Sam James (Ossington)
Sam James Coffee Bar has pencilled itself into Lower Ossington, but be careful - blink and you'll miss it. You can recognize it by that signature diamond on the door, wedged between Stussy and Interaccess. Open the door and you'll find the sliver of space bloom upward, the vaulted ceiling and white walls helping to expand the narrow room. I think we've come to expect Sam James Coffee Bar locations to ingeniously occupy their spaces, and this latest venture is no exception.
A simple black and white palette keeps the look clean and fresh, with the only detail a blown-up and pixellated photocopy mural on the whole of the south wall. The concrete floor flows into a series of steps, like a bleacher, that provide the only seat/table combination in the cafe.
This is all to say: Sam James Coffee Bars are not, and have not ever been, about hanging around, diddling on computer screens, or using the space to have prolonged gabs, mommy and baby playgroups or book club sessions. His high coffee standard prevails, and I would never characterize the environment as unfriendly - but if the place had a mantra, it might be 'calm, cool, and caffeinated'.
Premium equipment is used, from the La Marzocco machine to the Mazzer burr grinders. Like the other locations, the Ossington SJCB exclusively uses their own Cut Coffee brand of beans, which they also sell to the public in a Colombian or Espresso blend ($9 for 1/2lb, $17 for 1lb).
I order an Americano ($2.62), and it has a beautiful crema, providing a light sourness to the first sip that's tempered and enriched by the nutty and chocolate-y liquid, without any over-extracted bitterness. Think of it as the best espresso available, with either hot water added or varying volumes of milk from Steen's Dairy (cappuccino, latte). About the fanciest they get is a vanilla latte ($3.58 small, $4.00 large). There's a Starbucks across the street if you are looking for pumpkins or caramel drizzle instead of coffee.
As for baked goods, they are also kept simple and stellar - just croissants, muffins and cookies. A chocolate banana muffin will run you $2.62, and the butter croissants are $2.38. You know where you can go for cupcake lollipops. It isn't here.
Photos by Jesse Milns.