Smart Shopping: Light and dark sides of our final vice, coffee

Our last socially acceptable addiction is coffee. So why not buy the best, drink the best and curl our fingers around a soothing piece of solace—a really good cuppa java.

Coffee beans, like wines, are named for the country or area they come from. If no country is mentioned on the label, it is probably of lesser quality, like drinking generic plonk. Another word to be aware of is “blend,” which transforms coffee into more complex flavours.

Beans are also divided by kind—arabica or robusta—and these make a huge difference in taste. The arabicas are grown on higher-altitude, steep slopes, and are usually of superior quality with a better, richer flavour.

Robusta beans cost about half as much, since they are grown on the lower slopes and are used to create the cheaper blends of commercial or instant coffee.

How the beans are roasted matters, too. A regular roast is lighter and reveals more of the true bean, whereas a dark French roast, which cafés like to brew, dispenses a hearty flavour.

Beans should be purchased fresh—roasted, properly stored and packed air-tight. It retains its most potent flavour for only about 20 minutes after brewing, so sit down immediately with your guests and enjoy.

Coffee lovers have loved Café Union, a Montreal institution, since 1910. This wholesaler roasts the coffee in-house, offering espresso, mélange maison, Kenya, Panama, Columbia Supremo, fair trade, decaf and Swiss washed decaf. They also have Bavarian chocolate, Irish cream, hazelnut vanilla and 53 syrups. They carry iced cappuccino and chai latte concentrate. Free delivery is offered for five pounds or more.

They sell espresso machines and teapots and have a repair depot for espresso machine overhauls and servicing.

148 Jean-Talon St. W. 514-273-5555,,

If you live on the western tip of Montreal, you now have a place to go for coffee, coffee makers and supplies. La boutique du café Tazza di Mattina in Roxboro carries Philips Saeco, Caffitaly, Rancilio, Breville, Vev and Keurig coffee and cappuccino machines.

You can purchase ground coffee and beans imported from Italy: Gloria, Marmonia, and Dolce Vita. They also have a selection of tea and teapots from My Cup Of Tea. Find such accessories as frothers and glass and ceramic cups, and cleaning products for all coffee and cappuccino makers.

This is also a local repair depot—no more lugging your machine all the way downtown.

Pretty, colourful lines of accessories by Guzzini and Bugatti are available, too. Gift arrangements and bonbonnières can be made for the holidays, weddings, confirmations, communions, showers or any other occassion.

5 Commercial Centre, Roxboro. 514-684-6161,

Along with your coffee, you must have a slice of sweet cake. If some of the cakes at Les Délices La Frenaie look suspiciously similar to those in Loblaw’s (and Boccacinos and Chenoys), you would be a good detective. So come to the source of the cakes: chocolate praline explosion, apple caramel cheesecake, brownie cheesecake, Frutti di Bosco, Dulce de Leche, Limoncello, Death by Chocolate and Milky Way, to only name a few. There are more than 70 varieties of cakes and cheesecakes that can serve up to 20 people. Larger cakes can be ordered 36 hours in advance.

The best deals are the apple walnut, lemon, chocolate espresso, marble or walnut cinnamon pound cakes that range from $9.19 to $11.50. Traditional Italian biscottis and cookies are available in wide varieties.

8405 Lafrenaie, St. Leonard. 514-324-8039; 199F LaBelle, Rosemère. 450-430-4222; 58A Brunswick, Pointe Claire. 514-542-4242.

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