Forget the cliché of the Italian café with its faded decor and worn furniture. In Montreal, a new generation of establishments combines the best of Italian tradition and the “third wave”. His promise? Perfectly brewed espresso in an inviting, “non-macho” environment.
“Friends would tell me, ‘There are no cafes downtown. It takes a coffee there.” I would name them third wave coffees, but they would say, ‘That’s not drinkable! It tastes like green tomato!” », says Andreas Vecchio with humor.
During the pandemic, the ex-butler opened the Caffettiera Caffé Bar on Stanley Street. One of the few traditional Italian cafes in downtown Montreal.
You may have noticed it when trying out one or another of the small independent cafes in your neighborhood: the fashion is for fruity, floral or spicy aromas, with hints of cherry, hibiscus or nutmeg. .
Over the past two decades, “third wave” coffeehouses have taken major North American cities, including Montreal, by storm. The movement, which highlights the origin and quality of the bean, is characterized by a lighter roast that allows the release of a complex range of flavors, comparable to wine. But now, some palates do not get used to its typically more tangy taste and prefer their full-bodied pick-me-up.
In Montreal, a new generation of establishments has seized the opportunity. “I want to bring Italian coffee into the 21st century to bring third wave customers back,” says Andreas Vecchio.
With its neat retro look and state-of-the-art equipment, the Caffettiera Caffé Bar is nothing like the cliché of Italian coffee. “No tolerance for racism, sexism and ballbusting,” reads a sign at the entrance to the store.
In Montreal, Italian references often display a faded air, laments Andreas Vecchio.
Italian cafes, he says, can — and should — learn from what “third wave” establishments do best, starting with in-depth knowledge of their products. “If a customer asks questions, the Italian often doesn’t know what he’s serving. It sucks,” he blurts out.
The only thing Andreas Vecchio doesn’t compromise on is coffee. It’s stated in bold on his menu: his establishment does not serve “American-style cafes.” However, you can still enjoy a perfectly prepared espresso, topped with a tasty layer of crema.
Roasted in Rome, its house blend of Arabica and Robusta beans produces a smooth, medium-bodied concentrate that never disappoints. Rather, “third wave” coffees tend to vary their blend depending on availability at the time.
“Creating a café that looks like a third-wave café, but where Italian coffee is served, for me, is a very smart strategy,” observes Pierre-Yann Dolbec, associate professor of marketing at Concordia and coffee market specialist.
Located on avenue du Mont-Royal, Café Americano also borrows the visual codes of specialty coffees: modern decor, pastel colors and soon a machine to print images on its oat milk latte…
Despite what the first impression suggests, it is indeed a traditional Italian coffee, as indicated on the shop window. “There is a certain idea of an Italian coffee with a lot of wood, which smells a bit old. I wanted a modern cafe,” says Anthony Montuoro.
Her father, Angelo Montuoro, opened the business less than a year ago, shortly after co-founding Lido, an Italian café in Verdun, with childhood friends. The Café Americano was more like a traditional Italian café before getting a makeover last spring.
Since then, sales have exploded. “When we started, we were selling 20 to 30 coffees a day. We are at 200 a day, rejoices Angelo Montuoro. Yes, the clientele is changing, and Italian cafes have to adapt. »
Iced coffee, chai, matcha: its drinks menu counts more than the classic espresso and cappuccino. According to him, the most important thing remains the quality of the espresso, full-bodied without being bitter, which he extracts from a house blend roasted in Italy and Quebec. “We always hear customers say they’re happy we opened, that they were waiting for an Italian coffee,” says Anthony Montuoro.
It is not only in traditional Italian cafes that lovers of strong coffee are better served. In recent years, “third wave” establishments have found that they are shunning a significant number of consumers. “There are a lot of cafes that are now rebalancing their offer. They must offer a roasting that is more developed, while offering the same services, the same values and the same ethics,” notes Tomas Sanchez, founder of the start-up Th3rdwave.
He saw it first hand. His company delivers discovery boxes that allow you to explore different grains. “When we started, we just had a light roast profile. Now we buy light, medium and dark roast with different flavor profiles. ” And it works ? “It expands our customer base. »