Friday, 11 April 2014

The Great Coffee Hunt

I read a comment recently that the first thing Australians look for overseas is - and I quote - "a decent coffee".

There's some truth to this. Decades after its emergence from the Italian migrant community into the wider population, Australia's espresso-based coffee culture has achieved a high degree of quality and consistency.

You can even get a good coffee in Australian country towns nowadays, which were long looked upon as a kind of caffeine terra incognita.

Partly because our coffee culture is so heavily based on the espresso machine, we tend to look askance at filtered coffee in any form when overseas, and positively recoil from instant coffee.

So there is a tendency, I have noticed, for a cafe search to be one of the first tasks I undertake when arriving in a new country or city.

And what that search highlights is the great range of technological tools we have at our disposal now.

Take Canada, for example. When travelling across that vast country last September with Narrelle, I used a variety of IT-related means to locate good cafes.

Having arrived early in the day in Vancouver, and being desperate for a coffee, I DMed via Twitter my travel writer colleague Nikki Bayley, who's a Vancouver resident.

As it turned out, she was in Seattle - but that didn't stop her guiding us to a great cafe and chocolate-maker, East Van Roasters, in Gastown.

In Victoria, on Vancouver Island, I started our first day by Googling "hipster cafe Victoria Canada" on my iPhone.

I often find this type of search useful - it usually turns up quite a few people who've typed "bloody hipster cafe" or worse, but leads me closer to the target.

Between that and a look through the Urbanspoon app, we found a great local place, Tre Fantastico, in a street away from the tourist hub.

Later that day, some more Google searches and a glance at the Yelp app found us a handy laundromat in the James Bay Area - and by chance, the excellent Discovery Coffee next door (see photo above).

On our first full day in Montreal, we were led to a lively modern breakfast place, Olive + Gourmando, not far from our hotel in the Old Town - this time by consulting the Lonely Planet Montreal app.

Later, we were walking through the downtown when I decided to have a look at the Beanhunter app. Though it tends to be a bit light-on when it comes to Canadian listings, it successfully led us to the excellent Pikolo.

Twitter, apps, Google searches - it's amazing the power we now have to undertake such specific research while on the move.

Mind you, nothing beats a personal recommendation. On my previous visit to Montreal, I'd been standing in the queue to order at Olimpico, a popular hipster hangout in Mile End.

I got talking with the woman in front of me about the difference between a Caffe Americano and a Café Allongé, the latter which I'd only noticed on offer in Quebec (and was the closest thing I'd found to an Australian long black).

When she heard of my interest in researching cafes, she pointed me to a new nearby cafe which she said was good, and served spectacular doughnuts alongside the coffee.

It was Cafe Sardine, and she was right. A great find, and discovered without the aid of technology at all.