Winnipeg’s subtle, but robust, independent coffee scene
By Jim Peters
barista (noun): a person whose job involves preparing
and serving different types of coffee.
Origin 1980s: Italian, ‘barman.’
Much like the prestige typically afforded wine aficionados, it seems that coffee baristas are enjoying the status of sommeliers in today’s culture. Winnipeg itself has enjoyed something of a renaissance—bean-wise—both in terms of its many new independent coffee shops and equally discerning clientele. And like the city’s distinctive cultural milieu, the city’s many coffee entrepreneurs are just as diverse. Whatever your preference, one thing’s clear—the smaller emporiums are giving the big chains a run for their money.
Make Coffee + Stuff
The plus sign in this Corydon Avenue coffee shop is just as important as the cappuccino. The cafe has been open for almost three years and owner Jae-sung Chon describes the ethos: “What we’re trying here is to combine Winnipeg’s coffee culture with the local, national and international design culture. In addition to serving a broad variety of coffees we curate with certain industrial designers to showcase their wares and generate buzz—the two worlds seem very complementary.”
The artistic works are focused on fashion, lighting, interior design and architecture. Recently on display were residential metal designs from a craftsman in Winkler called lixht.com, metal works from Blu Dot in New York and lighting from Tom Dixon in London. Chon says, “So in addition to our reputation for great coffee we’ve also become popular for displaying interesting designs. I haven’t targeted any particular demographic, other than people who appreciate good java and unique design.”
Not to be outdone, Winnipeg’s French quarter also owns bragging rights to a very popular coffee boutique. Named for its proximity to a heritage post office on Provencher Boulevard is Café Postal. Owner and manager Louis Lévesque-Côté says the shop opened three years ago and he became involved six months in—eventually managing the joint and becoming part owner, along with André Clément and Larry Spittle.
He says, “We really concentrate on our espresso bar—the beans we use are first roasted by a specialty shop in Toronto and we then brew according to very specific parameters. So our coffees are brewed very meticulously—espressos, lattes and cappuccinos form the base but we also have seasonal specialties—such as a maple and spice latte in the queue currently.”
With just eight seats inside, a big part of Café Postal’s business is take-out. Lévesque-Côté says, “Our clientele is almost exactly half Francophone and half Anglophone—a lot of patrons who live in the community are loyal regulars, mixed with a following of coffee clients who stop on their way to work. All of the staff are bilingual, which gives us a unique profile on the scene.”
A venue with a well-regarded reputation is Parlour Coffee, right beside the famous Woodbine Hotel on Main Street near Portage Ave. Owner Nils Vik says, “Parlour opened its doors in September 2011 because I noticed a gap in the independent coffee scene in Winnipeg.”
With a background in architecture and product design, Vik set out to offer an alternative mix of specialty coffees combined with a modern and minimalistic interior design approach. “We specialize in quality coffees,” says Vik, “working closely with many of Canada’s leading micro-roasters. A few of our specialties include carefully pulled espresso shots and single origin filter coffee—brewed to order.
“Parlour attracts all types of people—from those with a discerning palette, to those who just need a coffee to go. We’re proud of our diverse lineup of people who often include lawyers, bike messengers, artists, construction workers, accountants, graphic designers, computer programmers, students, teenagers, seniors—and everyone in-between.”
Little Sister Coffee Maker
Osborne Village and River Avenue have long been known for their eclectic mix of shops and eateries so it’s no surprise that Little Sister Coffee Maker fit right in. Open for just over two years, the owners decided that the Village was a perfect spot for a specialty coffee shop and took their inspirations from travels in Canada, Europe, Australia and the United States.
The independent brings in coffee from some of the highest quality roasters in the country and brews it with the best equipment available. A combination of art and science, Little Sisters’ baristas believe that every tiny step in preparing coffee contributes to the overall experience.
Much like the neighbourhood, the regulars don’t fit into a specific demographic. The shop combines a cozy atmosphere with a neighbourhood feel—and locals have responded to the concept. And one of the biggest rewards? Seeing regulars meet and become friends has been one of the most satisfying outcomes so far according to the owners. Coffee seems relatable to most patrons and a great conversation starter—a common thread among everyone who walks through the doors.
Who knew that baristas may have also become today’s bartenders?