Have you ever been to a café sharing the same space with a Laundromat in Montreal? Jesse Lewin opened his café L’Artiste Affame in the Plateau and he’s been pushing the limits of what people have expected from coffee since mid-August 2014. We had an exclusive interview with Jesse on his perspective on coffee culture and his plans for L’Artiste Affame in 2015.
Can you tell us more about PATH, the coffee roaster that you’re working with?
Jesse: I want to carry beans that are different from other cafes in Montreal, so I picked PATH when I came across an article about this brand. PATH is a New York based micro-roaster that just won an award after a year in the industry and I was immensely impressed. So I just boldly called them and we spoke for a few months before they offered me the position to be their representative in Canada.
I guess we can expect that you’ll be working with more coffee roasters in the future then?
Jesse: Yes, definitely! I’m always contacting coffee roasters to see if I can bring them to Montreal. I’m particularly interested in a Portland-based roaster called Water Avenue. They have two types of coffee that are aged in barrels, one is aged in oak barrels with a whiskey note and the other is aged in pinot noir barrels. So, hopefully, I’ll be able to import some of them from the States soon.
How long did it take to plan and open L’Artiste Affame?
Jesse: I couldn’t really put a timeline on it because I had all these ideas so many years ago, but the pieces never came together the way I wanted them to. I never continuously planned it out. It took a while for me to find a space that’s suitable. My original plan was to open a café with a recording studio in it. I got rejected from the space that I wanted to rent as the city doesn’t want me to have two businesses within the confines of the place. By the way, the spot where my café would have been is now a pornographic recruitment centre. Apparently, coffee and the recording studio are worse ideas than putting a porno recruitment centre next to the CEGEP.
I know you only opened just a few months ago, but can you tell us a bit about what you have in store L’Artiste Affame in the coming year?
Jesse: I’ve always been passionate about food so I’m starting up a small in-house company called Forest City with a friend of mine. The concept is simple: anything that can be put into a maison jar, such as marinated mushroom, Japanese eggplants, okra and yuzu onions. They’ll be condiments that can be paired with different types of food. For example, you can make a grilled cheese with Forest City’s spicy pickled string beans. We’re also thinking of making beets tailored to pair with fish and meat. A few restaurants have already expressed interests in using some of our products so hopefully we’ll be launching Forest City in early 2015.
We’ve also started another big project that will be realistically coming into play next year. The project will focus on Research and Development of coffee and the team will be similar to what Ferran Adria from El Bulli is doing in the gastronomy world. I hope that it’ll be something that will put Montreal in a different spectrum in our coffee culture.
When was your first encounter with coffee?
Jesse: My first time having good coffee was when I was still living in my hometown, Rosemere. My parents never really cared about finer things so they usually drink instant coffee. I never had an espresso or a latte until Café Pages Jaunes opened in my hometown. Somehow I persuaded them to grab a coffee after our brunch date together one weekend. When I first stepped inside, the café smelled like a library mixed with the aroma of coffee and that makes the best cologne that you’ve ever smelt. I ordered a Café Vienna, which is made with a shot of espresso, a piece of chocolate and a slice of orange floating inside and some foam on the top. It was such a bizarre concept to put them into the coffee. That café was like a haven that I could go to when I was young. It closed two years after though and it ruined everything for me. I didn’t have the means to go to downtown Montreal often back then so it took years for me to go to another café that makes me feel the same way again.
What do you think about the third-wave coffee culture that’s been booming lately?
Jesse: Actually how about we call it “No Wave”? I personally don’t like to label things so I don’t see coffee culture as third-wave or anything. People are taking every independent café that exists and lump it into a box. It’s exactly the opposite of what you want to do with these places. The reason why I love coffee and cafes so much is being personal while extracting an espresso and brewing coffee. No matter if you’re a coffee aficiando, a barista or a café owner, you all have your own coffee bible. Everyone has a style that they prefer and that also stands true for the customers. Coffee can also be very particular to different people, some might only prefer a particular region of coffee. Maybe personality has to do with it. This might be going a little bit far but perhaps personality dictates what kind of coffee or roast you like.
What’s your perspective? Let us know in the comments below!