The newest café in Quebec City (it opened at the end of October), Dose bar à café is located on busy Charest Street in the heart of St-Roch. The owner Daniel Hill got his inspiration from a Blue Bottle Coffee location in San Francisco, and he thinks that there is a demand for high-end quality coffees in this part of the neighborhood.
Not far from Nektar, Dose is a smaller café, bright with large bay windows, decorated with light wood counters and white plastic chairs and stools. The baristas work on a La Marzocco Linea PB espresso machine with coffee from Toronto’s Pilot Roasters, who helped out with the training of the staff. Hill reminded me that Pilot won the title of ‘microroasters of the year 2014’ in Canada and he feels they are really dedicated to getting the best coffees directly from the producer.
It’s obviously too early to know if Dose bar à café will evolve as a successful venture, but it represents a welcome addition to the city’s coffee scene.
Dose Bar à Café can be found at 542 Charest E.