Paired with a delectable pastry, a latte makes my stomach happy and my heart sing.

review by Chynna Hamm

There is something so comforting about the creamy sweetness of a latte in the winter. Paired with a delectable pastry, a latte makes my stomach happy and my heart sing. I am a tea drinker through and through and I don’t particularly like coffee, but I was excited to head down to Old Strathcona this month for their Sweet Treats and Latte Festival. The festival helps promote local coffee shops and bakeries all around Whyte Avenue, and is running from February 13 to March 14.

Each participating café picks a feature drink or pastry that is promoted throughout the month (at the regular price). This Strathcona organized walking event is very “do-it-yourself,” which I think makes it fun and relaxing because you are not bound by a festival schedule.

You could try only a couple of the specialties within the month or show off your immense caffeine tolerance by downing all the lattes in one afternoon. You can get even more involved by voting for your favourite treat and latte online, posting on social media, or completing the whole map!

With my coffee-drinking boyfriend in tow, we set off on a weekend adventure filled with sweets.

La Bosco Bakery and Café

10413 79 Avenue

Feature: Green Tea Latte

We walked in to this big and bright café, ready to try their take on matcha. This place is HUGE and boasts some fun décor. Rustic wooden beams overhead strung with big fairy lights, pieces of art featuring flowers and boats, a row of green plants separating tables, and giant bookcases beside large tables with plug-ins for the students who were sitting there working on their laptops. We were so excited that we could actually sit down here and were pleasantly surprised when our drinks were brought over to us.

Apparently, cow milk is out these days, and we were asked which kind of milk we wanted. I played it safe with regular 3% but had about five other choices. I made a mental note that my lactose-free mother could easily enjoy a drink here, along with my plant-milk loving friends.

The foam on top of this latte was thick and the green tea flavour was very strong. I whispered to Milton that it reminded me of licking a leaf, but in a good way. I have an incredible sweet tooth – I usually ADD sugar to my tea lattes – but this was the perfect amount of sweetness for me.

We had also ordered pastries to go with the drinks, a chocolate croissant and the recommended cheesecake. The croissant had caught my eye in the glass case because it was covered in cocoa and was as big as my hand. The bitter cocoa on the outside softened the sweetness of the chocolate that was inside. I quickly gave up on using my fork and ate the big flaky pastry with my hands.

Milton was a little dramatic with his description of the cheesecake, claiming “this is what manna tastes like in heaven!” It was a generously large slice with a graham-like bottom and a syrupy top that reminded me of flan. The cheese flavour was light, and the cake texture was not too dense.

Both desserts paired well with the lattes and had us dreaming about returning and trying different drink and treat combinations next time.

Each item was around $5.50 making our total about $25 for two lattes and two desserts. Perfectly reasonable for a date night or study session!

The Woodrack Café

10335 83 Avenue

Feature: Lavender Latte

I was excited to try this latte because I love the smell of lavender. I also walked in boldly assuming that this latte would be tea, but was sadly disappointed with my experience. There was limited seating in this café, so we took these drinks to go. However, the interior is filled with dark wood and small windows, making the ambience warm and cozy. The outside is super cute too, brick with big wooden doors.

As we waited for our drinks at the counter, I read the menu. Woodrack offers some breakfast-like options and their menu also boasts vegan and vegetarian options, including alternative milks for drinks upon request.

We received the lattes, and they were coffee based instead of tea. Creamy foam topped with real lavender buds made for a cute photo before we pressed the cups to our lips. This latte tasted like every other regular latte I’ve had a sip of, fairly unenjoyable, and watery tasting. The real lavender that I had praised for looking cute was absolutely the downfall of this. The pieces were bitter and felt like bugs in my mouth. Milton, the seasoned coffee drinker said that he thought the coffee itself was good, but we both found ourselves spitting pieces of lavender out the car window.

It was about $10.50 for two small lattes ($5.25 each). While I wouldn’t go back for the lavender latte in particular, I would be willing to try their other specialty drinks, such as the toffee crunch latte or dirty chai.

Ohana Donuterie

10347 80 Avenue

Feature: Chocolate Strawberry Donut

We had to grab and go at Ohana due to the fact that they only allow three people in their store at once right now. It would have been fun to sit in, as the donuterie has a bunch of old photos of surfers, and a window where you can watch the big donuts being made. We stood in the designated area as our pastries were made to order.

We ate our donuts in the car, and the “chocolate” strawberry feature was downright disappointing. It seemed to lack any chocolate at all, and I actually thought that the outside was cinnamon sugar because that is what it tasted like. The strawberry filling tasted like flavoured candy and Milton expressed his disappointment that there weren’t any real strawberries involved. The dough was very enjoyable, it was warm and fresh, not stale like some donuts can be.

We weren’t convinced this was actually what they would have chosen for their special, but after a quick Instagram search, we realized that this was in fact the right donut. So maybe the cinnamon was actually cocoa powder and I’m just confused? That, or they aren’t sure what chocolate is. We just weren’t very impressed.

We took solace in the fact that even though we weren’t fans, we know that this place is extremely trendy and has managed to stay afloat during COVID.

For $25 we got the two feature donuts and a specialty four pack to bring to my parents, which we thought was expensive. We figured we’d be better off next time just getting a dozen from Tim’s.

Rooster Café & Kitchen

10732 82 Avenue

Features: Hibiscus Latte and Vanilla Matcha Latte

We walked into this café on a Sunday and were seated immediately. They also do brunch and burgers, so drinks are definitely not their specialty, but we were pleasantly surprised at the quality of these drinks. I was happy that these lattes were advertised as tea, and even happier when our server confirmed this fact.

The vanilla matcha was light and sweet. It seemed to have less cream than my previous matcha experience, and the added vanilla made the flavour more reminiscent of something like a London Fog. Green tea isn’t my favourite thing ever, but this latte went down easy.

I was intrigued with hibiscus because I had no idea what to expect. It was a lovely purple colour, sweet, and the real hibiscus on top did not mix in with the drink due to the thick layer of foam. This was good after my lavender latte “floaties” experience. In a moment of bravery, I bit into a dried hibiscus flower to discover that it was sour, but not gross. I liked both flavours of latte, but I passed the matcha over to Milton and claimed the hibiscus as mine.

We ended up ordering food here too and we were impressed by the prompt service, the chill diner vibe, and chatty nature of our server. After a whole morning of eating and drinking only sweet things, I craved something dense and of substance. I ordered eggs and toast and was happy with the sourdough bread dripping in butter and easy-over eggs that I received.

We spent about $10 just on the lattes ($5 each, our cheapest ones yet) and another $30 or so on lunch. This hibiscus latte ended up being my favourite, and I would definitely return to Rooster for Sunday brunch!

The Hexagon Board Game Café

10750 82 Avenue

Feature: Turtles Turtles Turtles Hot Chocolate

We were really hoping to be able to play games at this café, but sadly were unable to due to COVID rules. We could, however, still sit in and enjoy our hot chocolates.

I appreciated the cozy atmosphere of our plush booth and looking at the game shelves for future reference. The black chalkboard walls make this place seem smaller than it is, which I assume contributes to a “living-room” feel while playing games with your family, roommates, or friends.

We felt like we didn’t know where to start with these drinks. They were piled high with whipped cream, pecans, Turtles chocolates, caramel sauce, and a chocolate dipped and nutty rim. We popped the Turtles into our mouths, and after some slightly awkward licking of the mug rims we took our first sips of the actual liquid. Once we agreed not to think about the number of calories, we both really enjoyed the nutty quality of the drink, but wished that it had been a little bit hotter.

I loved the cute mugs that these drinks were served in and appreciated that the barista brought the drinks out to us. Their menu is also written out on the walls and anybody could happily find something here. There are plant-based milk options and vegetarian friendly snack options.

These drinks were a bit pricey at about $7 each, but definitely fun to try one time. I look forward to going back to play games and trying some of their other drinks!

Yelo’d Ice Cream + Bake Shop

10150A 82 Avenue

Feature: Hot Ice Cream

We were quite hesitant about this option, unsure if we felt the need to drink ice cream. That is exactly what this beverage is, ice-cream that is flash steamed in a cup.

Yelo’d has cleverly turned their storefront into a walk-up window that is not only COVID friendly, but so convenient. We were helped by an extremely enthusiastic employee who helped us choose the Filipino ice cream flavours to use in our drinks.

Milton opted for a hazelnut and I bravely chose ube (purple yam, a very bold choice for a self-proclaimed picky-poo like myself!). When we were given our drinks, I was asked if I had any allergies and if I would also like free complimentary cookies. When asked if you want free cookies, the answer is always YES.

I was pleasantly surprised with my ube flavour; it was sweet with an earthy aftertaste and looked like birthday cake in a cup. Milton was slightly disappointed with his hazelnut (it was too sweet for him) and we couldn’t help but notice his was considerably colder than mine.

Our free cookies were the stars of the show! Three flavours and as big as my hand, they featured mango, coconut, and ube baked into one delicious treat. The cookies were like 3-piece pie charts, and I bit into each flavour individually before they met in the middle.

The two drinks were about $12 ($6 each for a small size). While we wouldn’t order these drinks again, we loved the cookies and would definitely go back to try their soft serve ice cream, especially if we receive the same superb service!

La Boule Patisserie & Bakery

8020 101 Street

Feature: Raspberry Éclair

Wow! Just wow. This pastry shop went above and beyond our expectations and quickly became our favourite destination on the entire map.

This bakery definitely looks fancy, and the pastries are presented beautifully in glass cases. It was fairly busy when we went, but we were served promptly. We figured that we had to give more than just the feature éclair a try, and also ordered a pistachio éclair, a lemon tart, and a vanilla bean raspberry cheesecake. There was no seating allowed in the bakery, so we ate these in the car.

We also realized that they hadn’t given us forks, so we used Milt’s pocketknife to split our classy pastries. The raspberry éclair featured real raspberries, vanilla pastry cream, and tiny white chocolate pearls. The éclair was fresh, the ripe berries mixed delicately with the pastry cream, and the chocolate pearls and pastry dough gave a light crunch to the dessert. The way Milton’s eyes lit up after his first bite of éclair showed me that none of our other treats would make it home.

The lemon tart made our lips pucker, and the pistachio eclair was a wonderful balance of salty and sweet. The raspberry cheesecake was a flavour explosion. The light raspberry mixing well with the vanilla of the pastry cream, the crack of the decorative chocolate, and the sweet berry compote dallops. We managed to polish off all four pastries in under ten minutes.

We got a box of four pastries for $21, which I would gladly pay any day. Please bury me in vanilla pastry cream and be sure to serve La Boule pastries at my funeral.

I don’t consider myself a “coffee shop” type girl (if I spend time studying it is somewhere without food or drinks because I have no self-control), but this was a wonderful way to spend a weekend. We really enjoyed exploring these local Edmonton cafés and we had a blast hanging out together and eating our body weight in pastries! I am excited to go back to some of these places in the future.

Make sure to check out all these sweets and treats before the festival ends on March 14, 2021 and be sure to pull up the website for all the participating cafes.