Island Cappuccino Morning #3: Mavor’s

Remember that night, back in the 1950s, when your Mom and Dad were out celebrating that new promotion. They were splurging — going to Enrico’s downtown rather than the usual place around the corner. Enrico’s had real cloth napkins, and a wine steward, and a fountain right in the middle of the dining room. After dinner they decided to make one last splurge — the bank was already broken anyway! — and have “special coffees” Maybe an “Irish Brogue” or an “Italian Sunset.” The coffees came in glass decanters swaddled in cloth, on a special serving tray, with an exotic chocolate angel perched gingerly on the plate below.

Remember that night? Well that seems to be the plateau on which Charlottetown coffee shops place the cappuccino. Without sounding like a Euro-snob (okay, I realize it’s too late for that): in Italy the cappuccino is a workaday drink, not special event. It costs about 1,20 EUR and it lacks any pretense or pomp.

Here in Charlottetown cappuccinos cost as much as a Big Mac, and they’re served in pompous, delicate glass vessels that would be more at home at a cotillion than a jobsite. Like this one, at Mavor’s:

Mavor's Cappuccino

Not only are such vessels too precious to hold coffee, but they’re not actually suited to the task at hand — they elevate the foam high about the actual coffee, thus preventing the two from the delicate dance required for each to achieve its optimal state.

Otherwise, the Mavor’s cappuccino was about as bite-free and bland as you can imagine. It’s not hard to imagine why Starbucks — whose coffee Mavor’s “proudly brews” — has spread around the world like wildfire: if my cappuccino was typical of their swill, their product is designed to neither offend nor particularly delight anyone.

I promise that I’ll shut up about all this shortly. Indeed I’m considered recanting my newfound coffee adherence, and going back to the simple life of an iced tea drinker.


Another Islander's picture
Another Islander on December 13, 2006 - 15:46 Permalink

Hi, Peter,

Please don’t judge all Starbucks Cappuccinos by what is served at Mavor’s. The Cappuccino there is swill indeed, and not worth any shekels spent on it. However, Starbucks in other places, including the one at the Halifax airport, serves a great cappuccino or cafe au lait. I’ve not yet found a place to get a decent cappuccino or cafe au lait in Charlottetown, though the coffee bean stand at the Farmers Market is not too bad. The problem, I believe, is that nobody here knows how to make decent espresso — it’s the espresso shot that forms the flavour portion of the cappuccino or cafe au lait. Good luck in your search and please keep us updated.

Dave's picture
Dave on December 13, 2006 - 20:14 Permalink

If you are interested in a rural solution for making your own exceptional espresso, cappaccino and latte you should take the time to stop in and see us in Kingsport, NS the next time you are in Nova Scotia. Our cheap (relatively) machine makes espresso with 19 bars of pressure and steams and/or foams milk in a quick and easy operation.

We order our supplies online (2 day delivery) and start each day with coffee as good as anything we ever had in Europe and without the pretense or naming confusion of a Starbucks.

Cyn's picture
Cyn on December 13, 2006 - 21:25 Permalink

Oh Peter…you are green indeed, but quickly becoming a true cappo/java snob. And rightly so I might add. I’ve been a addict for a long time and have also been to Italy and other places where they know how to make it right. There will come a day, and sooner than you think, that you will be shopping online (because you can’t get one locally) for a high-end espresso machine. For instance the PN 16.

Then, and only then, will you get what you want. (Can’t wait to be invited over for a snort of your creations!)

Alan's picture
Alan on December 13, 2006 - 22:26 Permalink

Can’t you get one of the $19.99 stove-top espresso makers, a pot, milk and a whisk to whisk scaled milk to make this yourself? You can make the sound of the foamy milk machine by doing a spittlely half-Donald-Duck sorta noise in one cheek as you whisk.

Good free trade organic NS coffee roasters here:…

Dave's picture
Dave on December 14, 2006 - 00:20 Permalink

Just Us Coffee is great and I love their business model, but espresso has as much to do with how it is made as it does with coffee beans. The milk frothing and steaming is great fun but espresso is all about getting the most out of the coffee you’re using.

Kevin's picture
Kevin on December 14, 2006 - 00:56 Permalink

Some science — and then an old rant recap: Boiling water at sea level is 100 celcius. The steam which rises from that water is also at 100 celcius. But the steam contains a lot more heat energy (that’s why those molecules were the ones to leave the pot) than the molecules still in the pot — if every molecule had the same energy as the steam there’d be an explosion the instant it reached 100 and ya wouldn’t wanna be anywhere near it — in fact, if that were how it worked, a litre of water could completely level a small kitchen.

If I understand how espresso is made (and this part is a guess) it forces boiling water, at high pressure, which includes the very high energy steam, through the grinds in a very short time — just a few seconds. And if I’m right about what I’ve heard (more guessing) that’s the key, the heat energy and the quick response.

If the techniques of getting flavour out of grinds (which can be considered to have much in common with leaves) has to do with the very fussy management of temperature and heat energy, then why are there hundreds of restaurants out there willing to make tea with water you could soak a foot in without fear of injury?

oliver's picture
oliver on December 14, 2006 - 02:00 Permalink

That PN doohickey is deeeluxe. I have a Gaggia…
which seems to be the Ford of for-real home espresso machines. To answer Kevin’s question about why temperature and pressure and rate of flow matter more for coffee, it may be because coffee has a lot more undesirables in it than tea, as in acidic and bitter stuff. So you’re not shooting for an equilibrium extract but a “kinetic” extract—in which you contrive to pull out the flavors you want before the others come chasing after them into the water or other extracting solvent. This trick verges on impossible when all the molecules involved are similar, but you optimize your separation by choosing the conditions carefully, and it may be for coffee that the range of conditions over which you get a distinct “espresso” taste is narrow. Cheap espresso machines are justly pooh-poohed in my experience and probably couldn’t be advertised as producing “espresso” if the term were regulated.

oliver's picture
oliver on December 14, 2006 - 02:04 Permalink

You can’t produce the grinds you need for these machines with your traditional home, whirly blade grinder BTW.

oliver's picture
oliver on December 14, 2006 - 02:35 Permalink

I see a refurbished Gaggia “Carezza” for US$170 and “used” for US$150 on I suspect that’s the least you can get off spending for something that will make the real deal at home.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on December 14, 2006 - 14:09 Permalink

I bought Catherine a Gaggia for Christmas last year, after extensive email correspondence with Espressotec in Richmond, BC (who, by the way, were excellent in walking me through what I needed to know, and moved heaven and earth to get me a machine in time for Dec. 25th). The model we settled on was the Coffee Gaggia. The machine as performed well for Catherine: she puts her coffee machines through hell, and this is the first one to last more than a year.

It should go without saying that Catherine makes the best cappuccino in town.

oliver's picture
oliver on December 14, 2006 - 18:12 Permalink

Neat. You might notice that’s exactly the model I linked to myself—cuz it’s the one I own.

oliver's picture
oliver on December 14, 2006 - 20:01 Permalink

Incidentally, besides the expensive high-pressure, high-temperature, super-fine-grind route, there’s another nice separation you can get for nothing but your patience by dumping coarse grounds in water at room temperature, leaving it for about 12 hours and pouring the result through cheese cloth. It’s about espresso strength if you do 9 cups of water to a pound of coffee. I’ve read that this and not espresso is what you’re getting from those small Starbucks cans of cappuccino that you can buy all over.

Jimbob's picture
Jimbob on December 15, 2006 - 02:18 Permalink

Kingsport, NS?…. And I though the world ended at Canning! :-)

Pete — if you want an unpretentious North American capuccino, try going to an Irving Mainway or Irving Bluecanoe and try the self-serve ones that come out of the machine with those big buttons that you press… Same as Tim Snorton’s.

For that matter, if you want to be a Euro-coffee snob down here in de Maritimes, then I suggest ye better brew yer own. We’re not downtown Tranna or Madrid or something weird like that! I says ye better get over the pretentious part if ya wanna make a go of it down here, otherwise ya moves over thar.