Exploring Mexico City

A sprawling metropolis of almost 9 million people, Mexico city has the highest population in North America. A vibrant and eclectic mix of old, new, modern, traditional, classic and contemporary, it is a city that makes you aware of all of your senses at once.

We didn’t really know what to expect when planning our trip to the city; we had heard and read lots of differing opinions, good and bad. Mexico city turned out to be a vibrant and beautiful, but over-whelming location. We really enjoyed our short-but-sweet taste of Mexico.

Here are some of the things we found while exploring Mexico City:


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A city of colour & architecture

The official colour of Mexico City (CDMX) is pink, and you will see plenty of it, particularly the bright pink official taxis that roam the city (although we were advised not to use them as they charge tourists notoriously high fares… We walked or used Uber instead). We also saw every other colour you could imagine adorning shops, stalls, murals, buildings, banners and even the plants and flowers. The smog can make it a little hazy and grey some days, but once the smog clears and the sun beats down, the blue sky is clearly exposed.

Zoccalo is the main historic square in the central city, and it’s worth a visit. When we were there, they were getting ready for Mexican Independence Day, so there were red, green and gold ‘Viva la Mexico!’ banners on the building frontages and a giant marquee in the middle of the square. This main square is encircled by government buildings, a huge old cathedral and even some Aztec ruins.

When we first arrived in Mexico City very early in the morning, we caught a taxi from the airport to our hotel in Zoccalo. It was strangely eerie, as if we had gone back in time; the streets were dark and cobbled, and all we could see around us were the looming shadows of old, stone buildings. Yet when daylight broke, the area transformed into a bustling centre filled with traffic, tourists, noise, crowds, shops, street vendors, buskers and of course traffic wardens blowing their shrill whistles.

We were there in the off-peak tourism season, so we didn’t notice too many other foreign tourists. Most of the people we saw seemed to be locals, if not from CDMX itself, then from other parts of Mexico.
Like any big city, the locals comprise a mixture of business people in suits with briefcases, families with young children and young hipsters with satchels and laptops. Also, akin to many other big cities are the buskers and beggars on the streets - including kids playing guitar and singing along to songs from CoCo, hoping the tourists will fling them a few pesos.

The city has a complex history, and this is evident in the variety of architecture, ranging from roman catholic Gothic churches, to the wide and straight Paseo de la Reforma - a whole street running through central CDMX designed after Paris’ Champs Elysees Avenue.

The greenery is lush, thanks to the mild climate, but just watch your head if you take the open-air double decker tour bus through the city - you might get thwacked by a lusciously green ,but dangerously low-hanging frond.


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Art & Murals

Art runs through the city like blood through veins, whether it’s in the architecture of the buildings or one of the many murals found throughout the city. The murals tell rich and sometimes brutally honest stories; the artists used them to tell stories about the ever-evolving social and political scene in Mexico over the years, and the hardships they faced. But they also depict the many things of importance to them; plentiful crops of corn, mothers holding their babies, luscious bunches of flowers and baskets of ripe fruit.

Muralism has a significant history in Mexico city, some of the most famous examples include those of Diego Rivera, husband of Frida Kahlo. The murals can be found all over the city, some of them in the busy tourist buildings, on rooves and walls of old buildings and markets, down random side streets and many other places, both exposed and hidden. On a Market tour of the city, our lovely tour guide took us behind some fencing at a small market and up a staircase to find a host of murals covering the walls and ceilings.
They were honest, and unforgettable. Depicting peasants, gaunt and starving, and politicians growing fat on the monies extracted from the people. There was also a whole mural depicting Nazi Germany of WW2, in the stark, ominous colours of black, white, grey and red.
We were the only ones there, the place seemed quiet and forgotten compared to other areas of the city filled with people and noise. It was strange to think that behind the hustle and bustle of this busy city, there were places like this where pictures of the past were sitting quietly, waiting for curious eyes to find them.

 
 

Of course, some of the busier tourist spots were still must-sees and worth the waiting in line. One of these being the Frida Kahlo museum, which is the house where she and Diego Rivera lived. The dwelling is made up of a collection of quaint buildings that surround a wide, open courtyard with plenty of plants and foliage. From the walls, to the furniture, the art and even Frida’s belongings, you can see a rich array of colours; aquamarine blue, salmon pink, mustard yellow, earthy brown, verdant green and many more. You can walk through the various buildings and rooms of their home and see some of her works of art, and also the areas she lived and worked in. This includes her work shop, complete with a desk and the materials she used for her artwork, and also her bedroom with her death cast is lying on the bed. One room also houses her unique and intriguing clothing, including the corsets and support system she wore underneath her outer clothing that helped sustain her body through its various pains and disabilities.


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The Markets

The nation is a religious one, we saw plenty of statues of various saints and of Jesus himself, particularly in the markets where a lovely guide led us on a walking tour around the city.

The Flower market had blooms of every kind and colour. Stalls displayed wreaths and arrangements for many different occasions.

 
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The Food markets had many traditional staples of the Mexican diet including the ‘bread and butter’ of the country, corn. Among the produce there were lots of vibrant, colourful and deliciously ripe fruits and vegetables. The meats on display were a little bit different from the typical butchery windows we’re used to seeing, but they clearly use every part of the animal. Alongside your usual cuts, there’s plenty of other ‘parts’ for sale, including many a stack of intestines and other more unusual looking things layered up ready for sale. The chickens on sale look strangely yellow, but we learned that there is a reason behind this. In the past, the chickens in Mexico were corn-fed, which made them turn yellow. However, at some point in history the government realised it was a bit of a waste feeding the chickens corn, which could be better used to feed the people! So, they stopped feeding the chickens corn, and instead fed them other grains. However, the fowl started to look different, paler, and without that yellow hue, so the people became a little wary about buying the chicken meat, as it just didn’t look quite right to them. So, they started feeding the chickens marigold flowers, which once again left the chickens with that golden hue as before, yet enabling the corn to be kept for feeding the people rather than the animals - win, win, some might say.

We were also taken to the ‘Witches’ market - which did not have potions, cauldrons or ‘Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans’ like we might have expected. Instead, it was mostly herbs and other dried plants which apparently help with different ailments such as respiratory problems, digestion, sleeping and, of course, broken hearts! There were also perfumes and soaps that you could buy for yourself or a loved one (or even an enemy) which promised things like fortune, luck, love or curses. There was an area with animals for sale, though we’re not sure for what purpose so we are relieved we didn’t find out or go into that area - you could smell it wherever you went in the market, so we can only assume the conditions weren’t ideal for the poor animals.
Some of the more strange and disturbing sights, were the dried skeletons of cats and monkeys! Again, we are not quite sure what they were used for, but we’re okay with not finding out. There were also a few stalls that offered palm-reading or fortune-telling services, if we spoke or understood Spanish of course.
And, yes, plenty of stalls that sold statues of more saints than I knew even existed - including the patron saint of Mexican Drug Dealers or the hopeful growers of particular plants, Jesús Malverde, and also the controversial religious cult following of Santa Muerte - the Lady of Death.

 
 

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The Pyramids & Rural life

Not too far out of Mexico city, we visited the pyramids of Teotihuacan, also known as the Sun and Moon pyramids. Standing on top of the Moon pyramid looking towards the Sun, down the alley of the dead - it’s breath-taking. Not only do you get an amazing view of the valley and nearby villages, but you look down at what was once a thriving city and centre of obsidian crafting and realise you are standing on ancient stones and in a place so steeped in history it’s hard to imagine what went on there. When the time comes to climb the Sun pyramid, staring up at the steep ascent is intimidating, but once you reach the top it’s well worth it.

Throughout this tourist spot, there are old men selling trinkets and souvenirs, including a whistlecarved from obsidian that sounds like a wolf howl.

Our visit was part of another day tour, and afterwards we headed to the nearby village of San Francisco Marzapa to visit a family of Obsidian crafters. They were friendly and welcoming, and happy to share their skills and knowledge. They had lots of beautiful carvings and trinkets on display, and even gave us a taste of Mexican liquor - pulque, mezcal and Tequila.
Apparently the correct way to drink it, is to salt the lime, squeeze the juice into your mouth, hold it there and chase it with the tequila before swallowing the whole concoction all at once. Delicious!
We were also shown a huge agave plant in their back yard, and we learned of the many uses of this very useful plant.

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After this, our tour took us to another family business for dinner, where our host had prepared a delicious, home-made Mexican dinner of fresh tortillas, tortilla soup, rice, meat and vegetables.
A simple, yet delicious way to end our tour, before our bus ride back to the city.

 
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Noise and Traffic

The city is certainly a feast for the visual senses, but it’s also full of noise, sometimes overwhelmingly so! Near Zoccalo and other busy areas, you can hear the piercing whistles of the local policemen directing traffic, screeching in your ear, but also helpful when giving you the signal that it is safe to cross the road.

The street vendors and buskers have various items and services for sale, and a few of them create some sort of honking or kazoo-like noise to attract attention. The buskers will often have a guitar or music box in hand, and music pours out of the shopfronts and onto the footpath.

The traffic alone can be overwhelming to experience; the honking of car horns, cars rattling past, buses, scooters, trucks too.
But they are all masterful at managing to weave in and out and merge throughout the gridlocked madness. We were told more than once by the locals, “if you can drive in Mexico city, you can drive anywhere!”
We think it might be better to leave it to the locals - just trust the driver and look out the window at the cars and the city whizzing by.

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The Food

It’s hard to know what to expect of the food when visiting Mexico; in the western world we see ‘Mexican’ food as Nachos with sour cream, crispy Tacos, massive burritos with rice and beans, and lots of cheese. But when you visit Mexico, you realise the food is very different from the impression that the western world has created.

Corn is a very important staple, you will find it in pretty much every form - even diseased.
Along with corn, there was a range of meat cuts taken from pretty much every different part of the animal, some rice and beans, vegetables like capsicum/peppers and cactus, fresh fruit and delicious stringy cheese. Salsa exists at most food stalls, and there are plenty of options for treats - Mexicans have a sweet tooth!

Morning Start

At the food markets, we tried a couple of different styles of corn for breakfast - in the form of a Tamale (corn dough with a sweet or savoury filling wrapped in corn husk or banana leaf), or a cup of Atole (a hot, creamy drink made of corn and sometimes flavoured with chocolate). These two dishes are usually taken around Christmas time, but can be found around the city and street markets - a simple, yet filling breakfast that will keep you sated all morning. For coffee - there are plenty of options, but we’ll talk about that later.

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Tortillas & Salsa

Corn tortillas can be bought by the dozen at the local tortilleria; the price is capped by the government, to keep this important, basic food affordable to everyone. On our first day, we arrived early, dropped off our bags at our hotel, then headed straight to meet our tour guides for a street food tour. They took us to a neighbourhood tortilleria and we got to look at the giant tortilla press, the mounds of masa (corn meal dough) and then taste a fresh, hot tortilla. There’s a special technique to rolling it in the palm of your hand, and you can add salt and salsa if you wish. Delicious!

Many street vendors and tortillerias will have 2-3 bowls of salsa to compliment whatever dish they’re selling. Usually one is red, one is green, and they range in spiciness - and colour is not necessarily an indicative guide! Some places the green will be the hotter, sometimes the red, so if you’re up for it, give them a go, they are the most delicious, fresh and zesty salsas you have ever tasted, just go easy on the drops in case you get the hotter one!

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More Corn

We also tried some corn soup at a market, the girl selling it was working for her mother before and after school and was eager to practice speaking English - the corn soup was warm and tasty.
Another corn dish we tried a couple of times was the diseased corn. Apparently at one point in history, a fungal disease affected significant areas of corn growth, but rather than waste it, the Mexican government decided that they should still use it - and it became a delicacy.
It is a grey colour and the ears look a little misshapen, but it’s not too bad; we thought it had a similar taste to mushrooms, but we recommend trying it in small amounts to start with, as it has a rich flavour.

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Tacos

Tacos can be found at many street vendors and stalls, but they are a bit different to Old El Paso or Taco bell. A fresh, soft tortilla is filled with your choice of delicacies which you can then top with one of the aforementioned salsas if you wish. The fillings range from vegetarian-friendly options like cheese, vegetables and cactus, to meat-based choices, mostly chicken and pork. It is important to mention that they use ALL parts of the animal, so depending on what filling you choose, you will probably get a mix of meat cuts in there, including the occasional grizzly bit. We were a bit adventurous and even tried the local delicacy of a taco with pig uterus inside - it had a strong pork flavour; but there are plenty of more tamer options to choose from.

Aside from tacos, you can get sandwiches, quesadillas and burritos. All have a range of fillings to choose from, and can also be topped with salsa if you want.

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Cactus

Another popular local flavour that we tried a few times was cactus - we found it had a similar taste and texture to pickled green beans. Apparently, it’s full of fibre and quite good for you.

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Traveling pains…

After the first few days, we did both get tummy aches, however we don’t believe this was from the preparation or handling of the food, but rather just a culinary shock to the system for our western palates. The food was good, and we tried lots of different things in our first couple of days, but it was different to the fare we usually ate - different cuts of meat, but also a lot of corn, when we are probably used to a more wheat-based diet. So next time, we would probably pace ourselves a little better.

Another note of interest, is the water - don’t drink it. We had bottled water free at our hotel, so we barely needed to buy any, but it can be found pretty easily and inexpensively around the city. You are also supposed to be careful and use bottled water even when brushing your teeth as well, but we forgot a couple of times and managed to get by without too many issues.

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Sweet stuff

Mexico seems to have a really sweet tooth! There are lots of sweets and candies on sale at street vendors, and in the shops. We had read about a long-time favourite place that we wanted to visit - El Moro, a churreria, which specialises in churros (delicious Mexican pastries) and divine hot chocolates.
We were lucky enough to catch it mid morning on a weekday, so the lines weren’t too long and we were seated pretty quickly.
However, be warned, this place gets very busy at the weekends!

It’s a busy, quaint place decorated with blue and white tiles, with a view of the kitchen where the churros are being made right before you. Our Español and our servers’ English weren’t great, but we managed to put an order together.
Soon enough, two plates of fresh, hot churros and steaming mugs of hot chocolate were before us. They were delicious! We knew we were going to be facing a sugar overload afterwards, but we didn’t care, sometimes you just have to enjoy the moment!

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Coffee

One of the main attractions behind our visit to Mexico City, was the chance to taste the local coffee there.

Mexico is unique in that the nation mostly drinks coffee grown within the country itself. So, when you are in a cafe or specialty coffee house, you are usually experiencing a local flavour that is incredibly fresh due to the shorter distance it needs to travel.

Like any major location, Mexico City has a wide range of options for coffee drinkers - from the more commercial chains like Starbucks, to the stylish Hipster-esque espresso bars and all the more casual local coffee places in between.

We tried a good range of the places we wanted to visit, but still feel like there was plenty in and around the city that we didn’t get to.

Here is a slideshow of the coffees and places we did manage to try out.

While we were there, we also attended a coffee tasting and cupping workshop at Café Borola. We booked this through AirBnB (interested? Check it out here), and it was a great choice. We learnt a lot about tasting coffee and how to prepare pour-over coffee. Our host, Ricardo was incredibly warm, friendly and knowledgeable not only about coffee but about Mexico City in general, and he was always happy to answer any questions or make recommendations of things to do and places to try on the city’s coffee scene.

 
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Mexico City is a vibrant, busy city and a great place to visit as a tourist. There were some things about the city that we found we could easily liken to other places we have visited around the world, but plenty more that was very new to us and such an interesting experience.

As with any visit to a new location, be sure to do your research beforehand and take the necessary steps to ensure you can enjoy your adventures safely and wisely.
With our limited Spanish (almost zero!), we found day tours with local guides a great way to see, hear and taste some of what Mexico City had to offer, whilst also feeling comfortable and not out of our depth.

Hopefully we can return to Mexico, not only to the big city, but to experience more of the country as a whole.

Have you every been to Mexico? Let us know how you found it, and if you have any recommendations of other places to visit when in country, we’d love to hear about it.

Thinking of making a trip to Mexico? Get in contact with any questions you have and we’ll be happy to answer them as best as we can.

Until next time, happy adventuring! :)

Coffee in Squamish; our Home away from Home

If you head north from Vancouver, along Highway 99, in less than an hour you will reach Squamish; a small-ish but growing town. It is about halfway between Vancouver and the very well-known ski-town of Whistler.
To some people it's home, to others it's a town you pass through on the way to Whistler, and maybe a good place for a brief stop along Highway 99.
To us, it has been our Canadian home for almost a year and a half.

We didn't expect that we would find much in the way of a good cup of coffee here, but we were pleasantly surprised; there are some good choices in Squamish.

We've probably tried EVERY coffee shop here, so we thought we'd create a brief guide to coffee in Squamish, so you can get a better idea of where to go next time you're visiting or passing through.

Some things to note:

  • These are not necessarily in order of preference
  • We are using our rating system as below. The rating is for COFFEE ONLY - not based on food options, location or service

               ☕                   Not good, didn't want to finish
☕☕               Okay, wouldn't return
 ☕☕☕            Good, nothing special
☕☕☕☕        Great, would go back
☕☕☕☕☕    Excellent, a favourite!

 

We'll also add in a last-minute mention of Galileo Coffee Company and Roastery (for some reason we can't find any photos!). As we lived in Britannia Beach for a while, it was a place we would visit frequently. The coffee can be good (depends on the day) but they have a really good selection of food, particularly their Breakfast sandwiches and Lemon & Blueberry scones. Located South of Squamish, it's a good place to stop if you are heading to and from Vancouver.  

Whether you are a Vancouver local, or from elsewhere and just visiting the area, it's worth stopping by and spending some time in Squamish.
Not only are there good coffee options, but also lots of great food, recreational activities and attractions (we might talk about those in another blog post). 
Whistler might be high on your list to visit, but that doesn't necessarily mean you have to skip Squamish to get there. Instead, why not try incorporate it into your visit and explore more of the Sea to Sky corridor than just Whistler.   

We hope you enjoy tasting the coffee in Squamish. We're pretty sure we've hit most of the coffee spots, but if there's any we've missed let us know here, and we'll be sure to check it out!

Coffee Adventures in Montreal

Out of all the cities we have visited in Canada so far, Montreal is probably one of our favourites. Effortlessly cool and confident, the city has a vibrant soul and an eclectic mix of people, culture, art, design and ideas.

Known for it's food and nightlife, we knew Montreal would have a great coffee scene. So we were excited to see what it had to offer. 
We spent just over a week in the city, mainly in the downtown area; and in that time managed to taste some great food, find some awesome bars and, of course, drink some amazing coffee. 

Here's what we found on our Coffee Adventures in Montreal...


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1. Tommy

Old Montreal

On our first day of exploring the city, we decided to head to the area of Old Montreal to peruse old buildings, cobbled streets, statues and the famous Notre-Dame Basilica. 
We also had a Café in mind that was conveniently situated a block from the Basilica, so we headed through the cold, snowy morning to find Tommy

The café was in an old, corner building with heavy wooden doors. Once we stepped inside, it was warm and bright, with lots of hanging greenery. The interior had been transformed into a light-filled, modern space, while still using some of the older, elegant fittings. 

It was busy, but the service was efficient and pleasant. We ordered a Latte, a Macchiato, and a French sweet treat; a Brioche à tête. After some brief shuffling, and subtle eyeing up of who looked like they were finishing up, we managed to nab some seats with a view of the barista at work. 

Overall, it was a little cramped, but the experience was a good one. The coffee tasted good and the milk had a nice texture. The brioche was really good; light, fluffy and just the right amount of sweetness. 

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2. Café 1880

Latin Quarter

On our second day of exploring the city, the snow had gone, and in it's place was a blue, sunny sky. Perfect Spring weather for walking and exploring a city. 

Café 1880 was another coffee shop that we just happened to walk by, not far from where we were staying. 
It had the standard minimalist decor of many coffee shops, but a nice colour scheme that included black, pale wood and teal. 
A small space, but smartly fitted out and we happened to catch it at a quiet time, so ordering and finding a seat took no time at all. 

They had a good selection of baked goods and treats, so we decided to try an Almond Croissant, along with our coffees; a Latte and a Flat white.

The croissant was delicious - but then again, we were in French Canada, it was hard to find a pastry that wasn't.
The milk of the coffees had a beautiful velvety texture, though the strength of the espresso was a little on the weak side for us. Next time we would check the espresso to milk ratio before ordering. 

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3. Café Nocturne

Plateau Mont-Royal

By now, the cold spell seemed to have left Montreal, and in contrast, the days were sunny and warm. We wanted to make the most of the sunshine and fresh air, so we walked towards Mont-Royal, the well-visited attraction where the city gets it's name from. We were in for a short, slightly steep climb to the top of the Mount, to see amazing views of the whole city. 

Along the way, we had a Café in mind that we wanted to visit, but once we got there, we found that it was closed on Sundays. So we carried on, in the hope that we would find something else.

When we first came across Café Nocturne, we were a little apprehensive. The branding and decor of the shop front was very minimal, so much so that we weren't even sure it was a café until we got closer. Then we thought it might be a little too "pretentious hipster" for us. 

However, we were intensely feeling the need for coffee, so decided to give it a try. 

Once we entered the café, we were pleasantly surprised. The inside, although small, was light, bright and kind of cosy. There was a steady stream of customers, and no spare seats, but we were taking our coffees to go, so we didn't mind. Just one barista was working the till and coffee machine, but she was friendly and doing a good job. She managed to serve customers, grab food and make coffees pretty quickly.

We got a Latte, a Cappuccino and a chocolate chip cookie to share. 

The coffee was really good! Probably one of the best coffees we've had, not just in Montreal, but in Canada. And the cookie was delicious too.

We were feeling pretty happy after discovering this hidden gem, and now felt ready for the hike up to the top of Mont-Royal.

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4. Café Chat L'Heureux

 

Happy Cat Café

The next place we visited, was a little bit different to the cafés we usually frequent, but it was a very comforting experience.  

If you've never visited a Cat Café before, it's definitely an experience worth considering. The idea originally started in Taiwan and became popular in Japan. Now you can find Cat (and other animal) cafés in many different countries around the world. These cafés aren't really about the coffee and food experience, though many of them do have menus and offer a selection of things to eat and drink. The purpose is generally more about providing a place for people to relax and spend time with animals, as a way to relieve stress.
All of the cat cafés we have visited, have adopted and/or rescued cats and have a strict number allowed in residence at one time. 
There are also rules in place for the customers to follow, in order to be respectful of the animals' space. 

On each table, alongside the menu, their were bio's of each cat, and a guideline on whether they did, or didn't like to be touched. 

There was a minimum order/entry fee, so we ordered a Ca-purr-ccino and Iced Tea, to sip at while watching the kitty cats. As said earlier, you don't really come to this kind of place for the coffee; the ice tea was refreshing, but a little too sweet and the cappuccino seemed to have been made by a capsule-like automatic machine and was boiling hot.  But it was a small price to pay in order to spend some time with these furry little friends. 

We had a great time visiting Café Chat L'Heureux, and enjoyed just relaxing and watching the cats go about their day. There's something ultimately calming and comforting about hanging out with the cats, and we definitely left feeling a lot happier than when we went in.

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5. Café Nocturne

Take Two!

We liked Café Nocturne so much, that when we happened to be back in the neighbourhood, we took the chance to go back for a second taste. 

This time we decided to sit in and enjoy our coffee, so we found a sunny spot on a big table in the middle of the café. 
We ordered lattes, and noticed they offered Oat milk as an alternative, so we tried it with one of the drinks. 

The Oat milk was a great tasting milk alternative. It didn't affect the overall taste, nor the texture of the drink too much. Of all the milk alternatives we've tried, this is probably the nicest.
Second time around, the staff weren't quite as friendly as the barista we had the first time, but they drinks were still very good. 

 
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6. Café Saint-Henri

Latin Quarter

After visiting and really enjoying our experience at the Quebec City branch of this café, we were keen to try the Latin Quarter version in Montreal. 

We were not disappointed. Saint-Henri Montreal made us some fantastic coffees, just like the one we visited in Quebec city. The staff weren't overly friendly in this branch, but they got the job done. 

We ordered Lattes, and they also had Oat milk as an alternative, so we tried it again. The barista managed to pull off some pretty latte art, even with an alternative milk. The taste and quality of the coffee was excellent. 

Along with the drinks, we shared a piece of Cinnamon bun loaf, which was a delicious sweet treat to compliment the drinks.

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We really enjoyed our time in Montreal, and highly recommend it to anyone visiting Canada. While Vancouver and the West coast might be "beautiful", Montreal has a certain unique and eccentric vibe that comes from combining the food, arts, music, personalities and culture of the people that inhabit it. 

In our short time there, we managed to get a taste of what the city had to offer, but we know it was probably only the tip of the iceberg in terms of Montreal's Coffee scene.

We hope to go back one day, and if so, delve a little deeper, and travel a little further in search of a good cup of coffee. 

Coffee Adventures in Victoria

Mid-winter, we caught the ferry over to Vancouver Island for a quick get-away. Although brief, we really enjoyed our time over there, particularly in B.C's capital: Victoria.
It's an elegant, charming city with an amazing food, drink and coffee scene. 

Staying mostly in the central downtown area, we found enough there to keep us occupied, and still leave us wishing we had a few more days. 

We found some great coffee while in Victoria, so if you're thinking of heading over there and want to visit some good spots, read on...


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1. Hey Happy

Market St, Downtown

We enjoyed this quaint coffee bar so much, we went back for a second time. In central downtown, it was easy to find and get to. It seems like a place that would attract local regulars who appreciate good coffee.
It caught a lovely amount of morning sun, and had a nice window-seat at the front, so we could taste, drink and enjoy the view.  

They had a small but varied selection of delicious pastries, with some unique flavours included.
The coffee was very good! 


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2. Discovery Coffee

Blanchard St

We arrived at this next place at the right time; it had started to snow. Having found it on-line, we were interested to taste what Discovery Coffee had to offer.
They had a few locations, so it was easy enough to find one near-by.

Inside, the space was very open, clean and minimal. It was well-suited as it was quite busy, but we managed to find a seat. They had a small cabinet for baked goods, but as it was later in the day, they had already run out. This was fine for us, as we weren't looking for food; just keep it in mind and get there earlier in the day if you want to try some of their snacks.
The Cappuccinos we tried had a very good taste and texture.
They seemed to really specialise in coffee, and also offered beans and equipment for at-home use. 

Overall, this spot wasn't an overly "cosy" place; but definitely somewhere to go for a solid, well-prepared coffee. 

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3. Habit Coffee

Chinatown

Habit coffee was comfortable and relaxing. This felt like the kind of place where you could catch up with a friend, or chill out by yourself.
It was in a restored, old-brick building, and had a rustic, open feel. Like Hey Happy, it managed to catch some glorious morning sun.
As well as great coffee, they had a nice selection of baked goods to try.
One thing that stood out, was their range of magazines to flick through while enjoying a cup of your favourite something.

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Our time in Victoria was brief, but enjoyable. There were still many places we wished we had time to check out. We'd love to head over there again, so if you know of any more great coffee spots we should try, let us know!

Coffee Adventures in Halifax, Nova Scotia

We booked overnight flights, so as to save money on accommodation. We had read about that "tip" on a travel blog, aimed at travellers like ourselves; young(ish), low on funds, high on travel aspirations. It seemed like a good idea at the time...yet we soon remembered, an hour or so into the flight, that our brains have a slight, no, moderate aversion to sleeping in a plane, car, train, basically anything other than a bed really. 

But it was a means to an end, and it got us where we needed to go: Eastern Canada.
We were really excited to see the complete opposite side of Canada. And especially to explore the Coffee scene outside of B.C.

Flying out of Vancouver, Monday night

Flying out of Vancouver, Monday night

Flying over Eastern canada, Tuesday Morning

Flying over Eastern canada, Tuesday Morning

So, we managed to lightly doze our way through the 6+ hour flight from Vancouver to Halifax (with a brief stop in Montreal). Needless to say, we emerged into the chilly eastern air, tired, groggy and a little worse for wear. 

After collecting our bags and picking up the rental car, we already knew what the next, and vital step was: Finding a good cup of coffee.

From the Airport, it was a short drive into the city, including a bit of scrambling to find a spare coin for the toll bridge (a "loonie"/$1 coin will do!). We parked, did some quick research on our phones, and decided which coffee destination we would start our Eastern explorations with. 

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1. The Old Apothecary

Bakery and Cafe

From the parking lot down by the waterfront, to The Old Apothecary, there was a KIND OF BIG hill. That, paired with the fresh and biting wind of the Atlantic Ocean, sure woke us, and our appetite, up. Once we found the cafe, we were immediately charmed by the exterior. It had a boutique style, elegant, yet simple.

We stepped inside and found colourful furniture, rustic brick walls, quirky decor and a nice looking selection of desserts and baked goods.

Lemon meringue tart seemed a good choice for breakfast at the time (blame the sleep deprivation), and we paired this with a Latte + Double Macchiato. 

Our experience:

Food - the Lemon Meringue tart looked really good, and the taste was really nice. The meringue was well done, not over- or under-cooked. 

Coffee - the Taste of the coffee was okay, but the milk texture wasn’t great. The Latte came out more like a Cappuccino. However, the milk wasn’t burnt and the overall flavour still held well. The Barista probably just needed to hone their milk texturing technique. 

Would we visit again?
We would go back there to try more of their baked goods.

Lemon meringue tart for breakfast, solid choice

Lemon meringue tart for breakfast, solid choice

sweet selection at the Apothecary cafe and bakery

sweet selection at the Apothecary cafe and bakery


The next day, we had a busy day of driving planned to explore the East coast of Nova Scotia. We needed coffee and a snack to start the day before heading out, and were happy to find that one of our pre-researched coffee spots was right down the road from the Hotel we were staying.

 

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2. Dilly Dally 

Coffee Cafe

A small, cozy place; light and bright and busy, but didn't feel cramped. They had lots of good cafe-style food to choose from, including cabinet and menu items.

We went for the Veggie Bagel + Coconut coffee Muffin + Latte + Flat white.

Everything came on mismatched, antique crockery, which looked cool. The staff were hipsters, but seemed friendly enough.

Our experience: 

Food - Muffin had unique flavour and tasted pretty good, though it was a tad dry. The bagel was really good, and they cut it in half for us without us even asking, which was nice service.

Coffees - Very good taste and they had pretty good-looking latte art.

Would we go back? Yes, and we would be interested to try more of their food/menu too.

 
dilly dally eats

dilly dally eats

 

Our third, and last day in Halifax. We had read about our next spot and were keen to check it out before heading to the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic.

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3. Grafton Cafe

 

by Scanway


Scanway bakery’s specialty is their baked goods, and when you first walk into this cafe, that is apparent. They had a big selection of breads, baked goods, and a cabinet with some great looking doughnuts.

It was one of those moments when you just accept your fate and eat pastries, because, well, why the heck not...we got a pain au chocolate + white chocolate blueberry doughnut + Latte + Double Macchiato.

Our experience:

Food - the pastries, as expected, were really good. It was a little bit of a sweetness overload, but that was due to our choice of goods.  

Coffees - Unfortunately, I would say their specialty lies in their baked goods, and baked goods alone. We may have just got an inexperienced barista that day, she did seem kind of young. The milk was piping hot (burnt) and the taste of the espresso was bitter and ashy.

Would we go again?
We would probably return for the food; it would be a good place to go grab some baked treats to share with friends, family or workmates. 

 
Grafton cafe

Grafton cafe

 

Wandering around the Maritime Museum for a few hours, and our time in Halifax was drawing to a close.
We had a longish drive ahead of us to our next destination, and wanted a little fuel to keep the fire going, our next stop had been on our radar, so we mapped our route out of the city and made sure to pass it on our way out.

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4. Two if by Sea

Cafe

When we pulled up to park outside Two if by Sea, we were a little apprehensive upon seeing the brick facade and old fashioned awning. We wondered if it might be a little dated, with not-so-good coffee. 
But, as they might just say, "Don't judge a cafe by it's facade". Once we stepped inside, the interior was much more new and modern. It was light, open and fairly busy.

We were looking for lunch, and at first were a little disappointed by the small selection of baked goods on offer. But then we noticed a winding staircase leading to a second level, and were happy to find some food options up there too (more on that here).
Once we had lunch, we headed back down the spiral staircase to grab some drinks to go. We also checked out the merchandise. There was a good selection of general merch and also coffee to purchase, and we bought a t-shirt.

Staff were a little spacey, or awkward, or shy? We couldn’t really tell which, but they were nice enough. We ordered coffees (Latte + Double Macchiato), and picked up a cookie for later, as they looked too good to miss.

Our experience:

Coffee - Great texture of milk and the overall flavour of the coffee was very good. My 12oz Latte tasted a little weak, so next time I would check the espresso to milk ratio when ordering, and possibly go down a size, or add another espresso shot to get more strength in flavour.

Food - the cookie we had later on, and it was really good! It was oatmeal chocolate chip, with a blend of spices, so it had a great flavour. Texture was good too; firm on the outside, soft on the inside.

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Our time in Halifax was short, but sweet. It's a small city, a little bit quirky, and with lots of character.
We would definitely like to go back, should the chance arise, and could see it being a cool place to live.

In our adventure to find good coffee, we managed to go to 4 of the coffee places that we wanted to visit, and out of those we had some pretty good coffee.

We have no doubt there are a probably a few more good coffee spots hiding away though. Or if not yet, in the near future the city will see growth in the coffee and food scene.  

Have you experienced good coffee in Halifax? Or in other parts of Nova Scotia?

Let us know! We're curious to hear more...