At HotBlack, Jimson Bienenstock is changing what third wave coffee means in Toronto.

Jimson Bienenstock at HotBlack Coffee

Jimson Bienenstock hosts winemaker Marco Giulioli at HotBlack Coffee at Queen and Simcoe.

Quick: what’s the most important ingredient for brewing coffee? The beans, right? Well, not wrong, but what about the water? I’d never thought about it until Jimson Bienenstock took me to the basement of his new coffee shop and event space, HotBlack. There, mounted on the wall was an elaborate filtration system that takes city water, strips down of everything except hydrogen and oxygen (in a process that includes reverse osmosis), then selectively remineralizes it to create the perfect vehicle for the perfect cup of coffee. It’s intense, and it’s just the beginning.

Since he moved to Toronto from France, Jimson Bienenstock has spent the last decade managing some of the city’s top fine dining spots including George, The Soho Club and Montecito. If anyone is going to push the boundaries of third wave coffee in Toronto, it makes sense that it’s him. Few, if any, details escape the man’s attention, who holds both a Masters of Business Administration and of Biological Chemistry.  The dude is serious, and he’s serious about making coffee.

Jimson and his water system

Jimson Bienenstock shows his elaborate water filtration system at HotBlack on Queen West.

Jimson (who is, full disclosure, a friend and gave me a free cup of coffee on my recent visit to HotBlack) doesn’t stop with the water. Meticulous attention has also been paid to the source of his beans, which come directly from producers and are sorted to ensure a uniform size, so they roast evenly. He grinds them in a special machine that ensures a consistent grain and weighs each portion to an exact metric. For an espresso-based drink, those beans are transferred to one of three machines that hold  hard drive programmed to execute a particular shot depending on the beans being used and drink being made. All factors are calibrated: heat, pressure, length of draw, and probably more that I can’t fathom. This is a serious business and makes for the smoothest, most balanced, and alive with flavour coffee I have had in a long time. Maybe ever: it was really good.

HotBlack is not, however, a soulless machine-driven place. Jimson has partnered with Momi Kishi, a national level barrista competitor who acts as GM and ensures the hands pulling the levers on those fancy machines are trained and passionate about what ends up in the cup. He and his partner, sister Robin Bienenstock, have also created a beautiful space, devoid of any barn board or Edison lights and full of sunshine and brightly coloured concrete. The long storefront has distinctly Northern European feel, as though one might easily be in London, Amsterdam or Berlin. Jimson is clear as he showed me around: his competition is not the other coffee shops in the city but the best coffee shops in the world. At 11AM on a Tuesday morning there is a line-up at the counter and things seem to be rolling along precisely as planned.

HotBlack Coffee is at 245 Queen Street West, just west of Simcoe on the south side of the street.

Malcolm Jolley is a founding editor of Good Food Revolution and Executive Director of Good Food Media, the company that publishes it. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook.