The Hula Girl Espresso Boutique on Dundas West, north of Bloor is a haven for design junkies, and espresso-heads alike. This is the first cafe to open up in this area, and will surely become an institution in Toronto's west end.
This small shop has been designed almost entirely of re-claimed materials. The bars and tables along the store walls are made from re-claimed wood from trees in Toronto and are beautifully shaped and polished. The wood used for the display shelves behind the counter and that frame the walls, are from an old barn in St. Jacobs, ON and create an incredibly comfortable and earthy feel to the cafe. On the ceiling are beautiful vintage tin tiles.
Exposed brick, with the re-claimed wood gives this cafe a ton of modern and eco-consious cred it well deserves. Sustainability is clearly a strong focus of this cafe.
All of the coffee served is a blend consisting of at least 20 per cent Extra Fancy Kona, and is blended in house and roasted locally. For those who want to buy coffee to take home it's sold in mason jars. This is a cool idea, and definitely adds to the design-conscious feel of this cafe.
Although it looks great on the walls, and displays the large Kona coffee beans proudly, I'm not sure that a clear glass jar is the best way to preserve the freshness of your coffee. Ideally kept away from light, it would probably be best to transfer the coffee from the mason jar to something a little bit more light and air tight.
Using an automated Mazzer grinder, and Simonelli Aurelia machine, the shots coming from Hula Girl are incredibly consistent. Both owners, Elias Vastis and Hector Ramos have plenty of coffee experience behind them, and it shows. The machine is set up with traditional single and double-spouted filters, and custom bottomless filters, as the owners feel each type of filter offers its own unique taste, and I tend to agree.
The first thing I tried was a double shot, pulled short. The tiger-striping on the rich crema was beautiful, and the shot was even better. No acidity and a soft smoky taste made this espresso stand out as some of the best I've had in the past year. Having been open for about a week, these guys have their system down.
Fresh flowers bring colour to the room, and the two have created a kitchen and workspace in the basement where they currently blend their coffee and will soon be baking their own pastries.
Hula Girl Espresso Boutique has three different blends, and they all contain a precisely measured amount of Kona coffee, blended by Vastis and Ramos themselves. Although the idea of in-house roasting is romantic, and on the surface sounds impressive, I find consistency takes a major hit. If you ask me, blending your own coffee is far more important than roasting it yourself, and these two obviously take it seriously.
Soon, Hula Girl will be brewing French presses of 100 per cent Kona, but in the meantime, there are two different custom-blended brew coffees and a beautiful espresso system to choose from.
My overall impressions: a great space with delicious coffee, and two devoted owners. This coffee shop will definitely put this sleepy stretch of Dundas on the map.
Writing by Adam Vrankulj. Photos by Dennis Marciniak.