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   “We wanted to open a coffee shop that played kick-ass music and served kick-ass coffee; a shop that we’d want to hang out in ourselves,’ echo Matthew Taylor and Douglas Tiller, partners in Mercury Espresso Bar. It’s a great point and perhaps the real secret to growing their successful Leslieville café even as Starbucks moved in up the steet.

 

No doubt, Starbucks are masters at providing a consistent quality of coffee in a bland, homogeneous, cookie cutter space where everyone feels welcome but nobody feels quite at home, with an exception of course for those people who really feel a connection with bland and homogeneous.

 

Mercury Espresso Bar is everything that Starbucks isn’t. The baristas are passionate about what they’re doing and know more about coffee than their customers. A lot more… Go figure.

 

Mathew is a musician and plays in a couple bands, drums and guitar, meaning music is very important around this joint. Beyond a couple house rules which ban playing classical or jazz music or wearing a beret, the baristas play whatever they like. The music is diverse and sometimes loud. It’s definitely not for all of the people all of the time, and this is a very good thing.

 

Starbucks consistent quality of coffee, doesn’t mean that it’s good. It simply means that it’s dependable, that no matter what country you’re in, or what planet you’re on, there will be a Starbucks, and they will serve you the same cup of coffee. What separates Mercury Espresso Bar from Starbucks more than anything else?  It’s that Mercury actually serves great coffee!... even kick-ass coffee. Of late, this is thanks to an important figure behind the rise of the specialty coffee movement, George Howell.

 

After drinking a lot of Peet’s Coffee in Berkley California back in the late ‘60s Howell moved to Boston where he has described the coffee he found as ‘vile,’ and set about to change things. Some 20 years later, in 1994, Howell sold out his Boston area chain ‘Coffee Connection’ to Starbucks for a ton of Starbuck’s stock. (Worth about ½ billion today!)

 

Extensive travel throughout the coffee growing regions, including working with the United Nations on sustainability issues, eventually led Howell to help found ‘Cup Of Excellence,’ an important series of competitions that sees farmers growing the best coffee, receive maximum remuneration for their efforts.

 

Today, Howell is back in the roasting business with his Terroir Coffee Company. No fan of ‘Charbucks,’ Howell focuses much of his time on light roasts and Single Origin beans: single origin, as in from one area or maybe even one farm but not blended with beans from another area or country. As of last November Mercury began testing out Howell’s coffee and now brew it exclusively. Beans are delivered fresh weekly from Howell’s roasting facility just outside of Boston.

 

The espresso currently being served at Mercury is called Alchemy and is a seasonal Costa Rican, Brazilian blend along with a single origin from El Salvador. (I’m told an Ethiopian, Yirgacheffe is also coming soon!)

 

The daily brew is currently from Burudi. If you have a little extra time on your hands one afternoon, treat yourself to Chemex or Siphon pour. It costs a little more, but not more than say, a glass of wine. For coffee lovers the Chemex cuts bitterness while enhancing flavor. The Burundi I drank, black, was clean, lightly sweet and delicious. I’d also recommend the Chemex as an excellent brewing method for anyone trying to kick the milk and sugar habit.

 

While I would drive across town to try a cup of Howell’s coffee, my ideal shop would also provide options for locally roasted coffee, and there are many great choices available. But that’s just me and Mathew and Douglas are clear in their understanding that you can’t please everyone. As one of the first excellent, and longest standing neighborhood joints on the now thriving Queen East café strip, who’s to argue?

 

Scones and cookies are from Circles and Squares. Croissants are from Le Matine…

 

Mon.-Fri. 6:30 a.m.- 8:00 p.m.,  Sat. – 7-8,   and Sun. 8-8

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Comment by Bob Gundu on July 13, 2011 at 9:23pm
Hooked was playing Rush too. Go Geddy!!!!
Comment by sandracurzon on June 9, 2011 at 2:19pm

do tell

Comment by sandracurzon on June 9, 2011 at 12:10pm

Tearo is a great shop too - try the "flat white", sort of a short latte with no foam - in my opinion this is the best cup on Queen!

 

S

Comment by Roots of Health Nutrition on June 8, 2011 at 9:02am
Great read. Love your coffee and your coffeeshop!
Comment by Mark Cutforth on June 8, 2011 at 12:40am
Ha... They use automatic espresso machines which involves mostly pushing buttons. But since I hadn't been to a Starbucks in awhile I dropped by the Lakeshore-Leslieville location for an espresso a couple weeks ago and it was beyond extract... entering freeze dried zone... OMG! With enough milk and sugar, I'm sure it would have been totally drinkable...  but I was very pleased with the speedy service!
Comment by Mark Cutforth on June 8, 2011 at 12:11am
Hi, Andre... In fairness, the guys at Mercury didn't have anything bad to say about Starbucks. But Howard Schultz himself couldn't keep a straight face and tell you his company can compete on coffee quality. The company is simply too vast, with 17,000 plus stores, to maintain any real standard of freshness... and they long ago realized that convenience and efficiency were the keys to their juggernaut. For example, all of the gear at Starbucks is automated, so the baristas might as well be pulling Giant Slurpees at the 7-Eleven, for all the control they have over pulling you a great shot. No doubt Starbucks deserves some respect for getting the whole specialty coffee movement rolling... but none of the local cafe owners I've spoken with have had anything bad to say about them: they'd just like us stop by, say hello, maybe give them try... and with so many great choices in Leslieville, why not?
Comment by Andre Gratton on June 7, 2011 at 9:45pm
Couldn't agree more that Mercury is a great little coffee place serving excellent coffee.....what you do NOT need to do is compare yourselves to Starbucks.  They have their reasons for existing, and this article is all about you.....Flaunt your strenghts big time folks always nice to see great entrepreneurs doing good things.
Comment by sandracurzon on June 7, 2011 at 5:09pm
Cool factor and coffee? You are spending 3 bucks...it's not a night club!:)
Comment by Maggie on June 7, 2011 at 1:47pm
Wow, Christine I am sorry you feel that way!  You know, kids can be, ahem, "cool" and also enjoy "hip" new tunes... Do me a favour and have your coffee to stay next time and you may find you may actually enjoy their company!!  And, as an aside, I bet my 2 year old (who is more hip than me) knows more of the lyrics to the new Bill Callahan than you do ;).  I am truly sorry if in your eyes, I have participated in killing cool.  Oh, and I agree, they have the best coffee on Queen.
Comment by Christine B on June 6, 2011 at 7:41pm
i LOVED mercury.  we went there 3-4 times a week when they first opened and enjoyed the great and crazy ambiance of the place.  then it became 'mercury day care' full of strollers and children and the cool factor died.   they still make the best coffee of along queen east, but for me it's now take out only.

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