Words and pix: S. Yuen
When it comes to coffee, I am the scrooge. Well, the same could be said about bubble tea. The urban life-style concept of spending $5 or more on a cup of caffeine-loaded beverages on a regular basis just doesn’t sit well with my bank account. Though I admit, with the right company, the right ambiance and fine coffee or tea; relaxing moments and good conversations can be had.
As a food writer, I had tasted a $60 cup of Kopi Luwak coffee. Yes, that famous coffee originates from Java and Sumatra, home to Luwaks (small civet-like animals) who eat the coffee cherries, digest the fresh but get rid of the beans via natural bodily functions and wella; these beans become the jewel of coffee! Why, the natives are smart enough to notice or smell the fragrant aroma emitted by these beans caused by the so-called “special digestive system” of the Luwaks. Thanks to the even smarter marketers who not only call the Kopi Luwak coffee “The most delightful coffee you can find” but also charge an average of $60 per serving! The overall experience of a ‘digested and passed out’ coffee was decent, though I had to try very hard to sniff and detect the illusive aroma and failed, the steamy dark liquid was layered with complex coffee flavour and was indeed velvety, but would I pay $60 for that, the answer is still a big no.
Obviously, the $15 per cup coffee was no Kopi Luwak but a Jamaica Blue Mountain. This is no ordinary coffee either, says so on the Blue Mountain Coffee website. Hand-picked in single estates, small-batch roasting only on the shipping day and shipped in barrels, the whole process is regulated, carefully monitored and certified. A cup of Blue Mountain was what I ordered with a prosciutto & mozzarella sandwich last week at La Cuisson.
I was granted an unexpected afternoon break when a meeting was cancelled last minute. To embrace the leisure time, I decided to browse around in a neighbourhood I seldom visit – Kerrisdale and it didn’t take long at all for me to wonder into La Cuisson Café, a relatively unknown place with a few small patio tables and chairs out front. Once inside, I could tell the owner was attempting a Brasserie atmosphere. Tended by youngsters, the clustered counter lies adjacent to a huge glass showcase filled with cakes, pastries and stuff. La Cuisson offers both eat-in and take-out service, with a simple menu of sandwiches, salads and delicate desserts and special coffees such as Blue Mountain coffee.
First arrived was the plate of sandwich, the supposedly made to order gourmet offering came buried in a dressed salad. When it was dropped in front of me, I had an elapsed moment thinking that I had ordered salad instead. Being creative is a good thing, but when it comes to food, practicality takes priority. Why the kitchen opted to load the salad on top and soil the quartered sandwiches was beyond me. The fact that there was no chef or a kitchen supervisor and the sandwich was made by any staff that could make it might explain why.
Next came the Blue Mountain served in a fancy set of cup & saucer, may be 5 to 6 oz. Silky smooth, mellow and hot, no cream needed (it was not brought either), a lovely cup of coffee indeed. But a $15 price tag? I had the same sensual satisfaction from a cup of Italian coffee years ago in a mall café called Little Darling who also served the most decadent piece of home-made Kahlua cake found nowhere else. There, I paid $3.00 for each mug of coffee and $0.50 for a refill. Yet for some strange reasons, Blue Mountain Coffee has achieved a brand-name status (much like Gucci, Channel or Coach) in the Chinese coffee-drinking arena. However, if you talk to random customers sipping a cup of Blue Mountain in a similar café, the chance of them having a clue why each cup costs $15.00 (sorry, no refill) is pretty slim. Ergo, brand name effect would be the only explanation.
There is nothing wrong paying $15 or $60 for a cup of coffee, but it is the value of that price tag I am looking for! I do wonder, in a blind-tasting scenario, how much will savvy coffee drinkers be willing to pay for the Blue Mountain or the Kopi Luwak?