COLUMN: Baristas take Orillia’s coffee game to the next level

COLUMN: Baristas take Orillia’s coffee game to the next level

This tale of two cafés isn’t about competition; Mark IV Brothers and Lone Wolf want to see Orillia’s coffee culture thrive

Editor’s Note: Welcome to a new OrillliaMatters regular feature. Every other Saturday, Nathan Taylor – our resident foodie – will delve into the food and drink world in Orillia. We hope you enjoy his first of many columns.

There are many perks of living in Orillia, and its growing coffee scene is near the top of the list.

We’re spoiled for choice. Whether you have a hankering for Tim Hortons — especially if you have a hankering for Tim Hortons (there’s one “every 40 feet,” as Tbag and Bonkers pointed out in their Orillia Song) — or something more sophisticated, the beans abound.

Orillia really took a step into the specialty coffee world when Mark IV Brothers Café opened in 2016. The Nottawasaga Street shop is a product of James Kim’s desire to bring something unique to a largely residential area of town.

“I just wanted to provide something that is good,” he said. “I wanted to make this community a little bit brighter.”

Kim had little experience with coffee when he decided to start Mark IV Brothers. That might come as a surprise to anyone who has been there. The man is a master behind the espresso machine.

While he and his wife, Tina, who operate the café together, gained some knowledge when one of their roasters, De Mello Coffee, provided a day of training, Kim is, for the most part, self-taught in the coffee craft.

A master, yes, but with a shot of mad scientist.

Take the black and yellow, for example. He and Tina created it with their cyclist customers in mind.

He realized many of them were ordering espresso, but he wanted to make something that was cold and refreshing for them.

The formula: Maple syrup (from McCutcheon’s in Oro-Medonte), coconut water, lemonade, freshly squeezed lemon juice, two shots of dark roast espresso, all blended with ice.

It’s basically a red eye on steroids.

The red eye is a marvel in itself. While not a Kim creation, and not as adventurous as the black and yellow, it packs a punch.

It starts with a slow pour — the only drink offered in Mark IV’s infancy — before two espresso shots are added. It might sound like a bit much, but the result is a tasty, full-bodied blend that is best enjoyed black. It’s popular among some police officers and paramedics who need that extra jolt.

Mark IV caters to the DIY crowd, too, offering portable espresso makers, weighing scales and other gadgets for those who want to elevate their coffee experience at home. Those products have become increasingly popular, especially during the pandemic.

One could hazard a guess that coffee, itself, has as well. Why else would Kim encourage one of his baristas to open his own shop at a time like this?

When Max Lamontagne began working at Mark IV, he told Kim of his intentions to go solo at some point, but he said he wouldn’t do so in Orillia. He didn’t want to steal any of Kim’s thunder.

But it was Kim who encouraged Lamontagne to go into business. The Mark IV owner had been approached by someone who asked him to open a second location downtown. Kim wasn’t interested, but he immediately thought of Lamontagne.

“I know he has a lot of knowledge of coffee and he just has a good personality,” Kim said.

So, in July 2020, Lamontagne opened Lone Wolf Café on Matchedash Street South.

He had been researching the art of coffee making prior to joining Kim’s team, but the experience at Mark IV helped him grow. Now he has put his own spin on coffee and has created a buzz in downtown Orillia.

He offers some of the staples, like cappuccinos, Americanos and lattes, but he has been bold in his pursuit to find something more exotic. Fruity coffee is one example. For that, Lamontagne favours Ethiopian beans.

”It’s my favourite region for coffee. It’s very juicy, very fruity and floral — not what you’d expect in coffee,” he said.

That attention to detail — and the effort put into weighing coffee for individual drinks, calibrating, and taste testing everything before it goes on the menu and gets to the customer — makes for a special product.

“It’s not something you just throw in a machine, press a button and hope for the best,” Lamontagne said.

When it comes to quality, he isn’t taking any chances. The same can be said about making sure the beans he uses are ethically sourced. He and Kim both are mindful of that, and both feature coffee from Canadian roasters who make sure the farmers who make it all possible are getting what their crops are worth.

“They support people in Third World countries, and that is very important,” Lamontagne said.

If someone asks him why his coffee is more expensive than that sold at some other shops, he has an explanation ready: “If my prices are low, that means my roaster’s prices are low and that means the roaster’s buying low. In the end, it’s not us that’s hurting; it’s the people cultivating the coffee — the farmers. They make quality beans. They deserve that price.”

For that reason and so many more, independent, local shops like Lone Wolf and Mark IV deserve our support.

“By supporting me and by supporting James, you’re, first of all, supporting me and my family and James and his family, and it’s going down the line to supporting my roasters and their families, and it trickles down to supporting communities in Yunnan, for instance,” Lamontagne said.

Orillia’s coffee culture continues to grow and change, and while, technically, the former coffee colleagues are competition, Lamontagne and Kim don’t see it that way.

“We are working together to make this city grow. I never feel like it’s competition,” Kim said.

Ditto for Lamontagne.

“If James needed anything, I’d be there to help him out, and I’m sure he’d do the same, as he has already,” he said.

The good stuff

Mark IV Brothers Café

Most popular: Americano, vanilla latte, maple latte

James Kim’s favourite: slow pour, Americano or cortado

My favourite: mocha

Lone Wolf Café

Most popular: cappuccino, S’mores latte

Max Lamontagne’s favourite: fruity cortado

My favourite: iced vanilla latte

Nathan Taylor’s local food and drink column will appear every other Saturday.

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