A Brief Guide to Coffee in Downtown (Part 1 of 2)

I decided that I would do a little coffee tour while working on a grand rounds project in order to: a) keep myself thoroughly caffeinated and b) get my butt out of the house so I could get some work done. While I did not include all coffee shops in downtown Kingston, I managed to make it to 4 downtown staples. My apologies if I didn’t make it to a coffee shop that anyone really wanted me to check out.

I did not include Starbucks in this comparison as I felt that people will always go to Starbucks regardless of the quality of their coffee. The marketing machine is so powerful that I find myself buying a Creme Brulee Latte more often than I would like over the holidays.

My method was simple: A small single shot cappuccino. A small single shot latte. No special requests. No sugar. Let’s see what these baristas can do! First up was Sipps. It has a really nice location overlooking Market Square. You almost feel like you part of the heartbeat of the community.
coffee, espresso, cappuccino, Sipps, downtown Kingston, OntarioWow. So many rules. I was not impressed. If you read between the lines, it is really asking people who are there by themselves to not sit at a full table. Also… it is saying: Get the hell out after 1 hour. One more thing to add: no free Internet. I wouldn’t want to stay one hour even if they allowed it.
coffee, espresso, cappuccino, Sipps, downtown Kingston, OntarioThis is the latte. You can see the uneven bubbles and the nice spoon they left behind for me in my cup. Clearly they used a spoon to dump the foam on top. It really looks unappetizingly frothy. The espresso was over-pulled, bitter, and almost had a taste of cleanser. J didn’t finish hers. It really didn’t even taste like coffee. It had no coffee aroma.
coffee, espresso, cappuccino, Sipps, downtown Kingston, OntarioThis is the cappuccino. The espresso was again over-pulled and bitter. I couldn’t shake that taste of cleanser in my mouth.
coffee, espresso, cappuccino, Sipps, downtown Kingston, OntarioLook at all the bubbles in this cappuccino! Big ones, small ones, and you can see the canyons of foam sitting on top of this mug.
coffee, espresso, cappuccino, Sipps, downtown Kingston, OntarioAnd when you drink the foam, you can see the crevasses and cracks of foam in your mug. It had the consistency of bubbles from a bubble bath. A nice foam should be texturized milk and very creamy! Overall, I did not enjoy my experience at Sipps. Two badly pulled espressos and some pretty bad steamed milk. There were also a ton of rules so I have no idea why anyone would ever come here.

Next up was Coffee and Company. With an abundance of tables, it is really popular with students who often will fill the large space as they cram for exams and write papers.

coffee, Coffee and Company, espresso, downtown Kingston, OntarioHere is the latte. The espresso was nicely pulled with some nice earthiness and nuttiness to it. My only gripe: I hate drinking coffee in beer glasses.
coffee, Coffee and Company, espresso, downtown Kingston, OntarioVery nice microbubbles! You can see how even it is compared to Sipps.
coffee, Coffee and Company, espresso, downtown Kingston, OntarioThis is the cappuccino. The foam is not quite as even as in the latte but it is still quite good. Again, the espresso was quite nice. Overall, Coffee and Company is a great place to spend a few hours working on a paper (or grand rounds in my case). Free Internet + many tables + cozy atmosphere = great place for students. The espresso is nice and they steam milk pretty well. They also serve Godiva chocolates but I’ve never purchased any.

22 thoughts on “A Brief Guide to Coffee in Downtown (Part 1 of 2)

    • We're talking fine, good tasting coffee here, not the stuff they serve at Tim Hortons, McDee's etc… Getting into the details of how the coffee is prepared, presented and tastes are all an important aspects of evaluating. I'm no expert, but I definitely enjoy a really good cup of coffee. If the description and discussion surrounding the quest for good latte and cappuccino are too high brow for you, and you're not offering any constructive points, then there's really no need for you comment on this piece. Just sayin'

  • As a coffee fanatic myself, I'm glad to see a guide to the coffee downtown (I have a feeling like you might need a Part 3! ;-) Hopefully this can help to raise the level of coffee quality in Kingston!

    • I like the idea of a mini guide, as it can focus on only a few beverages in a select number of local(ish) stores. A comprehensive guide to each and every place that serves coffee, not just those whose specialty is java, would also be interesting, but it would be a huge undertaking. Everyone serves coffee, from McDonald's to Atomica and Dong Nai and all parts in between. In any case, part three could have been easily added, and perhaps that's a post in the not so distant future.

  • I really like Coffee & Co, partly because they serve good coffee, and partly because of the space and their lack of strictness with how long you stay there (I'm a student…). But I agree, I don't like the mugs either!

  • If you really want to experience an overabundance of rules, check out the Mug & Truffle. Lots and LOTS of rules.

      • When I checked it out, there were signs everywhere – don't put your feet here; don't sit there for too long; if you're going to do this, then make sure you don't do that; turn the lights off in the bathroom when you're done… helpful suggestions/rules at every turn. I felt sort of monitored, and haven't been back since.

    • Really? I've been a few times and haven't had any rules imposed on me. Though I'm not a huge fan of their coffee or their baked goods, for that matter. A little too over-saturated for my tastes. But a quaint environment, nonetheless.

  • It's funny how people interpret things differently. I love the fact that there is no Internet access at Sipps. In fact, it's one of the reasons I go there (occasionally). It's a warm, friendly space and you can sit and talk and it's not full of people completely ignoring each other with their faces burried in their screens. My wife teaches a conversation class there and neither of us have ever had any problems with the rules but then we've got to know the people who run it. Mind you, I only drink tea when I go there, so no comment on the coffee – but it isn't actually a 'coffee house' as such anyway.

    Coffee and Co. on the other hand has all the atmosphere of a bus station waiting room IMHO: echoey, weird proportions, never enough chairs and tables, and no interesting decor that I can recall. I found the coffee to be unremarkable, and it took a long time to make quite simple things, but it feels like such an unpleasant space to me that I don't go there any more.

    See… amazing how different things can feel to different people.

    • Not sure if that was meant to be sarcastic…but I totally agree that the importance of certain features varies from person to person. I don't think that free Internet is a make or break amenity for me, but then again I'm not a student and I tend to do most of my online work at home, or in the office. That said, when I upgrade my cellphone, I would definitely veer towards places with free WiFi. While I can sort of see the reasoning behind time limits, from a customers point of view, they aren't overly welcoming, in which case I'd probably steer clear of places that were strict. I've been to Sipps a few times myself, and I've never had a problem staying beyond the one hour mark. As for Coffee and Company, agreed on the lack of tables/chairs, and in a strange way that's kind of a result of their lack of a time limits. Ultimately though, the only feature that matters is good coffee. I honestly can't say which one I'd prefer more, Sipps or Coffee and Company. Neither are really regular haunts when I get my craving.

      • Not at all sarcastic!

        I'd agree that f I want good coffee, neither place would be a regular choice for me. But then I don't seem to have quite as serious a coffee habit as the average Canuck… yet.

        I do have one issue with Russ's criteria for judgement though. I really don't like my coffee with milk in at all, so I couldn't care less what they do with their milk. They key tests for me would be: firstly, how is their basic filter coffee, and secondly, if we are talking Italian-style coffee, can they make espresso, and what is it like? Whether you want to add milk to that or not, surely the basis of all the other variations on Italian-style coffee is the espresso?

        Regardless, I look forward to the second part of Russ's coffee adventure…

        • When I go out for coffee, I always get espresso or an espresso-based drink. I never get drip coffee because I feel that I can make that at home. I am personally big fan of my Bodum French Press. I got a Krups Burr Grinder for about $100 at Home Outfitters and I get my beans from Cooke's (I really like their Chez Piggy blend) or from Coffeeco (really like the Guatemalan and French Roast there). Freshly grinding the beans before using them in your French Press (or even drip coffee maker for that matter) really makes the flavours pop! Getting a grinder really changed my home coffee scene, if you know what I mean.

          I agree that some purists would say that to truly test a barista, you should look at their espresso alone, especially paying attention to the crema on top. But…. I don't usually drink straight espresso. I like the warmth that steamed milk provides. If I want a little extra coffee taste, I go for the cappuccino. If I want something warm and comforting, i grab the latte. Since I like steamed milk in my drinks, properly steamed milk is yet another deal breaker for me!

    • Lack of Internet is a deal breaker for me. It isn't that I always go to a coffee shop armed with a laptop either. I just find that free Internet, especially because it is so cheap to provide, makes a shop so much more welcoming and friendly. I similarly hate it when hotels do not offer free wireless.

      Now that you mention echoey, I agree with that comment! Coffee and Company does have a very tall ceiling and the sound does sort of project in a strange way. I wouldn't call it cozy at all but I like it for what it is.

  • Thanks for the review! I'm not going to get into the debate on finer points because everyone has their personal tastes. Just fun to read, thats all! Good work.
    I heard CoffeEco got a new spot downtown – I wonder when that will open. If I ever stop for a special treat, it's usually CoffeEco. If i just want a plain cuppa, I'll hit McD's. I find it way better than Timmy's and other low-key plain-jane coffee out there.

  • I can count on one hand the times I've been in a coffee place longer than 30 minutes. So those rules wouldn't matter to me.

    Since I work midnights none of these places are for me. They're usually closed when I'm going to work, or open in the morning when I don't really want a coffee before getting to sleep. Overnight only thing within walking distance is Mac's for a hot drink. Beggars can't be choosers at 3am.

  • One critique of the article is the lack of photos of their premises; another is that I'd like this kind of review done with regular black coffee as hard-bitten old cranks like me sup, not just whipped-into-a-frenzy what-nots.
    But otherwise, good point about the signs – some places come across as really unfriendly.
    I was in Bread and Butter Bakery on Bath a couple of days ago, and it was great, so send someone uptown for a review, Harvey!

  • Okay, I don't drink coffee (!), but I like coffee places. What I like are places that are welcoming, warm, and with interesting people. My favourite place is the Sleepless Goat. They have great hot chocolate and yummy things to eat, it is unpretentious, and you can stay as long as you like. They also have free wireless, which is a big draw for me. Finally, they're a worker-owned co-operative, which I love.

  • I'm surprised at how basically no one has mentioned the ethics of coffee. It comes from a long way away, and unless it's certified Fair Trade, the people who grew and picked it might well be working under near-slavery conditions, exposed to toxic pesticides. If we choose to drink coffee (and it is a choice), we should make the effort to support businesses that choose to serve only Fair Trade coffee — the Sleepless Goat and CoffeEco are two great local places and their coffee is ethical and tasty.

    • Agreed. And you're entirely right about the ethics of (un)fair trade. It's one of the reasons I don't drink coffee at Sipps.

  • I have actually been kicked out of Sipps. A friend and I, having not seen the sign, were hunkering down for an afternoon of work, grading papers in my case. After 25 minutes, we were approached by an employee and told "You're going to have to wrap it up, ladies". It was very strange, particularly since we hadn't actually 'breached' their time limit (which at that point was 30 minutes), the place was not full, and there were others who were there when we had arrived. We are both 30-ish professionals, but look younger, and my hunch was that we had been flagged as students and treated as such. I asked to speak to the owner about what felt like not only rude but unfair treatment, who pretty much confirmed my hunch when she told us that "they can't have students just hanging around all day". It was perhaps the most unwelcome I've ever felt at any establishment, in Kingston or beyond. I'm a professor rather than a student at Queen's, but that is (or should be) irrelevant.

    • When I moved to Kingston one of the first things a good friend and sometime Ktown resident (and also, coincidentally, a 30something prof at Queens–perhaps this is the demographic they hate the most?) told me, "whatever you do, don't go to Sipps." She and a friend were also kicked out for loitering too long over a brownie, and the absurd experience obviously left a lasting impression. What's that old adage about telling more people about your bad service experiences than your good ones? I wonder if we'll ever reach critical mass and cause Sipps to change their ridiculous rules…

Leave a Reply

You cannot copy content from this page, please share the link instead!