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The Espresso Bar Hop: Which Local Shop Has The Best Espresso?

man stands in front of coffee shop holding up a cup of espresso

By Elijah O’Donnell

Head of the Entertainment section Karlie Mickanuik accompanied by myself, went on an espresso adventure to six popular coffee shops around Edmonton to find the best espresso in the city.

There is nothing better than a good espresso. Something about the shrill blend of sour, bitter and an inherent, underlying sweetness, along with fruity, nutty or candy notes, creates an immaculate experience in a tiny, one-ounce cup. If one cup of espresso is good, surely six in a short amount of time could only be at least six times better! And thus, the Espresso Bar Hop was born.

Here are our findings.

Note, the scores given were applied as I sat down at each cafe, and so the shot I had at said cafe won’t have time to take effect until I sit down at the next cafe. The first set of scores are my baseline, A.K.A. no caffeine.

Naked Cyber Cafe

Time: 3:24 p.m.
Energy: 4/10
Anxiety: 3/10
Stomach pain: 0/10
Shot: 7.5/10

For the first stop on our espresso adventure, we visited the Naked Cyber Cafe, a favorite of mine, which I used to frequent for their poetry nights.

Man sips a cup of espresso in a coffee shop
Photo by Karlie Mickanuik

The espresso shot here had a great overall flavor. It tastes fulfilling, like sitting down after a long day. It had almond notes and a refreshing fruity bite at the end, almost like a cranberry. The only gripe I had was how thin the crema was. The crema is the layer of light brown that sits on top of a fresh poured shot and is supposed to be sipped with the liquid underneath. After my first two sips there was none left to enjoy.

“I don’t know, it was good. I mean I kept sipping it,” said Mickanuik, someone who doesn’t enjoy black coffee and knows very little about coffee.

Dirtbag Cafe

Time: 3:57 p.m.
Energy: 5/10
Anxiety: 4.5/10
Stomach Pain: 2/10
Shot: 3/10

Next was Dirtbag Cafe, a coffee shop/rock climbing facility. The environment here is wrought iron and exposed wood, all working together to create a great experience. The shot however, left more to be desired.

Cup of espresso
Photo by Karlie Mickanuik

In order to brew the perfect espresso, you have to grind the beans just right. Too coarse and your shot will be sour, too fine and it’s bitter. Perfect espresso is right in the middle of the two, which brings out a sweetness in the coffee. Dirtbags shot was unfortunately sour and with an empty body. The shot had nothing to grab onto, and nothing to keep your attention. The thick crema layer was a bonus, but it couldn’t save this shot.

“The cups were really cute, the amount of dying plants in the cafe made me sad though,” said Mickanuik.

Cafe Amore

Time: 4:29 p.m.
Energy: 6/10
Anxiety: 6/10
Stomach Pain: 4/10
Shot: 4/10
Shot w/ sugar: 2/10

Cafe Amore was not at all what we expected when we entered. I had never been and assumed it was just another coffee shop. Instead what greeted Mickanuik and I was a beautiful establishment with a lovely Italian bistro vibe; there were red and white checkered tablecloths, instruments hung on the wall, and a tank full of live lobsters.

man sips a cup of espresso in coffee shop
Photo by Karlie Mickanuik

What was also unexpected was the espresso shot itself. First of all it was served with golden brown sugar on the side and no crema on top. As soon as I had a sip, I thought “this is just coffee…”. As I continued to sip, the thought just cemented itself from suspicion to fact in my mind. I was drinking an ounce of coffee from an espresso cup. I ended up adding the sugar it came with as it only seemed fair to try both with and without. The sugar was a bad idea and made the shot much, much worse. Shame.

“This place is too fancy for my anxiety right now, it’s stressing me out. The coffee is not great,” said Mickanuik.

The Grizzlar

Time: 5:00 p.m.
Energy: 8.5/10
Anxiety: 8/10
Stomach Pain: 7/10
Shot: 10/10

The Grizzlar is yet to disappoint! It is one of my favorite spots in the city and remains so after this shot.

They had three different bean roasts to choose from, all from different parts of the world. We chose the Brazil espresso and it blew us away. A very fruity, strawberry body with all the sweetness that comes from that. It wasn’t without a bitterness, although one you expect from a good espresso. It ended on a caramel note that coated the tongue and left something to think about.

I could not stop shaking by this point.

“I don’t think I like espresso shots but that one was my favorite so far. I like The Grizzlar so I might be biased,” said Mickanuik.

Bean Around The World

Time: 5:17 p.m.
Energy: 10/10
Anxiety: 9.5/10
Stomach Pain: 6/10
Shot: 5/10

Bean Around The World, just around the block from MacEwan residence, has an amazing atmosphere. It has tons of cool Edison bulbs, and plants all over the place.

woman sips cup of coffee in a cafe
Photo by Karlie Mickanuik

This was the first shot I wasn’t excited to take. Not because I thought it might not be any good, but because this was my fifth shot of espresso in two hours. It was okay. It didn’t taste bad, it just wasn’t exactly good either. It was dry and bland, almost dusty. A little bitter but in a good way. This was the only one that came actually HOT, so that was a bonus.

“The grilled cheese here was amazing, and I like how warm this (coffee) was. I like a good, hot coffee,” said Mickanuik

Check In 30 Min Later

Time: 5:48 p.m.
Energy: 12/10
Anxiety: 13/10
Stomach Pain: 10/10
Shot: N/A

We gave up. Turns out five shots is my maximum. I couldn’t have any more caffeine if I tried.

I literally couldn’t stop moving. When I tried to stop myself and stand still, it took about two seconds to catch my leg bouncing again or my fingers flying aimlessly with the dictation of a master pianist. My anxiety was at an all-time high. It’s not a dedicated anxiety, but an aimless unease turned up to 13. The world felt inherently wrong and I felt as if I might vibrate right out of it and into a higher plane of being.

Drink responsibly, kids.

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