This Park Place address in Esquimalt does not quite live up to the expectation of its Monopoly namesake; in fact, this is the back door. Much more inviting is when you walk around the recently completed Spruce building and into the township’s new plaza spread under a pair of majestic Garry oaks right next to the town hall.
The Esquimalt Roasting Company opens in the crook where the Spruce meets the almost-finished public library. In good weather, its sliding doors open wide to release small metal chairs and tables that extend seating into the plaza.
ERC is not new; it has been Esquimalt’s robust little secret for a couple of years now, serving house-roasted-coffee concoctions and a small selection of snacks out of a much smaller, tightly cramped location at 1207B Esquimalt Avenue. This old location remains in operation as the roasting centre. The roaster is easily seen through the front window, surrounded by sacks of green coffee beans: Colombian, Guatemalan, Brazilian, Costa Rican and Ethiopian, all roasted to a medium or “medium-plus” finish. The fragrance can be quite strong when roasting is in progress.
All coffee service has moved to the new, much more spacious location. The decor is warm industrial chic: wood, metal, brick and exposed pipes above, with clean lines and smooth surfaces. Blonde wood tables along a long matching banquette, a few counter stools, one live-edged slab seating eight to 10, and several two-person booths equipped with power outlets for charging phones and running computers provide plenty of seating without a cushion in sight.
The new service counter includes a glass case offering a much expanded selection of sweet and savoury delights baked or prepared in the small kitchen at the back, just inside that Park Place door. The massive menu behind the counter is reminiscent of the digital-flap train schedules of European train stations.
I have to say that ERC has become a habit for me. The house brew, the Daisy Pot, is a smooth, extra-medium blend of Guatemalan, Brazilian and Colombian beans, roasted with the pleasure of most ERC customers in mind. But recently I’ve discovered the macchiato. This is not your Starbucks-inspired 16-ounce sweetened vanilla café au lait with caramel sauce and whipped cream. Quite the opposite. It is espresso with a dollop of milk foam: that’s it.
Macchiato means “stained,” suggesting just enough foam to stain the surface of the coffee. ERC uses a bit more foam than the Italians do, in my experience, and serves it with a glass of sparkling mineral water to cleanse your palate before you drink, so as to better enjoy the robust flavours. It may seem odd, but that tiny amount of foam seems to intensify the flavour of the coffee, calling to attention the contrast between the smooth creamy milk and the chocolate-nutty bitterness of the coffee.
Of ERC’s food selection, the Orange-Cranberry Scone has become a favourite of mine. Loaded with cranberries bleeding red into the soft crumb, this is not one of those dry scone pucks we’ve all encountered, when each bite is choked down with another swig of coffee or tea. This scone is pleasant all on its own. A light drizzle of frosted sugar adds an extra hint of sweetness. For a more savoury option, the Pancetta Brioche is a puffed up flatbread, topped with thin ribbons of pancetta and charred bell pepper. Diced tomato and minced sautéed onion provide sweetness, and there’s a hint of soft fresh cheese. One brioche makes for a light lunch or snack.
To experience Esquimalt’s best kept secret, go now, before that new library opens, for then ERC is bound to get busy.