Exhaustion doesn’t even describe how I’ve been feeling this week. Chronic sleep-deprivation is more like it. The kids are still jet-lagged. Last night, all four of us had to share a room while staying in my sister’s apartment in Toronto. J and I went to a wedding, returned at midnight, and were woken at 5 a.m. by the now-familiar duet of wailing children. Needless to say, I really, really, really wanted a fabulous cup of coffee from my favourite French bakery when we finally got up at 8:30.
With that fabulous cup of coffee in the forefront of my mind, I managed to get going with a smile on my face. As we approached what I consider to be home to the greatest croissant aux amandes in all of Toronto, my smile got wider. I took orders from my husband and son. We made the turn, pulled over, and saw with horror that the place was closed! The hours stated that it should be open, but the lights were off, door locked, chairs piled on tables. Thus began the search for another fabulous cup of coffee.
We drove frantically west along King Street, since that was the direction we had to go, passing countless Starbucks and Second Cup cafés that I thumbed my nose at. I didn’t want any overly milky, flat-tasting ubiquitous brew; Starbucks could keep its ‘tall’ lattés for all I cared. I wanted realcoffee, an artisanal cup of beautifully moulded milk foam with an elegant leaf design on the top and strong enough coffee to knock my block off and kick the remnants of too much wedding wine and too little sleep. Along with a crusty, flaky, buttery croissant filled with smooth almond paste, ahh, my morning would be perfect.
This became an obsession, and the further we drove, the less promising the neighbourhoods looked. Starbucks soon gave way to Coffee Time — a bad omen — and then even those disappeared altogether. My head felt dizzy from focusing on all the store fronts as we drove by, then suddenly I saw a sign with cappuccino written in giant letters. I ran inside and immediately found myself in a dark, dingy bar playing pounding Eastern European music. Three men huddled around a table drinking shots. They all turned to watch me. A gorgeous blond girl stood alone at the counter. I asked for two cappuccinos to go because there was no turning back at that point. The men argued loudly among themselves in some Slavic language, the subsequent song on the radio was even louder than the last, and the girl was painstakingly slow. By the time I forked over the cash and left, I was thoroughly fed up. One sip in the car told me that the milk was sour. Sure enough, the whole cup was filled with curdled milk and an awful taste filled my mouth. Back in I marched. The owner got up from the table, poured himself a glass of milk, and said, “Not sour.” “It is sour,” I argued and showed him the coffee. Grudgingly, he shoved some money across the counter and I fled.
Starbucks it was in the end. No croissant aux amandes. No artisanal coffee creation. Just a stupid tall latté that tasted thoroughly insipid. I stood miserably in an endless line-up of cityfolk with their oversized sunglasses, leather bombers, knee-high boots, poofy scarves, and iPhones, dreaming of my elusive coffee. My craving has not yet been satisfied, though the caffeine withdrawal may have been temporarily fixed. Next time, no more wild goose chases. We’ll go anywhere but King West — never again!