UNDER THE NORTHERN SKY
by Xavier Kataquapit
I love a great cup of coffee. I don’t like a good cup of coffee but a great one. If you have ever travelled to Italy, France or Spain then you have been spoiled and you realize what a great cup of coffee is.
Personally, as a born and bred Cree from the James Bay coast, I grew up on plain orange pekoe tea which was normally served with canned milk and plenty of sugar. When I attended high school in Timmins, I was introduced to our regular every day Northern Ontario coffee. It was more potent than any cup of tea and I was quickly addicted. However, I still hold onto my tea drinking roots and have my orange pekoe at the cottage or when I visit the wilderness and drink coffee in town.
My favourite coffee is the cappuccino. It is made of double espresso coffee and hot milk with the surface topped with foamed milk. It is not easy to make as you need a special espresso machine and a milk frother. I like this coffee because of it’s rich taste and smoothness. Sometimes I will have an espresso, which is a small shot of coffee in a tiny cup. I like that small amount of caffeine as opposed to the huge amount of liquid found in most regular coffees available in standard restaurants like McDonalds or Tim Horton’s. I don’t have to make so many visits to the washroom when I drink a tiny espresso.
Sadly, for many of us who have been spoiled by visits to Europe and major North American cities, these specialty coffee shops are not common in our northern cities. Although restaurants serve good coffee and Tim’s and McDonalds provide a decent cup of coffee, nothing beats a great coffee served up by a barista who knows how to use an incredibly expensive Italian espresso machine, a good frother, while using high quality fair trade or direct trade beans which are freshly ground in a premium grinder on site for every cup.
In the past decade or so I have noticed a few European style coffee shops pop up in Northern Ontario. There is Christopher’s in Timmins, which serves good specialty coffees, sweets and sandwiches, Vicky D’Amours Bakery well known for her pastries and Chat Noir Books & Games in New Liskeard which is more of a book store that has good coffee. Sudbury, Thunder Bay and North Bay are bigger centres so they have several specialty coffee shops.
You can imagine my surprise and delight when here in little old Kirkland Lake, the Plum Blossom Bakery Cafe opened up last winter. My friend Mike and I had been missing great coffee and pastries that we had become accustomed to in the city and of course all over Europe so when Steve and Sumei opened up their brand new coffee shop in the Kirkland Lake’s downtown core we were hoping for the best. On our first visit we were happy to find a very cozy and tastefully decorated coffee shop that reminded us of many we had visited in Italy and France. The best part of it all was that these two young entrepreneurs had knowledge of how to produce great coffee in many varieties and all kinds of other specialty drinks including teas. What we did not expect was that Sumei has an educational background in the culinary arts and her specialty is as a trained pastry chef. She has worked in a variety of premium cafes and restaurants in Montreal and Toronto. Steve, who has a mechanical background as a diesel engine specialist recently took training as a barista. It was hard to believe but a big city / European style specialty cafe had landed in the middle of Kirkland Lake.
Myself and my friend Mike have come to know Steve and Sumei very well as we enjoy our regular visits to savour a great cup of coffee and one of Sumei’s amazing cheese cakes, wonderful made from scratch cakes, parfaits to die for and a host of other delights. Steve and Sumei use only the very best ingredients right from the costly well sourced high grade coffee bean to all of the fresh ingredients for the daily sweets. These two are incredibly hard workers who have dedicated most of their time to produce a high quality specialty coffee shop in the middle of one of our wilderness northern cities. Lucky us.
Who knows maybe some day Sumei will try her hand at bannock, our Cree biscuit. I have no doubt that if she ever did I would end up eating the very best, and most sophisticated bannock ever served up in the north. Thanks to people like Steve and Sumei our little cities and towns up here in Northern Ontario are becoming a little more friendly and interesting with a touch of the best a big city or a trip to Europe has to offer.