Introducing: Sense Appeal, a cafe with a “director of coffee extraction”
With an undeniable indie cafe explosion taking place, it’s only a matter of time before Toronto’s coffee scene enters the realm of molecular gastronomy. With Sense Appeal Coffee Roasters, which opened near the corner of Spadina and Adelaide last month, we’re getting closer. Head barista Sameer Mohamed, for example, only half-jokingly refers to himself as “the director of coffee extraction.” He argues that coffee is more complex than wine, but far less explored. “There are 1,000 volatile compounds in coffee that contribute to aroma and taste,” he says. “We have the capacity to manipulate 33 of those. With wine, there’s 200 compounds, and you can manipulate 15.” We’ll take his word for it.
This is the first location for the Nobleton-based company—it’s been selling mostly to hotels for the past four years. Mohamed and co-owners Peter Adamo and Roberto Rota see roasting and extracting a cup of coffee as an excruciatingly intricate and precise affair. Once a coffee bean has been sourced, Mohamed and Adamo begin a process of experimentation, wherein the coffee is roasted at different temperatures and then sampled. After an ideal temperature has been agreed upon (the two have been known to squabble over differences of one degree), the process begins again with roasting duration, and then again with air flow. Then there’s the method of extracting the coffee (they use a Dalla Corte machine), but that’s a different story altogether.
The goal, Adamo says, is to create a sensation rather than a specific taste. The former sommelier, whose interest in coffee was piqued when he was asked to pair a dish with it a few years ago, recalls recently micro-tuning a particular coffee: “the bitterness was pushing toward a part of the tongue that we wanted to move forward,” he says. “We actually moved it forward by one half of a centimetre.”
For all of that effort, prices remain reasonable. An espresso is $2.25, taxes in, and a cappuccino is $3.25. A small selection of pastries is made in-house, and a lunch menu is coming soon—experiments to properly pair the food with espresso are underway. A dedicated siphon coffee bar, with its own barista, is also in the works. While Sam James offers the labour-intensive alternative to drip at off-peak hours, Sense Appeal wants to provide it at the same speed as a latte.
As for setting up shop in the midst of a cafe boom, Mohamed is optimistic. “Toronto needs competition,” he says. “I want more cafes to open up, because the only thing that’s going to do is make everyone’s coffee better.”
Sense Appeal Coffee Roasters, 96 Spadina Ave., 416-907-8524, senseappeal.ca.