Coffee in Kingston – Disappointing in general

I really like coffee. I was quite disappointed when I first moved here to discover the number  of coffee shops that existed but couldn’t pull a good espresso or steam milk very well. It was surprising considering that Kingston is a college town and we all can remember how much coffee we drank in undergrad.

I am not even talking about Starbucks though. I respect Starbucks (and to a lesser extent Second Cup) for revolutionizing the coffee industry and taking it out of the diner patron (a la Morrisons) and putting it square into the hands of the foodie. It really did a lot to elevate coffee but unfortunately, once you’ve been to an even nicer coffeehouse, Starbucks just can’t compare. The other local disappointments include Sleepless Goat, Coffee and Company, and Sipps (who served me a latte in a glass mug that was quite tall… I wasn’t sure if I was having a coffee or a pint).

Coffeeco is nice because they use locally roasted beans from Multatuli and they try to be environmentally friendly. But all that hippy stuff aside: they pull a mean espresso. It is the only place in Kingston that actually performs latte art. I used to really enjoy latte art as a way for the barista to show some creativity/craft in the latte but I realized recently that coffee that has latte art also tastes better! Why? Because to perform latte art, you need to have optimum steaming of your milk. You are aiming for microbubbles which creates a velvety smooth texture. So if you have a latte which latte art can be performed upon, you must have a perfectly steamed latte too!

Contrast this to every other coffee shop in Kingston: “I’d like a latte please”. “Sure.” Beans grind. Tap tap tap. Press the espresso. Start the automatic machine. Poor some 2% into a metal cup. Steam. Steam. STEAM. Espresso is done. Pour it into a cup. Pour the steamed milk into the cup. Use a spoon to plop on a delicious appearing dab of foam. Serve the latte. Gross. A well made latte or cappucino shouldn’t require a spoon to add the foam on top.

Coffeeco also uses a really nice Rancilio machine. Recently, Mug and Truffle opened just on King St. and I was shocked to find that they use an Elektra! An Elektra?? In Kingston?

I decided to chat up the owner because I assumed that anyone who uses an Elektra must love coffee like I do. Unfortunately, she was not the best at PR. Even my most engaging questions were met with 1-5 word answers. The coffee was also disappointing. Even the best beans must be used well to make a good espresso. It is a good example of how a super expensive machine can’t make up for uneven preparation. They do sell Kawartha ice cream so that is a plus. They also sell Michel Cluizel chocolate which is pretty nice but the cost adds up pretty fast.

In summary: Please support Coffeeco. It is the nicest coffee shop in Kingston. Don’t be lured by the branding of Starbucks. It is a tragedy when I see the Starbucks on Division packed but the Coffeeco across the street empty. Coffeeco serves better coffee and it is local!

For the student: Free internet is available at Starbucks, Coffeeco, Mug and Truffle, Coffee and Company.

Coffeeco, 2 locations, 344 Johnson St. and 1046 Princess St.,

Coffeeco on Urbanspoon

Mug & Truffle Chocolate Cafe on Urbanspoon

~ by Russ on August 17, 2010.

23 Responses to “Coffee in Kingston – Disappointing in general”

  1. Thanks for the post! However disappointed you were by mug and truffle, i’m still so excited to have kawartha in kingston!!

    • I had a great Pralines and Cream cone from Black River Cheese Company in Prince Edward County. Better than anything I’ve had from White Mountain or Mia Gelato!

  2. Coffeeco is owned by Rich Ottenof, and he loves to talk about his business. I’m not sure who you spoke with, but Rich is the guy if you ever have any questions about the store, coffee, machines etc… We did an interview with him a while back, which you can read here.

  3. Comment removed at request of the owner (January 6, 2012).

    • Hi Brad,
      I appreciate you taking your time as an owner to write about the products from your shop. In regards to some of the points you brought forward:

      1) You are correct in stating that I am not a professional food writer. I am a “layman” (like the clientele you serve), who enjoys shooting photos of what I eat and writing this blog. My blog is used to express my own observations and opinions. It does not claim to be anything more.

      2) I am from Calgary and I have been in Kingston for 2.5 years. Despite what you might think, Calgarians don’t all have a “Tim Hortens [sic] mentality” and we actually have a high density of third wave coffee shops that I really enjoy when I go home. If you visited Calgary, you would see that many Calgarians know how to enjoy and appreciate quality coffee and food.

      3) It is common practice in the food blogging community to leave your real name and photo off of your site. As a blogger and “layman”, I prefer the anonymity of my posts because those who read my blog can assume that they will receive the same service/food that I received.

      4) I think it’s great that you take pride in your beans served at your cafe. However, this does not change the fact that I did not enjoy the coffee that was prepared for me on two separate days.

      The great thing about blogging is that it opens the door for discussion to users from all places with different experiences and opinions. Thanks for stopping by!

      • Not to jump on the dog pile here, but I think you’re on pretty solid ground Russ re: your points on anonymity and personal opinion. On occasion I’ve been asked to come and review a restaurant, which is not something I do in order to preserve objectivity. When I attempt to write a review it’s based on the opinion the average person can come to expect, rather than some sort of special treatment, or free meal I managed to score because I write for a blog, or whatever we’re calling it nowadays. At the end of the day, my opinion might be different from yours and vice versa. That said, I think I’ve agreed with many of your reviews, and a few have led me to new experiences I might not have tried. I’ll make it to Mug and Truffle, and if they’re better than Timmies, they’ll get my business.

      • Russ, I wanted to commend you on putting this review out there for the Kingston public. As a food blogger myself, I understand the conflict between wanting to say what’s good and what’s the truth. In fairness, we all share different opinions especially with regards to something personal such as food and coffee. I am no coffee fan myself so I can’t comment directly on the coffee debate but I did want to come to the defence of food bloggers. I too, choose not to display my name on my food blog and give only a very general photo of myself. I am no expert on any food issue out there. I do not believe that this is my attempt to hide behind my words but rather, as mentioned, a way to make myself as anonymous as the people who may inevitable read my reviews and visit the places themselves. We are entitled to our opinions and to share it publicly with those who are willing to read it. Russ’ words, although helpful and informative is not set in stone and I’d like to believe that those who come here to read his reviews, are more than capable of visiting some of the places he mentioned and make judgments for themselves. At the very least, this post has showcased/name-dropped some of the coffee shop alternatives in Kingston other than Tim Horton’s and Starbucks and for me, reminds me the importance of supporting local businesses, whatever forms they may be.

        I continue to read and appreciate your reviews on all things especially those related to Kingston. 🙂

      • Thanks for your thoughts J. Blogging is a very interesting tool because it allows regular people to maintain websites that formerly would be exclusive to webmasters and designers. For once, regular people can share their opinions on things! Everything on a blog needs to be taken with a grain of salt. And while I stand by everything I write, my opinions aren’t set in stone and I find some places I don’t like improve with time and others that I love seem to falter.

    • In response to the owner’s ramblings about how his shop is the best, I’d like to offer four points for consideration.

      1.) Coffeeco’s drip knocks the socks off Mug & Truffle’s. Don’t believe me? Try it. If you really want to elevate your game, do Coffeeco’s french pressed coffee.

      2.) The Glutton’s remarks about the owner’s wife are bang on. I was so put off by her rudeness that I almost didn’t return (note ‘almost,’ which leads me to my next point)…

      3.) I paid $18 for a pound of coffee at M&T that pales in comparison to that available at Coffeeco or Cooke’s. Oh, and the wife didn’t know which setting on the coffee grinder to use for a french press.

      4.) As a general rule, I – along with most people, I think – am put off by signs at a local cafe that essentially say ‘you touch it, you buy it.’ I understand you don’t want people squeezing the muffins all day long, but this sign is rude and unwelcoming. If you’re that averse to people touching shrink-wrapped muffins, keep them in a case behind the counter.

      I will never return to Mug & Truffle after seeing the owner’s childish response to criticism. Kingston doesn’t exactly have a scarcity of coffee.

  4. Comment removed at request of the owner (January 6, 2012).

  5. As the owner of this shop, you need to be able to take criticism when offered and then make the needed changes. Arguing with someone over their opinion is just childish. I find this back and forth quite entertaining, and just from the sheer immaturity on the owners part, I have no desire to visit this place any further. I have been there once and only once and will never go back because of this exchange, and the fact that they traipse though their shop with their dogs. How gross is this?

  6. Comment removed at request of the owner (January 6, 2012).

    • Hi Brad,

      Thanks again for your comment on my blog. I agree with you about the frustrations of anonymity. It sucks to be challenged about your product and not even have a face to look at when you respond. However, one of the beauties of online discourse is that the anonymity allows real honest feedback about a product. I’ve been to countless restaurants where the waiter/waitress half heartedly asks me if I am enjoying my food. Even if I am not really enjoying my food, I’ll say: “It is fine.”

      Thanks for stopping by again and I look forward to some further discourse!


  7. Wow. The attitude of the owner of that shop is pretty sad. If someone doesn’t like your shop you don’t tell them that they just don’t understand it and they must therefore be wrong. People like you are why good journalists like the author of this blog must protect anonymity. I’ve been to your coffee shop and when I complained about my bitter coffee to the girl behind the counter, she said “sorry” but that was it. Definitely won’t ever return to try some of your overpriced sweets, although judging by your responses above, I likely am not qualified to understand how good they really are anyways.

    Save your money and go to Tim’s or Starbucks my fellow Kingstonians. Less attitude there too and employees who care more than just shrugging their shoulders at their poor coffees.

    • Thanks for the comment Dale. I’d still recommend going a little further and checking out Coffeeco or Coffee and Company.

  8. I second that. I can honestly say Coffeeco’s cappuccino is one of the best I’ve had outside of Italy. The milk is perfectly steamed (and I stress STEAMED – sign #1 of a bad cappuccino is whippy/frothy milk) and the espresso is strong but not bitter.

    If you make coffee at home, check out Cooke’s Italian roast. I let it sit in a french press for five minutes. It’s as good as anything you’ll find at a cafe.

    • Thanks for the tip Anthony. I love Cooke’s coffee and am a big fan of the Chez Piggy roast myself. You should try it!

      I totally agree. Steaming of milk is what makes a coffee memorable. It is like the warm blanket that soothes your mouth from the sharpness of espresso. Coffeeco steams milk the best in Kingston IMHO.

  9. come try one of our coffees sometime when Danny is working. he’s our Baristas, and guaranteed you’ll think it’s the best ever – or your money back. Oh by the way, we serve all our gourmet Trinity Blend Coffee Free!

    • Unfortunately, I am no longer in Kingston! Thank you for the invite Gerald! I do appreciate your efforts to reach out to the community. There is a church/coffeeshop here in Calgary too and I find the concept quite interesting. All the best to you!

  10. For the purpose of this, I am going to try and remain a devils advocate.

    1. I agree that there are good things and there are bad things about the Mug and Truffle. The good things generally come from looking at a business point of view. They have a great location, its a decent size, and I think their products are a fair price generally speaking. From a client perspective, however, I think there is definite need for improvement. As a customer, I do not think it is appropriate for the owner to be sitting on a computer in plain view doing who knows what. I expect there to be a certain level of professionalism and that the staff are highly informed about their product, which from what I see and hear, is clearly not there. And although I myself never experienced bad public relations from the mug and truffle, Judging from comments made on this blog post, the owner needs to take a step back and consider what others are saying about their business and not retaliate. That is not what a business owner should do at all.


    2. As for Kingston and coffee in general, I agree that there lacks…variety. There are few places that truely specialize in coffee and coffee products. If I had to rank my top 5 favorites (best to least) from what I have tried it would be: Atomica, Sipps, Coffeeco, Spin Desserts Cafe, and the Lazy Scholar (located on Queens Campus). Although Coffeeco has the freshest beans because they are roasted in town. As a business student, I can understand that Kingston is by far not the most ideal place to open a coffee business. This is mostly because of the demographic of the population, the city layout, and the competition already in town. There are far too many Timmies and Starbucks that new businesses will have a hard time surviving. Especially because it takes at least an average 2 years to establish a business and regular clientel. In addition to that, there is no consistency in common knowledge to what specific beverages are. You say “cappuccino” and the first thing people will think of is the stuff you get at Timmies, McDonalds, or Starbucks. And none of those are the same or made in a relatively similar way. Frankly, closest thing I ever got to a cappuccino was at a place in Napanee called “Coffee Cravings”.

    Anyway, thats my two cents on the matter. Hope you enjoyed!

  11. I have heard nothing good from former staff about Coffeeco- that their practices in reality are far less ideal than what they say on paper. They are willing to greenwash and cut corners to make more money, which isn’t unusual (Starbucks) but it is unfortunate.
    I know 3 people who have worked there over the years, and not a single one has said anything reassuring about the place(s).

    So I say no thanks to Coffeeco, and I sugguest you consider doing the same.

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