Pikolo, but Big Taste: A Review of Pikolo Espresso Bar

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entrance - minimalmtl.jpgVictorian-inspired entrance of Pikolo Espresso Bar / Photo Credit: MiniMalMtl

When they say, "Pikolo," they mean it! A spin on the Italian word piccolo for "small," everything at Pikolo Espresso Bar is small: pikolo interior, pikolo menu and pikolo drinks. News flash, it's true what they say, size really doesn't matter... especially when it tastes so good!

Since its opening in 2011, Pikolo has gathered quite a following. Online blogs and journals have named it one of the best cafés in the city. In January 2014, Pikolo came in tied with Café Myriade as Montreal's best café, as deemed by Journal Métro and their panel of coffee experts. Unlike many cafés, Pikolo is focused on pouring perfection into every cup and showing their customers that they truly care about coffee.

IMG_5156.JPGCustomers at the bar along the front window / Photo Credit: Amanda Marchese

Owner and founder, Marie-Ève Laroche, is following in the footsteps of Café Myriade. Pikolo Espresso Bar has become another hotspot in Montreal for third wave coffee. If you remember one of my older articles, third wave coffee is a new movement designed to deliver quality roasted coffee beans and coffee by treating coffee making as an art. An integral part of this movement is knowing the origins of your coffee beans. Third wave coffee brewers, like Laroche at Pikolo, know exactly where their coffee beans are coming from, as well as where and who are roasting their beans. It's all about having a close relationship between brewers and roasters, as well as a promise of transparency and quality between clients and cafés. This is known as a "crop to cup philosophy" that promotes morals in coffee making and the coffee service industry. Pikolo purchases their roasted coffee beans from Phil and Sebastian Roasters in Calgary and Heart Coffee Roasters in Portland. Pre-packaged bags of these beans are for sale in the café with the date they were roasted smacked on the front to guarantee freshness.

Another important aspect of third wave coffee and Pikolo is making sure staff is properly trained to meet the standards, something their website makes sure to promote: "A real good coffee: excellent beans finely roasted, properly ground and dosed according to the rules of the art." Before opening the café, Laroche studied coffee bean production and roasting, as well as coffee preparation for a year in Australia on their coffee bean plantations and various cafés. Her mission: to bring the Australian coffee experience--the quality and community building traits of coffee--to Montreal.

Menu

Copper dripper / Photo Credit: Amanda Marchese

The menu keeps to the basics, no frills: filtered coffee, cappuccinos, lattes, espressos (piccolo and lungo), hot chocolate and tea. The frilliest thing you're going to get is a pump of an almond shot in your drink. Looking for an ice frappuccino topped with endless amount of fatty whipped cream? Keep moving, only real coffee taste here. Soy lovers, welcome! Soymilk can be added to your drink or used as a supplement for milk. All drinks are made relatively small, but the café concerns itself with quality rather than quantity, which can be tasted in shorter drinks. If you like a little breakfast or snack with your coffee, the café offers freshly baked goods, like cookies, cakes, muffins, scones and croissants, either made in store or from local bakeries.

Including an espresso machine, Pikolo is equipped with copper drippers for filtered coffee that removes the stigma from the usual filtered coffee we've grown accustomed to. Given that the process for brewing with a dripper is a tad longer than a regular coffee pot, they only use it when the café isn't busy or upon request. I went to the café twice for the purpose of this review, and unfortunately both times I went, the café was bustling, which meant no copper dripper for me. Next time! However, don't be shy to ask for a filtered coffee from the copper dripper! For tea drinkers, the café opts for a tea press.

Cappuccino / Photo Credit: Amanda Marchese

For my first visit, I went with a personal morning favorite, a cappuccino. When it comes down to roast, the espresso base tastes very similar to Café Myriade. It has the same spicy and exotic notes, and is equally smooth. Most cafés top a cap with a snow hill of frothed milk. However, Pikolo serves theirs with a thin layer of steamed milk, a take on the cappuccino that I prefer. This allows for a more prominent espresso taste, rather than one diluted with lots of milk. Maybe it's just me, but when there are mounds of foam on top, I feel like it takes longer to get to the actual espresso. On a side note, if you know anything about me, I have a slight affinity to brown ceramic espresso cups--luckily Pikolo shares this with me, and they get extra kudos points for that!

Latte / Photo Credit: Amanda Marchese

You can't go wrong with a latte. If anything, it's probably the most ordered drink in any café. Their specialty is the "Pikolo latte," which is exactly what it sounds like, a small version of a regular latte: less milk, same amount of espresso, smaller cup. On my second visit, I went for a regular latte and wasn't disappointed at all! It's served in a glass cup that allows you to see the perfection of the blend of espresso and lightly frothed milk. There are no sharp distinctions of white milk and black espresso; instead, the drink takes on a caramel-like color. The milk doesn't mask the espresso, yet the espresso isn't too strong, which makes for a smooth and enjoyable beverage. I definitely prefer the latter to the cappuccino; the spicy notes are less prominent--just a hint of it can be smelt in the aroma and savored in the aftertaste. Perfect. In observing the barista preparing my drink, I got to see how well they are trained and the level of artistry in their approach to coffee making; I mean, he drew me a heart in my latte! The frothed milk is poured slowly in on an angle, the pot moving gently back in forth as he makes the heart design, rather than dappling frothed milk on with a spoon.

Service

Interior / Photo Credit: Amanda Marchese

Baristas are perfectly bilingual and trained in the craft. Considering the time they put into each cup, you don't have to wait around for long for your beverage. Although I didn't see much interaction between the baristas and customers--a characteristic that would give it a unique and homey vibe that would make me want to be a regular--the staff have a friendly relationship amongst themselves; it's a pleasant sight to see while sipping a cappuccino at the bar near the coffee counter. It's always nice seeing staff happy and knowledgeable in what they do. For a newcomer like me, their openness to answering questions is a plus.

Atmosphere

Its downfall is space. The floor plan is tight; you can bet on getting close to other clients, either sharing bar room or table surfaces. I had to hang around the bar--fell into a rather large crack in the floor--until a spot became available. During peak hours, it's probably best to get a coffee to go. Despite all this, they make a good use of limited space with lengthy bars around the counter and front window, as well as bar tables scattered along the walls. The high ceilings allow for a mezzanine with more tables and chairs, as well as a nice view of the café. The industrial-style windows bring in light and airiness, which helps open up the space.

You'll actually be a little disappointed if you don't get to stick around because of lack of seating. Music played from baristas' iPods is soft and soothing--no heavy lyrics--that create a non-distracting background for reading, writing and studying. Even the murmur of conversation does not overpower the room. No wonder the place was filled with students clacking away on their laptops!

Thumbnail image for mezzanine - minimalmtl.jpg

Café view from mezzanine / Photo Credit: MiniMalMtl

To be honest, it was the green Victorian-inspired wrought iron on the façade of the building that first made me want to enter. The outside screams charm, and despite the fact that it's been around for only 5 years, it looks like it's always been there. The inside doesn't betray the façade. The décor has an industrial-chic vibe to it, with industrial light fixtures, exposed hanging light bulbs, stone floors and dark wood accents on the counter, tables and bars. The décor definitely sets the tone for a trendy and photogenic café. Just the look of Pikolo alone gives the café uniqueness compared to other independent cafés.

Location

About a 5 minute walk from Place des Arts metro station, the café is easy to get to from anywhere in central downtown. Located in the McGill Ghetto, it's a perfect spot for McGillians and UQAM students from the university nearby. Whether you're a Concordia or McGill student, or in an office setting, the café is just a few short stops by metro and a nice walk away on sunnier days. This makes it ideal if you're looking for a new hangout downtown.

I struggle to find Pikolo's personality--its one defining factor that makes me go, "Ah, this could only happen at Pikolo." Nevertheless, the quality in their beverages and the beautiful décor make it a lovely spot to grab a coffee knowing that you will receive superb taste. Although I prefer a less spicy brew, I wouldn't be disappointed to return once in a while for a latte. But it's undeniable; the café has grown into one of the city's favorite spots and is helping expand the independent café and third wave coffee scenes in Montreal.

Be sure to follow them on Facebook and Twitter to keep up to date!


Opening Hours:

Monday - Friday: 7:45 a.m. - 6 p.m.

Saturday & Sunday: 9 a.m. - 6 p.m.

3418B Avenue du Parc

Montreal, QC

514-508-6800

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