Thom Bargen is another place where I have done shorter reviews on multiple locations. Again, I’m going to combine them into one to make them more google-worthy. In addition to putting the reviews together, I’ve also included my thoughts from when I attended a lecture at St. Margaret’s, given by co-owner TJ Hiebert, on the subject of coffee culture.
Graham Avenue Underground Downtown Coffee Culture
Winnipeg has seen the blossoming of several, small, boutique, coffee houses in the last two or three years. It started with Parlour Coffee on Main Street. Since then Parlour has launched Little Sister Coffee Maker. There’s Make/Coffee and Stuff on Corydon, Café Postal on Provencher, and Thom Bargen on Sherbrook
So far, Parlour and Thom Bargen are the only one’s I’ve paid multiple visits to. There may also be some I’ve missed. All the one’s I’ve visited have a degree of similarity, but also are a little bit different. Design wise I like Little Sister Coffee Maker the best of them. I think it’s the low slung ceiling that appeals to me.
Thom Bargen Coffee & Tea is a little bigger than some of the locations, but still with the same vibe. One of its strengths is that there is more seating available. Being an introvert, I like my coffee time to be my alone time. Thom Bargen also has a small upstair area that sets you apart from the majority of people.
There is a good selection of hand-crafted beverages available. They make a strong Americano, I found the Blueberry Roiboos Tea a nice sweet alternative as a warm beverage to drink while waiting at the bus stop. The Rwandan coffee I had today was good, but not as strong a flavour as I prefer. However, that’s a matter of my taste preference, the coffee itself was still very well made. My favourite drink at Thom Bargen’s has been the hot chocolate which was rich and creamy from start to finish.
If you want something to eat with your beverage, Thom Bargen’s has a selection of treats from Stella’s and Jonnie’s Sticky Buns. These make a tasty accompaniment to you drink choices.
In the upstairs of the shop there is a selection of coffee related products available, along with what appears to be some form of clothing line. I didn’t really pay close attention to this, as the fashion didn’t fit my style. However, if that is your style, the merchandise looked to be high quality and worth checking.
The service I’ve received on my visits has friendly and efficient, which is all I generally ask for. They are also community minded as, among other things, they have been supporting the newly established Bell Tower Community Café. If you’re down the south end of Sherbrook, you should definitely stop in for a beverage at Thom Bargen.
Thom Bargen – Graham Avenue
Back when I wrote about Forth coffee, I also mentioned that Thom Bargen Coffee and Tea was in the process of opening a new location in the downtown. Located at the corner of Kennedy Street and Graham Avenue, the new Thom Bargen fills a space that most recently housed an eyewear shop.
The corner space has allowed Bargen’s to create an L-shaped interior with a variety of table types and a long counter for seating. As a corner building there is also lots of natural light streaming in to the cafe. The south wall features a painting by artist Gabrielle Funk.
Bargen Coffee: Familiar and New
Heading in for the first time, I expected to receive a great coffee drinking experience. As expected it was. I’ve been back a couple of times since, and the beverages were always of the same, consistent, high quality. One notable difference is that this location is also carrying juice. Not just any juice though, they are carrying juices from Obby Khan’s Green Carrot. Once again, the trend of local companies collaborating to help each other succeed is at work at the new Bargen location.
Likewise with the baked goods available, there are new, local outfits providing much of what is available. One new thing is the availability of homemade cookies and muffins. These are prepared in the little kitchen at the back. I haven’t been there when it’s happening, but the kitchen is opposite the counter, so you might get lucky and have the chance to take in the sights and smells of them being made. There also a little smaller than many of the pastries available, so they offer a nice light alternative.
One nice thing about this new location is that it is great if you are a bus traveler. Both Portage and Graham street stops are about a block or two away. This means that if you have a regular transfer that you have to wait a few minutes for, you have a new, wonderful of filling up that time.
As the downtown location has developed, they have added to the menu of things that are available. One thing I really like is their breakfast Tartin. It’s ham and cheese on sourdough and quite enjoyable.
Just the other day I tried their loaded Rice Krispie square. this treat is also made in store and it’s a flavour, if somewhat over sugary, treat.
Thom Hiebert – Portage and Main
The Portage and Main underground location of Thom Bargen’s is their latest. This one is locate in the circus underground. It makes a great place to make a quick stop as you attempt to navigate from one side of the street to the other. There are only a few seats here. There’s a small counter with stools, and there are also a couple of tables each with two chairs.
While the seating may be limited, the coffee menu is not. The underground location offers all the beverages that the other two locations do. They also have a reasonably good selection of baked treats as well. They even have a mini fridge full of Green Carrot juices.
Thom Hiebert on Coffee Culture
For the last year and a half or so, St. Margaret’s Anglican Church has been offering a Thursday Night Lecture Series. Some of the lectures focus on deep theological issues, such as next weeks lecture by David Widdicombe, the Rector, on Wars & Rumours of Wars. Other evenings have seen members of St. Margaret’s present on their art. Still others, such as last night’s lecture on Coffee Culture, by Thom Hiebert, of Thom Bargen Coffee & Tea, see members of the broader community of which the parish is part offer lectures on various topics.
Fresh Coffee Culture:
I guess I would have to consider myself as someone on the fringes of coffee culture. I visit coffee bars such as Thom Bargen on a semi-frequent basis. I also attended the Prairie Barista Championships in the hopes of learning more about the world of coffee. So, I’m always interested in hearing stories about why such places exist and what they mean to people.
Last night’s lecture started off with Thom giving a bit of his own story. He first talked about how coffee was an important ritual in his, and then how he came into being involved with fresh coffee. Fresh coffee, which places like Thom Bargen, and Parlour, etc. offer, is coffee that is fresh ground, and fresh poured on the spot. For Thom, although he didn’t know it at the time, his first cup of fresh coffee ruined him for all other coffee.
This is one aspect of fresh coffee culture that I’ve noticed as a recurring theme. You often hear people refer to these small shops as if they only exist for the coffee snob. Yet, what I’ve found, and Thom’s lecture confirmed is that such shops are filled with people who want to offer a new experience to people. The baristas tend to be people who have found something they really love, and hope to help other people love it as well.
I think this was summed up best in Thom’s comments when asked about people who like to add milk and sugar to their coffee. His response was, (and I’m giving the rough sense) I like to encourage people to try a sip without anything added, but once they’ve done that, they should do what ever they like, because coffee is a personal beverage and they should feel free to make it taste how they like.
This carried over into the second, although the last talked about, point in Thom’s lecture. Coffee Culture values the creation of community spaces. Thom talked about how in the time before opening up Thom Bargen’s he visited a variety of different coffee shops. In some the coffee was good, but the experience less so. In others the experience of being in the coffee shop was better, and the coffee less so.
While he prefers good coffee and a good experience, he noticed that the places where the experience was better than the coffee, were often the places he remembered most fondly. In the end it comes down to caring employees are more valuable in the long run than talented employees. I suspect that in part that’s because caring employees will also give their best efforts to serving a great cup of coffee.
At the heart of coffee culture is the creation of community. Thom talked about how he and his partner Graham Bargen (he at least deserves a mention) find themselves entering into and caring for the well-being of their customers. This goes beyond whether or not they had a good experience. This is also notable in Thom Bargen’s involvement in such community events as the Bell Tower Community Cafe.
Finally, this caring that marks so much of coffee culture, is played out in the way place like Thom Bargen’s approach their coffee buying. This was the middle section of the lecture. Buying and selling coffee in an ethical fashion as possible is deeply rooted in coffee culture. In order to do this Thom Bargen follows a Direct Trade approach to coffee. The desire, which they share with their roasters, Phil & Sebastian, is to benefit as much as possible everybody involved in the coffee process, from the grower to the cup. This is important, because as I was checking up, I read that coffee productions from planter to coffee drinker can involve up to 30 people in the chain.
The field of coffee production is quite complex. The website linked above will certainly give you more information and allow you to make more informed decisions regarding how you purchase your coffee.
One thing that made this lecture particularly enjoyable was that Thom was offering Pour Over samples as part of the lectures. Plus, once the lecture was over there were delicious brownies, made by a parishioner, to snack on as well. All in all it made for an informative and tasty evening learning about coffee culture.
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