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By: Sonia Leung
Bound by a passion for coffee and food, close friends Dave and Rocky poured their hearts into Saint James Espresso Bar & Eatery, Hamilton’s newest cafe. Having gleaned much from the community, they decided to give back to the city that contributed so much to their lives. Snuggled in the middle of the art district on James Street North, Saint James has a lot to offer. Be sure to try their state-of-the-art steampunk coffee, only available in three other locations in Ontario.
When I visited the café in mid-November, its doors had only been open for a month. Saint James is already making a name for itself, inviting locals in with their one-of-a-kind coffee vibe. As you enter their cozy establishment, you are greeted by an open kitchen where they bare it all. The seating layout is refreshingly different: there is only one big table where strangers gather and become strangers no more, an optimistic injection of camaraderie between Hamiltonians. The co-founders have witnessed meaningful connections form between customers with their bold floor plan. “We want to be like a living room where people come in and relax and we’ve started to carve that, I think,” muses Rocky. The “Saint” component of their title refers to the fondness and respect the founders have for the downtown hub that James Street North has become. Being a neighbour in the neighbourhood is their motto-as we wandered in conversation over a cup of Steampunk coffee, Dave and Rocky would casually wave to a regular customer or the truck driver cruising by on the road. It’s smiles all around at Saint James, and I want to get in on it.
True to their down-to-earth vibe, Dave and Rocky were eager to share their inspirations and passions.
. . .
How did you get into coffee?
“I was at Detour and one of their guys, Jeff, who’s awesome, pulled an espresso shot [for me]. On my motorcycle ride home, I still tasted it and I thought to myself, ‘this is just not possible.’ I’ve had [multiple] experiences like this with coffee that made me want to learn how to make good coffee.”
What is your favourite menu item on the menu?
“Right now the clear winner is the Drive Thru sandwich. It’s like a sausage muffin with a hashed brown in the sandwich. People love bacon, people love sausage, people love eggs, so we put it all in a sandwich. It’s our overall number one best seller. People even get it for dinner!”
What is steampunk coffee?
“It’s based on a filter, but it uses steam, which extracts a lot more flavour. Then, at the end of the cycle, it uses what’s similar to a siphon, so it uses a vacuum to suck out the flavour. The great thing about steampunk is that as it cools down, the flavour profile changes and you start to notice more notes. [The steampunk machine] does tea really well too, so eventually we’ll dabble with tea.”
“It’s a good time to be a Hamiltonian,” says Rocky fondly. Indeed it is. Just over a decade ago, this street was lifeless. It is now the art district of Hamilton, with the hustle and bustle of independent boutiques, galleries, restaurants and coffee shops. Now, more than ever, is a good time to be in the Steel City. “You don’t have to go to Toronto for good food or coffee anymore,” Rocky enthuses, and he’s right. Come by for the Drive Thru sandwich and a cup of steampunk coffee for a taste of Hamilton.