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Macchina mobile cafe

Macchina Coffee Co. knows good things come in small packages – shots of espresso, for example, or their tiny Piaggio Ape.

The brand-new espresso bar on wheels packs everything you need for a midday jolt of caffeine into one of the minuscule Italian three-wheeled trucks – a relative rarity on this side of the pond (though they’ve recently been joined by ice cream truck Bar Ape, their counterparts in three-wheeled food service).

Owner Jeff Douglas – who holds a daytime gig as the co-host of the CBC’s radio show As It Happens – and his wife, Ana Maria Diez, have wanted to make their own mark on Toronto’s cafe culture for years. As it happens (ha), the idea for the truck came to Douglas while he was out on assignment in Nuremberg, Germany.

“It was a cold, cold day, in the middle of nowhere,” he said. “In the parking lot, there was a truck, and they just had a simple little coffee machine. It wasn’t gourmet, but they made a solid, solid cup of coffee. At that point, I was like ‘Why can’t they do that? Why can’t they do that in Canada? Why don’t we have that in Toronto?”

At the time, it was just a pipe dream, but the couple decided to take the leap a year and a half ago, hunting down the Ape and going through the miles of red tape needed to get the city to approve it as a food truck.

“I think we thought, coming into it, in our eyes, that it was very different, because we’re not handling any raw food,” he says. “We’re just pouring coffees. So we thought, this’ll be a walk in the park.”

Not so – in addition to insurance and paperwork woes, they had to figure out how to include everything a regular food truck needs – including four sinks, hot and cold running water, a refrigerator, and a fire extinguisher – into the Ape’s 25 square feet of space.

“It’s kind of like an arts and crafts project,” he says of the propane and solar-powered espresso bar. “We made use of a lot of marine technology when it came to sinks and tanks and fridges.”

On top of that, there’s also an old-school lever-arm Astoria espresso machine (“macchina”, by the way, means both “car” and “machine” – espresso makers included). They turn out lattes, americanos and a host of other espresso drinks using a special blend from Spitfire Coffee Roasters, Cherry Bomb’s coffee roastery.

Douglas says his bike-racing group would meet up at the Roncesvalles coffee shop on weekends, and when owner John Ruttan heard about Douglas’ new venture, he leapt at the chance to be involved.

“The next time I went in, he gave me a one-pound bag and said ‘This is your blend, man. I put this together this week,” he said. “Because this is a traditional Italian vehicle with a traditional arm machine, he said, it’s gotta be a traditional type blend.”

He describes the result as a medium-intensity espresso, not too bitter or acidic. “We wanted something that didn’t hang around in your mouth for two, three minutes afterward,” he says.

In addition to a roster of espresso drinks (including a ‘Cafe Canadese’ – that’s an Americano with maple syrup), the truck’s menu features cookies and baked goods courtesy of Cookie Martinez.

Of course, the truck itself is just as much of a draw as the coffee. “People love it. It’s amazing. Grown men – ‘We’re like ‘Hey, you wanna get in? You wanna take a picture?’ They’re like ‘Yeah! Yeah! Do you mind?’”

In addition to delighting crowds at curbside services and markets, they also anticipate they’ll do some parties and private services – they could conceivably even drive the minuscule truck into a convention centre or a banquet hall.

For now, Douglas says they’re just enjoying roaming from neighbourhood to neighbourhood. “It’s an adventure. It’s a little bit like joining the circus, you know? There’s something incredibly rewarding and liberating about being portable.”

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